This Porsche 906 Carrera 6 Raced In America In The 1960s Before Finding Its Way To Italy
Photography by Marco Annunziata
The Porsche 906, or the Porsche 906 Carrera 6 if you prefer, had the difficult task of continuing the success of Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche’s beautiful 904. The 904 was more than a pretty shape though, and the engineering team that put all the mechanical bits together underneath Butzi’s beauty were able to achieve excellent results in the GT classes of the period. In hindsight, the 904 marked a big step forward in the lineage of mid-engined Porsche racing cars that eventually begat monsters like the 908s and 917s. but it was not without its weaknesses.
The project to replace the 904 was undertaken by new engineering leadership, the task given to Butzi’s cousin, the mechanical engineer Ferdinand Piëch, grandson of Ferdinand Porsche, and the then newly appointed head of Porsche’s motorsport research and development.
Up until the early 1970s, hill climb races were a very important discipline for marques to test their mettle, and Porsche wanted to prove itself against Ferrari in the mountains of Europe as well as on the circuits, so the 904 had to evolve to keep up. Piëch considered the 904 too heavy, slow, and generally outdated to contest the evolving efforts from Maranello, so he set his team on a mission to build something, well, better: faster, lighter, more aerodynamically advanced. When I met the father and son owners of this 906 (specifically, this is 906-140), the car’s predecessor was naturally one of the first topics we hit upon, namely to put the evolutionary path in context.
As we circled the blue 906, the son of this father-and-son pair excitedly goes over the main points, telling me, “The 906 weighs almost 140kg less than the 904, and although the 904 has a wonderfully engineered four-cylinder, the flat-six in the 906 is more powerful, and thus this car is much faster.” More power and less weight has always been a good recipe, but another interesting piece of the story has to do with the era’s understanding of aerodynamics, and specifically that the 906’s dramatically curvaceous bodywork was the result of wind tunnel testing that its predecessor never had. As we move to the rear of the car, the son is kneeling down and beckoning me to do the same. “And look at this tail! It looks a little like an airplane doesn’t it? I find it amazing that this is a 100% purpose-built racing car, but it can also be driven on the street!”
Before finding myself in front of an original 906, I had always preferred the aesthetic of the 904 if I’m honest, but as the day went on I found myself gradually changing my mind. The lines of the 904 are as perfect as the original 911 in my eyes. There is a natural, almost instinctual look to those cars, while the shape of the 906 has always seemed to born purely from function. It is more dramatic, less elegant, but still captivating. The minimized frontal area of the 906, with the rounded windshield that creates a cockpit very similar to that of an airplane, and also the cropped tail are the result of aerodynamic testing that Porsche had yet to apply up to that point, and that alone makes the shape of the 906 worthy of consideration. But besides all that, there is something compelling from a purely aesthetic standpoint. It looks like a lithe predator, a big cat mid stride, a four-wheeled torpedo, and more than a little bit alien.
Behind us, the father clears his throat and takes over the story for a moment. “You must know that in 1966 the regulations required 50 units to be produced instead of the 100 requested from the previous iteration, and this Porsche 906 is the 40th of those 50,” he informs me as he points to the chassis number welded to one of the many tubes that make up the 906’s frame. “There are so many replicas beautifully made out there, some well-known body shops specializing in racing cars keep making them, and some might look original at first sight, but there is nothing that can capture the real history of an authentic example.”
This car is very original, and it carries the signs of aging that we love to see in vintage racing cars, and when I ask about the livery the owner is happy to fill me in. “Even though the car was originally painted white when delivered to the US in 1966, we decided to use the blue and gray scheme that it was painted in by the second team that campaigned the car, and we also left all the small cracks in the fiberglass bodywork, the scratches, the stickers of the sponsors that we could save, and everything else because they are an integral part of the life of this car. We also kept the modifications that were made in period to the opening of the gullwing doors that were done because the doors had a tendency to ‘fly away’ when cornering. The plexiglass that covers the engine is still intact as well. We are absolutely passionate about racing cars and we are very keen to keep the car’s past alive.”
There are some anachronisms from the car’s prime in the 1960s—the fact that TAG Heuer didn’t exist until the 1980s being the most obvious—but as is the case with almost every car raced back then, this 906 has seen its share of changes over the years. Before getting into the specifics of this example’s history, let’s do a brief summary of the model’s success in motorsport in general.
The Porsche 906 was very light (reportedly around 580kg, or about 1278lbs) thanks to the tubular space-frame, fiberglass bodywork, and the magnesium used in the 1991cc flat-six. Later evolutions would feature fuel injection and sometimes the use of a V8 in place of the six, but the standard 906 power plant originally produced 220hp with two Weber 46 IDA carbs. The car all but immediately obtained significant results in competition. On May 8th, 1966, the 906 of the private (but factory backed) Filippinetti team won the Targa Florio in the hands of the Swiss Herbert Müller and the Belgian Willy Mairesse, who completed the 10 laps of the 72-km (roughly 45 miles) Circuito Piccolo delle Madonie in seven hours, 16 minutes, and 32 seconds.
Among the other major events the 906 contested, the 1966 edition of the 24 Hours of Daytona should be mentioned, with the 906 finishing sixth behind four Ford GT40 Mk2s and a Ferrari 365 P2. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the same year, a 906 finished first in the prototype and sports 2000 categories, and in total four 906s went on to place themselves in the midst of the great challenge between Ford and Ferrari, taking fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh place behind at the triplet of GT40s that swept the podium.
Ok, let’s get back to the car pictured. Even if the 906-140 did not win the Targa Florio and never joined the 24 Hours of Le Mans grid, it still has a solid racing history with its share of ups and downs. After it left the factory in Germany, in April of 1966, it was delivered from the Porsche shop in Beaverton, Oregon to Earle Mayer-Chilles in Portland, its first owner. With the “Rapido Inc.” team, it was painted white and wore the numbers 2 and 356 at times, and it was driven by Mike Fisher and Gary Wright in 1966 and early 1967.
After a good amount of time on track, the car wasn’t immaculate, and it was sold for $5,000 to Monte Shelton, a car dealer and racing driver in Portland, who repaired it and decided to paint it blue before racing it between September 1967 and November 1968.
Shelton’s first race with the 906, was Westwood Pacific in September 1967, wherein Shelton finished first ahead of Lew Florence in 906-136 (Florence was the one who had convinced Shelton to enter the race in the first place, as the story goes). The last race under his ownership, which Shelton did not complete, was the 5th Annual American Road Race of Champions at Riverside, in November 1968. Among the other races contested by Shelton, notable results include a tenth-place finish at the Ken Miles Memorial in Laguna Seca in October 1967, and a first-place at the Pepsi Pro Invitational in Westwood in September 1968 which was run under incessant rain.
Monte Shelton continued his activity as a racing car driver with other Porsches and eventually sold the 906, which passed through several other American drivers and collectors until it returned to Europe in 1987 and joined the “Maranello Rosso” collection of Fabrizio Violati, in Misano, Italy. He had to make a bit of space for the Porsche, but it fit together nicely with his many wonderful Abarths and Ferraris, including one of the best-known 250 GTOs of them all—chassis 3851GT which sold for $38,115,000 in 2014. I suppose that’s pretty cheap compared to today’s prices…
The car’s current owners were the next in line after Violati, and as they recall the event they laugh and tell me that “She seemed in danger with all those red Ferraris around her, so we wanted to save her and bring her with us instead!” They continue, saying ”Fabrizio Violati did not directly oversee the sale of this Porsche, but we carried out the whole negotiation with Mrs. Sandra Vetrano who was Violati’s wife and was the managing director of the Maranello Rosso collection, a unique museum-grade group of cars that unfortunately no longer exists. A very charismatic woman with a great passion for cars, I recall.”
Since it left Emilia Romagna for its current home in Tuscany, 906-140 has participated in several official Porsche events and competitions, including some editions of the uphill race Castell’Arquato-Vernasca (the Vernasca Silver Flag) in Piacenza, Italy, where in 1968 the Italian driver Giacomo Moioli better known as “Noris” put on an unforgettable show on the Porsche 906 chassis 110 against the Ferrari Dino 206 SP of Edoardo Lualdi Gabardi. So while chassis 140 never contested European events when it was young, it has all of its dignified old age to trace its European ancestors’ history while keeping its North American one alive and well.