In 1980, Porsche entered three 924s into e Mans under the Prototype class. The car was an international effort: British, American and German teams all participated. To reflect Porsche's emphasis on its newfound future, these were the only race cars Porsche sent that year: no aging 935, no 1976-season-winning 936. The 924 was the car of tomorrow, and they wanted to see just how far they could take it.
The 924 was just four years into its production. For the cranky butts so resistant to progress, this new car suffered the dual horrors of water cooling and an engine up front, half-built by Volkswagen and shared with, of all things, the AMC Gremlin. With 95 horsepower—according to the Americans, anyway—it was not good enough.
Not good enough? With turbocharged and intercooled power the Carrera GT and GTS produced up to 245 horsepower. Roadgoing Clubsport variants had 280 horsepower, and they'd let you buy one for your own nefarious purposes. By the time the GTR battled against oddities like the and an early renegade WM-Peugeot, it was laying down 375 horsepower, and possibly more with the boost turned up.
The 924s finished 6th, 12th, and 13th overall. Not bad. But Porsche wasn't done yet.
The cars returned to Le Mans next year, this time renamed GTP. Sixteen valves, an even larger KKK turbocharger, and gave it a 500-horspeower rating. Walter Röhrl and Jürgen Barth raced with a mere 420, though. They ran a flawless race: seventh overall, third in class, hardly stopping for fuel. Porsche mulled a front-engined revolution.
It's 40 years since the debut of the Porsche 924, and the company has set to commemorate this by restoring 924 GTP chassis 002: the only Porsche-owned factory car ever raced by a British team. Unlike Rörhl's example, it raced in 1980, sat out 1981, and was retired in 1982 after years as a test mule.
Fittingly, Porsche Great Britain took on the project. It wasn't easy. Locked in Porsche's museum basement for decades, : the front bumper was ripped apart, the engine was not its original, and the steering wheel looked like a small and particiularly vicious animal had taken a bite out of it, possibly a weasel. Its various components were spread to all corners of the UK: Porsche Classic Center in Swindon took the engine, Leeds the electrics, Hertfordshire the transmission via , and Glasgow the brakes and suspension. Stuttgart remade one-off parts. The correct engine was located a dusty garage in the Czech Republic.
Finally, at the Silverstone Classic show, forty years after the 924's debut, Porsche unveiled the resurrected race car. Drivers Jurgen Barth, Derek Bell and Tony Dron were on hand to share their memories of the 1980 Le Mans. "It was one of the best handling cars I've ever driven," said Bell. "I never thought I would see it again, especially not looking like this," said Dron. "It looks brand new whereas I certainly feel I have aged 30 years."
Unloved, but certainly unforgotten.
Images via Porsche GB