With the automotive celebrations at Amelia Island looming, Porsche let us know that they'll be bringing two very significant racing cars from their museum to display on the concours field. While there are certainly some great Porsche cars for sale at the auctions, the level of rarity is kicked up another notch out on the green show field. The first of Porsche's entrants being the venerable, one-of-two 909 Bergspyder, and the second is a one-of-one powerhouse in the form of the 917 PA Spyder 16-cylinder. Both were extraordinary engineering exercises that helped to develop Porsche into an international sportscar racing leader. The late 1960s and early 1970s were an exciting time at Porsche, and these two racers exemplify the type of out-of-the-box thinking that helped them to win multiple world championships.
Porsche 909 Bergspyder
In 1968, Porsche was very serious about winning the European Hillclimb Championship, and for most of the year used a refurbished and updated version of 1967's 910/8B. The older car was quick, but competition from BMW was looming. In the penultimate event of the year at Gaisberg, Porsche introduced two new 909 Bergspyders for Gerhard Mitter and Rolf Stommelen. The 909s were, by significant margin, the closest thing to a go-kart Porsche had ever produced.
The 909 was an out-and-out single purpose hillclimb car, and could not have done well at any other form of motorsport. Concessions were made in the search for ultimate lightness, deleting several pieces that would be necessary in other types of racing. The Bergspyder lacked an alternator, simply using a fully charged battery to provide enough power to get up the hill. It was built without a fuel pump, instead using a nitrogen-pressurized 3.3-gallon fuel tank to deliver fuel to the thirsty 275 horsepower flat-8 engine. The tank, as it were, was crafted of titanium, and made spherical in shape to provide the largest volume of fuel with the least material needed. A new transaxle placed both the engine and the gearbox ahead of the final drive, pushing both the engine and driver farther forward in the chassis, thus reducing polar moment.
From the outset, the car was built with light weight in mind. The aluminum chassis made use of only titanium fastners, and no steel was found anywere on the car. The fiber-reinforced plastic body was only one layer thick, thin enough in fact, that before receiving paint the car was translucent. The coil springs were crafted of titanium, the brake rotors were chrome-plated berylium (less than 2 pounds each), and everything was shaved to within an inch of its life. The car was built for one purpose, and that was to finish out the 1968 season with a 1-2 championship victory.
While the twin 909 Bergspyders only participated in two events at the end of the 1968 season, the light-weight ethos that they inspired went on to influence many other Porsche designs for the next decade. While not taken to such extremes, influences from the 909 can be seen in the 908/02 Spyder and 908/3 of 1969. Certainly later versions of the 917 also exuded 909 influence, especially in open-top form.
The green-on-white car of the Porsche museum is #909/002, and was driven by the younger Stommelen, which completed restoration around late 2006 or early 2007. The whereabouts of the red-on-white car (909/001) of Mitter are currently unknown.
Porsche 917 PA Spyder 16-Cylinder
917 chassis 027 was designed from the outset as a factory test vehicle, and was originally an identical twin to 917-028 which was used to compete in the SCCA Can-Am challenge with Jo Siffert at the wheel from August of 1969. The PA Spyder was described by Mark Donohue as being "the ugliest car in the entire world", and "a patch-up job of putting a stub-nosed roadster body on a coupe". Chassis 027 had been a test bed for the 4.9 liter "Type-912" engine, and early in 1970 the car received a 16-cylinder version of the "traditional" 12-pot motor. The 16 piston engine never received a separate type number, and was simply a type-912 with two cylinders stuck on each end. The downside of this engine, however, was a weight of 706 pounds.
Porsche was considering using the 16 cylinder engine for Can-Am competition in 1972, and had Donohue out for a drive in it late in 1971. He famously said that "the motor was so long that you could hear one end starting up before the other". He went on to state that the car wasn't set up for fast laps, but that the engine was impressive in a straight line, even considering the possibility of turbocharging the flat-sixteen engine for even more power. Ultimately that didn't happen, though, as the car was put into storage, and later interred as a museum installation, and never saw competition. Had Porsche continued to develop the engine, they claim over 900 horsepower possible with a naturally aspirated 7.2 liter version, and an iteration with forced induction was speculated to make almost 2000 horsepower.
Why You Should Go See The Spyders At Amelia Island
Even though the 16 cylinder 917 never saw competition, and the 909 Bergspyder only ran two hillclimbs, they share many aspects that make them special. At first glance, these cars couldn't appear more different, as one was built with ultimate power in mind, and the other with ultimate light weight as the focus. However, they are both sleek open top racers, and they both embody the spirit of Porsche's relentless pursuit of racing perfection. They show just how dedicated to the cause of victory the motorsport department was at the time, and the lengths they would go to beat the world.
The 917 is fresh off a stay at the luxurious North Carolina Museum of Art's Porsche By Design exhibit, and after Amelia Island should be slated to return to its home at the Porsche museum. As far as we are aware, this is the 909 Bergspyder's first trip to North America, and I'm not certain it has ever left the Porsche museum. This is your chance to see these extremely rare Porsche Spyders in person, so if you haven't yet, book your tickets to Amelia Island immediately!
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[Sources: Excellence Was Expected, The Unfair Advantage, and Christophorus Magazine issue 324. Photos: Porsche and Mazdaraceway.com]