History Will Repeat Itself In Monte-Carlo When This Porsche 924 Turbo Returns In 2019
Photography by Robb Pritchard
Photography by Robb Pritchard and courtesy of Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique and Jürgen Barth
Following on from the successful four-cylinder 912 and 914 models, Porsche’s water-cooled front-engine 924 was nevertheless maligned by many so-called Porsche aficionados for its layout and for having too many VW and Audi parts to be a “real’ Porsche. But there are more than a few people who think it was, and is, a great car. Two of them are Jürgen Barth and Roland Kussmaul.
For three years that turned the 1970s into the 1980s, Barth himself took on the development of the competition-spec 924 T. Privately, if not somewhat secretly—the project did have the go-ahead from directors Helmuth Bott (who would soon head the 959 program), and Dr Ernst Fuhrmann as well as Porsche’s motorsport director of the time, Peter Falk—he bought four prototype turbocharged cars. Two were to be the rally vehicles, and the others were to be used as test cars, which he and Kussmaul drove on the 400km daily round trip between the offices in Stuttgart and the workshop.
However when it came time to enter the 1979 Rallye Monte-Carlo, the rally car had to be de-specced because there weren’t yet the required 1,000 road-going cars for it to be homologated with the Turbo. To enter their 924, they had to put naturally-aspirated engines back in, and the rally plate was put on the bonnet at 90 degrees off from the normal location in order to cover the leftover air scoop. Even though they were down about 50 horsepower, Barth and his co-driver, Kussmaul of course, still managed to finish 20th overall, and 4th in the GT4 class which was considered a great success.
The development program through 1979 included some huge events such as the Safari Rally in Kenya, which he nearly completed. Halfway through it, he noticed that the rear arches were a bit wider than they should be and he pulled into a service station to find that the rear suspension mounts had failed. Undaunted, he bought a hood off an old truck and with his sunglasses for protection, welded new supports in… It’s hard to imagine many of today’s drivers doing the same.
Unfortunately just 300km from the end of the 6000km event, a component in the transaxle failed. Not three weeks later, an upgraded part that would likely not have failed was included in all the production cars.
The other event was the Repco Rally, a crazy, two-week-long, 20,000km blast on dirt tracks around Australia where Barth and Kussmaul won their class in the process giving the naturally-aspirated 924 its first competitive win. Barth points out how easy the car was to drive, as he won despite driving with a broken hand sustained in a roll earlier in the event.
For 1980 the car was considered well developed and reliable and was ready to enter the Monte-Carlo again, this time as a proper Turbo car that was built in the sports department in Zuffenhausen with a semi-works effort behind it. “That was chassis 001, a real predecessor of the  Carrera GT. It was a fantastic car to drive. It handled so easily,” Barth remembers. They finished in almost the same position as the year before, 19th overall and 5th in class GT4.
It’s final year, 1981, wasn’t so successful and they retired with a driveshaft failure on the last night at the start of the Col de Turini. Although the result wasn’t what they were hoping for, the car is remembered today as the one that JVC managed to take the first ever in-car footage of the race with.
After the 1981 Monte-Carlo, chassis 001 was never used in competition again, and so the white Boss livery wasn’t seen on a rally stage again until Swiss classic rallying enthusiast Franco Lupi decided to make a replica. “There are plenty of 911s in the classic rallying world, and there are dozens of companies selling just about everything you could need for a competition build,” Franco says, “but I wanted to stand out and have something unusual.” Making a copy of such a rare car proved a lot harder than he anticipated though. Stripping a road car shell down to weld the seams and add reinforcing plates to the suspension mounts was the easy part.
“For a 911 there are many companies that make anything you want but for the 924 Turbo that’s not the case, and there was a point where I thought it was just too much of a pain in the neck as the project quickly got more expensive than building a normal 911 would have been.”
His enthusiasm was bolstered though when he managed to get permission from Jürgen Barth himself to spend an afternoon with the original car in the Sinsheim museum, and he went over it with his mechanic, both taking hundreds of photos and measuring everything they could. He also managed to buy the last set of original wheel arch flares. They were obviously too valuable to put on the car that he planned on powersliding between straw bales and trees though, so he made moulds from them.
And it all became worth it when he asked Barth if he would be interested in being involved in the project further. “I wasn’t too serious because I never thought he would say yes. I mean, how often must he get asked to drive people’s Porsches?” But he was so pleased to see his old car again that he didn’t just offer to some give advice, he was ready to actually drive the car on the Rallye Monte-Carlo Historique!
The first time was in 2017. On the experience, Barth says that “To get a really quick response in the steering, Franco had put a steering rack from a Ferrari on the car. It was a good idea… in theory. But on the snow and ice in the Monte-Carlo it wasn’t so nice to try to control the car with such heavy steering. Also the engine wasn’t too healthy, so we knew that we needed to make improvements to the car. Every month many of the old retired engineering team from Porsche go out for dinner in a restaurant together and we talk about what interesting projects people around the world are doing that need some real ‘life’ experience to be involved. For example, if someone wants a Group C engine properly rebuilt then why not have one of the guys who worked on the original to do it? Armin Knüpfing was one of the guys involved in the rallying project in 1980, so we took the car to him. And he did a really, really good job with it. For the second attempt in January 2018, we had a real replica.”
Barth‘s Porsche-related exploits are more well-known, but he’s actually a two time Monte-Carlo class winner with other marques. In 1999 he drove a tiny Subaru Vivio to the N1 class win, and won the diesel class in 2000 in a Seat Ibiza. The winter of 2018 wasn’t to be a year of podium glory though. Another element of the first historic Monte-Carlo they did that neither Barth nor Kussmaul had experience with before was how a regularity rally works. “All my life the only thing to do in a race or rally car was to go as fast as possible, so it was very hard for us to get used to driving at average speeds. For example, you have 719 meters to drive at 46 km/h… but there is a hairpin with snow on it, which of course you cannot do at 46 km/h. So you have to go faster into it and out while Roland is on the trip computer trying to work out how to get us back to the correct average before we run out of those 719 meters. It completely caught us out in 2017, so we practiced a bit in the summer… but it seems not quite enough. This year we did really well on the snow stage, so when we were doing it right, we did it really right, but on a couple of others Roland pressed the wrong button and wiped everything off the computer and we got so many penalty points that there was no way we could get a good result.
“The main thing though was that we had fun. The car is gorgeous to drive and brings back a lot of great memories. The event is also pretty magic. Many of the stages of the same as the WRC which went through the week before so we could still see all the tire marks on the roads. And as is always the case in the Monte-Carlo, it was really challenging. Just like a real rally we needed to be wise with decisions about tires, as there was dry tarmac, snow, slush and ice all to tackle. Sometimes there were a few combinations of conditions that we needed to do on one set.
“Another thing that made it special was that there were so many spectators. All the time controls were a full house and we always had people come to us in the service parks to ask questions as they were interested in the car. It’s something special to France I think, and hey had such passion to stand in the cold for hours that it actually reminded me a bit of the Group B days in some places. There was also a fantastic night section and no Monte Carlo is complete without the stage up and over the Col de Turini. At the top the fans were always famous for putting snow on the road to make the cars slide more and we found that too. And could hear them cheering as we drove passed. Such a great experience.”
“Also Franco with his company Scuderia Rapiditas organized everything perfectly for us, so the hotels, restaurants and the service parks were all top class… And although the car got completely checked every night after 3000km of driving, it needed nothing done to it… Like how a Porsche should be!”
With the car fully sorted Barth and Kussmaul will be practicing with the trip computer to have another go at the Monte-Carlo in early 2019. With three rallies done forty years ago and another three in the works, history seems to be repeating itself for this almost-forgotten race car.