“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.”
Ferry Porsche was adamant. If they were not competitive, they would not race. To ensure his ultimatum could not be ignored he personally made the trip from Stuttgart to Zandvoort to supervise. The car had only been shaken down six weeks before, travelling in a straight line down a rough and rutted runway. Once faced with corners on a track it was found to be undrivable, and subsequently underwent significant modifications of its suspension. Even before the start of the 1962 season Ferry was getting cold feet. If their new creation wasn’t significantly faster than the old, they would quit. With only the first practice session to prove the cars latent potential, Dan Gurney wrestled his still recalcitrant steed around the sandy and sinuous Zandvoort circuit, suspension not yet race tuned and an engine probably no quicker than the old one. With dogged determination, he managed to achieve a lap time almost two seconds faster than his qualifying performance the previous year. With that, the racing team was given the green light to continue.
Denis Jenkinson, at least, was impressed…and I’m sure he didn’t impress easily, though I did wonder if he was being sarcastic. In his race review of the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, he wrote, “Rivalling the Lotus 25 for the lead in the technical innovations were the two factory Porsche cars for Bonnier and Gurney.” The Lotus 25 was the first monocoque chassis. The Porsche it was being compared to was…well a Porsche…albeit with their new…but so far not improved…8-cylinder air-cooled boxer engine, a somewhat trimmer and slimmer chassis, and disc brakes…which in effect was just joining everyone else rather than pushing any boundaries of innovation. Maybe Jenks was just shocked that their new car actually existed as there had been little heard about it prior to its arrival in the paddock at Zandvoort.
Even though it looked a breed apart compared to the slimmed down sports-car they had been using the previous year, Ferry Porsche wasn’t so sure they had nailed it. They were now well into the third year of building the 804. The project had stalled…multiple times…difficulties assailing them from every side. Unlike their previous model, this one was not held back by the genetics of the original beast lurking beneath the thin veneer of silver metal. It was designed to fulfil a specific purpose – to win in Formula One. What they hadn’t realised was that it would be so…painstakingly…slow. Their previous experience with building sports-cars was you built a car. Then you raced it. If the engine wasn’t good enough, you made it better. Then you won. Simple. After just a single year of competition, Ferry Porsche was struggling to see the point of continuing in Formula One. It was a hopeless cause. A hopeless, hugely expensive, never-ending cause…gobbling up hundreds of thousands of marks.
By the cessation of the second practice session of the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, it was evident the rest of the field had also made a sizeable leap in speed over the winter break. The lap times tumbled as practice continued, ten drivers eventually bettering Jim Clark’s lap record from the year before…Gurney qualifying in 8th. During the race, he ran as high as 3rd until a pitstop to fix a broken gear lever took him out of contention for a points finish. Teammate Jo Bonnier finished 7th, a lap behind Carel de Beaufort driving a Porsche 718/2. Ferry Porsche was less than pleased. They had been beaten by a privateer driving last year’s car. The talk about quitting resumed. But Dan Gurney continued to fight for the car’s future. How could Porsche expect to develop a car without racing it? With that, he persuaded Ferry to let them continue.
Porsche hadn’t procrastinated, the blueprint for the new engine being drawn up way back in 1959, followed by its first bench test in December 1960. A beefed-up version of their illustrious Fuhrmann engine, they had doubled its cylinders to 8, and which also doubled the complexity of building it. The task of creating a new engine was immense. As Karl Ludvigsen described, “Porsche weren’t capable of treating the creation of a new engine casually. In Germany, an engine wasn’t an affair of inspired artisan engineers as in Italy. No, it was an industrial undertaking that called for the same materials and methods used in at least limited production. Forged crankshafts instead of machined ones. Permanent-mold instead of sand-mold castings. Symmetrical cylinder and head castings to reduce tooling costs. For Porsche, and especially for Ferry, it was unthinkable to spend large amounts of time and money on an engine without giving it other work to do besides propelling a race car.”
Having to outsource casting and forging gave them multiple months of delay, German factories not geared to the speedy production of race car components. There was no option but to patiently wait their turn as the months ticked by…nine long months…before they had their new crankshaft on hand ready to install. Then, at its first bench test, the new engine wouldn’t start. Long-time Porsche engineer, Egon Alber, had the task of assembling the new engine. He later recalled, “After a lot of cursing and praying and every trick in the book, it finally ran after all.” Then everyone held their breath to see how close to their goal of 200 horsepower it would be. The only good news was that the dyno showed a number with triple figures. The bad news was that it was a lot closer to 100 than 200. But this was Porsche. No-one panicked…at least, not yet. They knew how to build engines and there only remained the dark art of persuading the unrealised horsepower sequestered deep within it to emerge. Before the start of the season, they had got the number up to 178…which while a significant improvement, still hadn’t caught up to what Michael May’s fuel injected 547 Fuhrmann engine had achieved. (Click here for the story about Michael May and the 1961 Porsche 718/2)
The chassis may have been a clean sheet design, but in reality, it was practical rather than poetic. A place for the engine, the fuel and the driver. A tubular stainless-steel lattice moulded around the necessary components and the resultant sculpture covered by the silver sheen of 0.03-inch aluminium. Although significantly slimmer than the previous 718/2 it still appeared squat and stubby when compared to their more streamlined British and Italian competitors.
Development was relentless and ongoing as teams sought to either catch-up or maintain their advantage, which meant Porsche were under pressure right from the beginning. After their dismal start, Ferry only sent one car to Monaco. At least they could check that the gear lever would remain in its proper place. Gurney showed that his faith in the vehicle was not displaced when he qualified the car in third…which turned into fifth as there were three cars with an identical time. Unfortunately, he was taken out on the first lap with a shunt from behind when a plethora of vehicles arrived too close together and with too little control at the Gasworks hairpin.
Porsche then withdrew from Spa, blaming “technical difficulties.” After Monaco, Dan Gurney had given Herbert Lang a list of thirteen items he wanted attended to on the car before the next race. This wasn’t going to be the work of a weekend. The seating position of the drivers was lowered, enabling their head to be less of an aerodynamic impediment. This necessitated changing the location of the fuel tank, as well as a quickly removable steering wheel to enable the drivers to actually get into and out of the car – possibly the first such device in Formula One. Ferry then sent everyone off to the Nurburgring with instructions that if they couldn’t do a full race distance, they could forget about racing. Gurney did the obligatory fifteen laps, and off to France they went.
Rouen-Les-Essarts was a seldom used street circuit consisting of bumpy public roads, hard on drivers and even harder on suspension. A series of downhill curves through the forest looked like the Suzuka Esses on steroids, requiring the heady combination of maximum skill to hit every apex and maximum bravery to hold the throttle foot flat while traversing the roller-coaster ride through the trees. A cobblestone hairpin at the bottom added to the thrill…or the trepidation…of the trip down the mountain. The field was depleted with Ferrari stuck in Modena due to a metalworker’s strike making it impossible to prepare the cars. Phil Hill had to settle with sitting in the stands and enjoying the race as a spectator…waiting to see how many points his rivals for the championship would gain on him…probably more frustrating than inspiring as he had no way to fight back in return. Dan Gurney felt like he’d driven the race before he’d even started, struggling with fatigue because of the flu.
Graham Hill’s BRM led off the line, with Jim Clark, who had been on pole, initially slotting in behind him. This state of affairs didn’t last long as John Surtees quickly rocketed from 5th up to 2nd passing Bruce McLaren, Jack Brabham and lastly Clark, whose Lotus 25’s suspension was already starting to complain. Initially, the race looked like it was going to be a dull and dreary procession with the only battle between Graham Hill and John Surtees, as the two front-runners steadily pulled a gap on those behind. However, the circuit itself would play a prominent role in this race – only those cars able to stand the pummelling from the bumps would be there to take the chequered flag.
Gurney was in 6th, but McLaren ahead of him was being unnecessarily distracted by his Cooper jumping out of gear at inopportune times. This resulted in him spinning the car and hitting a curb. When he pitted his suspension was deemed to be only bent, not broken, and he managed to come back through the field to finish the race in 4th despite the bizarre handling of his car. It was later found to have a cracked chassis. A few laps later Jack Brabham was out with a broken right rear suspension. Gurney was now up to fourth. Then Surtees pitted with a misfiring engine. A podium position was now firmly in Gurney’s grasp.
Just after half race distance, Clark’s Lotus appeared in front for the first time, with Hill now relegated behind him. Jackie Lewis was being lapped by Hill when the brakes on his Cooper failed. Unfortunately, Hill’s BRM was in the way, and a hefty nudge sent it spinning off the track. Hill re-joined and despite the loss of his right rear tail pipe took only three laps to catch the poorly handling Lotus of Clark, who would shortly be out of the race when his fractious left front suspension finally failed. Hill reclaimed the front position with a comfortable 30 second lead on Gurney’s Porsche. Again the race looked like it was going to settle into a staid procession, but on Lap 42 Hill became the last of the front-runners to suffer misfortune when he was out of contention because of a broken fuel injection mechanism.
And that was how Dan Gurney inherited the lead…all of the cars in front of him, as well as most of the cars behind him, waylaid by various adversities. No-one else even finished on the same lap. With 12 laps yet to run the team encouraged him to go as slow as possible…just in case…but the engine chugged happily along, the brakes worked as required, there was no fuel injection to go wrong, and his suspension remained intact. The win may have been due more to serendipity than skill, but you have to be in it to win it. As Jenks wrote in his summary of the race, “It was a victory for Porsche by default of others, but if any driver deserved it, it was big Dan Gurney. From the first appearance of the 8-cylinder Porsche he has done all he could to encourage the designers.”
Porsche eventually extracted 185 horsepower out of their engine, but it was never given the extra boost of fuel injection. Karl Ludvigsen stated that Michael May had told them it wouldn’t have helped. I can’t help but think that no-one at Porsche would actually have had the gall to ask May for his opinion, as he hadn’t been given a very convivial reception when he arrived there the previous year. He had now signed with Ferrari who were desperate for a bit more horsepower to help them bridge the gap to BRM and Lotus. I’m sure if asked May would have replied that there was no way Porsche could possibly pay him enough to persuade him to return.
Porsche never made an official announcement that they were quitting Formula One. They withdrew from the South African Grand Prix and then didn’t show up for the first race of the 1963 season. Two years in Formula One, one win, third in the constructors and drivers’ championship the first year, fifth in both the second year…certainly not results to be ashamed of. But the cost to Porsche, both in dollars and in stress, wasn’t worth it. So far, they have yet to return. Carel de Beaufort offered to buy their 804s, but Porsche declined. Maybe they didn’t want to know if there was any potential yet to be unlocked from their only purpose-built chassis. De Beaufort would continue to race the 718/2 until 1964, accumulating three points finishes and three podiums in non-championship races.
Dan Gurney later reminisced about what the 804 was like to drive. “The 8-cylinder car’s handling was reasonably neutral. You definitely could get in sync with it. The car didn’t produce speed effortlessly, you had to look very carefully everywhere to find the speed. We were constantly hoping we would unlock that little bit of extra power, so I’d try to hunch down in the car as much as possible to keep everything as aerodynamically small and clean as possible. The chassis felt as if it flexed a bit, but you just ignored it and pressed on anyway. And, because you hadn’t driven the other fellow’s cars you figured maybe they were putting up with the same thing…you were supposed to be a Grand Prix driver, so you would just get on with it…”
References and Further Reading:
Porsche 718+804 – An Adventure into Formula One during the 1.5 Litre Era by Thomas Födisch, Jost Neßhöver, Michael Behrndt, Rainer Roßbach
Building Porsche’s Grand Prix Car by Karl Ludvigsen – Excellence Magazine 11/2004: http://porschecarshistory.com/building-porsche-s-grand-prix-car-excellence-mag/
Racing Porsche’s Grand Prix Car by Karl Ludvigsen – Excellence Magazine 12/2004: http://porschecarshistory.com/porsche-804-excellence-mag/
The Dutch Grand Prix – An Excellent win for BRM by Denis Jenkinson–Motorsport Magazine: http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/june-1962/12/dutch-grand-prix
48th French Grand Prix – A Race of Surprises by Denis Jenkinson– Motorsport Magazine: http://www.motorsportmagazine.com/archive/article/august-1962/54/48th-french-grand-prix
1962 Porsche Formula 1- High Expectations by Thos L Bryant – Road and Track Magazine 12/1982: http://porschecarshistory.com/1962-porsche-formula-1/
A Relic of the Sixties by Michael Sohnke https://files.porsche.com/filestore/…/usa/…/History-A-Relic-of-the-Sixties.pdf
Video of 1962 French Grand Prix: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7YpsWmsqVs