The Porsche 956/962 twins won the first and the last 24 Hours of Le Mans they were entered in, twelve years apart. I'm not sure there's ever been any other sports racing car that was as successful for as long as this masterpiece.
The 956 debuted in 1982 for then-new Group C category of top-rung sports car racing. The idea was to limit the amount of fuel used by the cars and let the rest pretty much go as it pleased.
With the 24 Hours of Le Mans victory as the goal and the circuit's endless Mulsanne Straight in mind, Group C cars were big on power and low on drag. The Porsche pretty much maxed out the formula.
And by maxed out, I mean they regularly crested 235 miles an hour. Here's what that looked like. Yes, it's hyperspace.
There was plenty of power from the twin-turbo, air-cooled (with water-cooled heads) 2.65 liter flat six (I've seen hp figures quoted from 620 to 750 in qualifying), which had quite a development history. The engine got its start in the bonkers-fast Porsche 935 silhouette racer of the '70s, then was developed into an Indy 500 competitor, then was rejected from Indianapolis and stuck in a five-year-old prototype chassis for the '81 24 Hours of Le Mans. It won that race, then got stuck in the 956.
The chassis is even more interesting: it was a very smooth, slippery shape, but it had tons of downforce from its underbody ground effects. Ground effect was ruling the day in Formula One at the time, so that's not particularly odd. What is strange is that, at the time, Porsche didn't totally understand how it all worked. They admit as much in this recent Drive video on the car.
Porsche built bucket loads of these prototypes, absolutely filling the grids of 1980s endurance races with them, which is why Porsche could put out posters like this.
And I'm only talking about Le Mans! This car dominated from Japan to America and still holds the lap record on the Nürburgring.
What was it like to drive? Here's how factory racer Hans-Joachim Stuck described it.
The 962 is the best race car that I ever drove. Brute force and unbelievable ground effects. The centrifugal forces were enormous, and there was no power steering. You needed the strength of a bear and a lot of courage.
Towards the waning years of Group C, the competition finally caught up with the big Porker and it spent most of its time filling up the middle of the pack than the front, but it was always quick and always a viable competitor.
Eventually, the organizers at the FIA got fed up with the thing and for 1991 legislated turbos out of competition, with little input from the teams as one owner claims. The 962 was so good it had to be banned, basically.
Naturally, the Porsche 962 couldn't be held down. Porsche had built so many customer cars (Porsche's competition department was a business maybe even more than an advertising tool), the 962 technically qualified as a GT car. One privateer by the name of Jochen Dauer entered a 962 under the FIA's GT1 category in the '94 24 Hours of Le Mans and won the race outright.
Since the 962 (introduced in '84) was basically just a slightly safer, updated version of the 956, I don't mind lumping the two together as one conceptual vehicle. After all, you can call both the 1968 and the 1969 Alfa Romeo prototypes Tipo 33s even though one is a monocoque chassis and the other is a tube frame!
[hearty laughter from the crowd]
What I mean to say is that the 956/962 pair was so good that they utterly dominated sports car racing for six straight seasons ('82-'87) before the competition started to match them on speed and reliability. Not only that, the worth of the 956/962 pair was proven again in '94 when the car beat the very best prototypes that anyone could put together in the post Group-C era.
How's that for a record?
Photo Credits: Getty Images, Poster and Rothmans 1-2-3 via Porsche, Engine photo from Porsche via 8w