The Porsche 956 has always been revered for its robustness, speed, and innovation, but it isn’t always mentioned how reassuring and almost sweet it was to its drivers. In these clips taken from the 1983 WSC season, Derek Bell demonstrates just why one could not only live with, but excel in this car for hours-long stints.
During the the 1000km of Brand Hatch, he and Stefan Bellof shared this car for what might’ve been a relatively casual six hours. In the end, the two flaxen-haired aces brought this incredible car back in third behind Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass and Derek Warwick/John Fitzpatrick in second and first, respectively.
The stability through fast corners like Westfield, Dingle Dell, and Sheene’s (1:09-1:25), the little flicks of corrective lock, and the accuracy which Bell places the big 956 must be seen. Both the driver and the car are working in complete harmony, which makes the prospect of wrestling one of these for so long comprehensible.
Though it was designed around high-speed stability and covering the fastest sections of road as quickly as possible, the 956 doesn’t fall on its face in slower corners. The power overwhelms the rears easily, sure, but there’s a friendliness which allows Bell to easily slide around unaware backmarkers (2:06). For something with a spool and some turbo lag, it’s more agile and more predictable than one might bet.
At Kyalami, where the surface is bumpier and the average speeds are far higher, Bell’s job looks twice as tough. Amidst the constant hopping and snaps of oversteer, Bell has to pick lines through never-ending corners and brake awfully late. To manage that level of precision over the long haul is scarcely fathomable, but that is why the man is so revered.
What’s even clearer than Bell’s obvious skill and daring is the way the 956 is suited to fast courses like these. Especially at Kyalami, where the turbomotor never seems to stop pushing—and that’s at a circuit nearly one mile about sea level. Thin air also reduces downforce, and yet the car’s venturi tunnels have it riveted to the surface of the road.
Without a doubt, this 956 was one of the great endurance racers of the 1980s and 1990s, and the ease with which it carried speed through the real grit-your-teeth-and-pray sections—something quite clear in the footage above—is something every racer watches with awe.