Taking Porsche To School With A Lightweight 914/6 GT Rally Car
Photography by Robb Pritchard
In a warehouse somewhere in the industrial belt of northwest Germany sit two stunning orange 914/6 GTs. From a distance they look pretty much identical, but in fact they have diametrically opposed histories and purposes. One is a priceless ex-works car driven over the years by such Porsche dignitaries as Franz Konrad, Björn Waldegård, Jürgen Barth, and Olaf Manthey. The other is nothing but an old road car shell that has been stripped out and prepared for rallying… And it’s this one, the replica, that I’ve come to see today.
After winning the AvD Histo Monte back in 2015, someone offered its owner, Dominik van der Heiden, what he thought was a daft sum of money for the car. But when he found out that that was actually the going rate for a Porsche with such a history, suddenly sliding through the snow towards trees and ditches filled him not with joy, but dread. “I knew that if I crashed I wouldn’t just be damaging a car, I’d be destroying a real piece of Porsche history,” he says. So, he decided to retire the original and build himself a replica that he wouldn’t care less about bashing through forests and snow banks.
The initial plan was to have a straight replica of the works car, as after having owned that one for fifteen years he was used to how it drove and handled. It didn’t take long though before the project took on a slightly different aim, as after a while working on the comparatively worthless shell he realized he could do just about anything he wanted with it. While studying the FIA historic regulations to see just what he was allowed to change, he started to wonder why Porsche hadn’t done such easy modifications themselves. For example, the original has its fully working pop-up headlights, which aren’t a requirement. Dominik simply took them out put some plastic blanking plates over the holes and that was a few kilograms saved right away. All the body panels on the Waldegård car are steel, but on the “replica” car they are made of very thin fiberglass, and the windows are of course Perspex instead of the original glass. The bumpers are plastic and weigh half of what the steel originals do, and all the superfluous chrome trim is gone.
But it wasn’t just the big and blatant things Dominik changed, and looking around the car I start to realize that the level of thought and attention that has gone into it is incredible. In fact, it is fair to say that this is the 914/6 GT that Porsche should have made in 1970! The bonnet hinges have been machined out as much as possible without compromising their structural integrity and now look like little works of art; to save 4kg the entire wiring loom was taken out and replaced with thinner gauge wire and a lighter type of insulating plastic; any bolt or screw that was protruding more than it absolutely needed to be was exchanged for a shorter one… All in all an incredible 250 parts were changed for lighter, smaller, or shorter versions. The works cars from 1970 stood at a not-too-portly 940kg (~2,070lbs). Dominik managed to reduce that by an incredible 140kg (~310lbs)! With a 2,000cc car that doesn’t have a great amount of torque to begin with, the reduced mass makes a huge difference in acceleration times and the speed he can carry through corners.
Along with the crash diet, there were many power train and other performance upgrades to be done. Dominik chose Manfred Rugen to tune the engine and as well as having everything correctly balanced, the cylinder head, valves, and camshafts were made to the specification of the works cars to give a power increase from the road-going 185bhp to the works spec of 235. The FIA regulations allow for any gearing you want to run, so Dominik was free to choose the ratios and went for a long first gear so he could have more control the slow corners. All the others were machined shorter though as tarmac rallies call for short bursts of acceleration rather than top speed. Dominik knows it’s a compromise though. The main competition is 3,000cc or more 911s, so where there are lot of long straights the 914/6 is left far behind. On the tighter stages however, with its low weight and mid-engine configuration, the nimble orange slice is as fast as anything out there.
Being a rally and race car driver since the ‘70s, including entries in the RAC and 1000 Lakes, and even a class win in the Nürburgring 24 Hours, Dominik knows how to set up a car to get the best out of its chassis, but this 914 proved to be a lot harder to get right than he expected it to be. “I never really liked getting to the limit in the original car,” he says. “With most cars you can feel when it is about to break away and you can either come back from that point or, depending on the car and what you are doing with it, control the drift. But in the 914 there was a point where I was wondering if I was getting close to the limit… and the next moment I was going backwards. I wanted to find a way that I could drive it loose.”
Conventional wisdom, including the advice of its original drivers Waldegård and Konrad, was to keep the suspension rock hard and the sway bars soft, but no matter how much Dominik and his mechanics worked with it, it always snapped around into a spin instead of holding a power slide. One day, out of exasperation, one of the mechanics had the idea of setting it up backwards with soft suspension and hard sway bars… and surprisingly it worked straight away. Coupled with the set of higher-profile tires he had Dunlop make especially for the car (which have soft side walls that allow it to move around more on the wheel) Dominic knew he’d nailed it…And just in time too, as they needed to get in on the trailer for the Mallorca Classic Rally.
Although they got through scrutineering, there were a few things that they hadn’t got around to finishing at the time, one of which was the handbrake cable. A piece of string running from the cab to the mechanism on the rear wheels meant that he could still do hill starts, but that little problem was quickly forgotten when the throttle got stuck wide open in the first stage. To get around all the hairpins he had to turn the engine off on the approach, coast around, turn it on again when he was pointing straight, and shoot up the next hill with tire smoke billowing behind. He didn’t have any mechanics with him at the time, so in the prep windows before the next stages he would take the piece of string from the homemade handbrake repair, tie it to the back of the accelerator pedal, and gave it to his co-driver to operate. It sounds like a desperate “get it home” solution, but somehow they managed to finish the stage with the second best time. And amazingly, once they’d mastered the system they won the next stage by six seconds. “To get a stage win in the way we did, it was one of the best experiences of my life,” he says, smiling wide.
And though he’s thoroughly enjoyed competing in it, Dominik has a truly outrageous plan for its next step, one that involves more paperwork than engineering. When the 3.0 RSR came out in the early ‘70s, a lot of people wanted to upgrade from their 2.8L engines, and in California there were apparently many such swapped-out blocks just sitting around outside Porsche workshops. Somebody had the great idea to put them in the back of the 914 and made 12 examples, although no one knows what happened to any of them. The important thing though is that he got the road registration documents for the engine change, and if Dominik can find them he’ll be able to do the same conversion and get the technical passport for a prototype classic. “Imagine what an 800kg car with a 300bhp 2.8 flat-six in the middle of it would be capable of,” he smiles. “At the right rallies this car can already outperform any 911. With the extra power nothing would be able to touch it!”
If you’re more interested in the history of the car that this one was originally meant to replicate though, here’s a bit of backstory on the car that’s now enjoying retirement.
It was initially prepared for Group 4 circuit racing by the Hülpert VW Porsche dealership in Dortmund, and in 1970 was raced in German events by Willi and Alexander Nolte under the management of “VW-Porsche Sportwagenzentrum Hülpert & Co.,” but it was Werner Christmann who achieved the car’s best period result when he won the 1971 DARM race at Kassel-Calden. In 1973 Porsche stalwart Franz Konrad took over and raced it for a the whole of 1974, taking a highest place finish of 3rd at Zandvoort.
The car was retired from contemporary racing in 1975 and kept as a display piece in a showroom for 10 years until Emmanuel von Kettler bought it and had it rebuilt to the full works specification, but it wasn’t raced in anger again until 1993 when he brought it out of retirement for Waldegård to drive in that year’s 500km of Nürburgring classic race. The next year, the 1979 world rally champion took it to 2nd overall in the famous Koln-Ahrweiler rally, and in 1995 GT Porsche racing guru Olaf Manthey entered the same event and went one better to win it. Another famous name in Porsche history to pilot this car is Jurgen Barth, who took it to 2nd on the 1995 Tour Auto. Dominik bought the car in 1999 and his best results include 2nd on the ’99 Auto Tour and 5th on the Koln-Ahrweiler, and a very big victory on its last competitive outing, the 2015 AVD Histo Monte. With the replica now finished (for the moment anyway) the original will enjoy a long and quiet retirement and although it may be at some shows in the future, Dominik won’t be doing any more timed events in it. No more looking at oncoming trees through the side window in this one.