1982 Porsche 956

Mathieu Heurtault, courtesy of Gooding & Company

The history of 956003, and the Porsche 956 program at large, can be tracked back to 1981. That year, the FIA began to roll out regulations for its new Group C category for sports car racing, designed to replace both Group 5 (closed touring prototypes like the 935) and Group 6 (open sports car prototypes like the 936) for the 1982 racing season. Porsche immediately responded to the challenge and set to work designing a completely new car that could be ready to race in less than a year.

The result of their herculean effort was the 956 — a car that was, in many ways, a dramatic departure for Porsche. Although the 956 utilized a variation of the tried-and-true twin-turbocharged flat-six engine — which had powered the 1981 Le Mans-winning 936 — it was the first Porsche ever built to utilize an aluminum monocoque chassis rather than traditional tubular space-frame construction. The bodywork was similarly groundbreaking, as the 956 was among the first sports cars — and certainly the first Porsche — to use state-of-the-art ground effects to develop significant downforce at high speeds. The first 956s built, beginning with chassis 956001, were constructed strictly for the Porsche Works team and benefited from many technically advanced features, while customer cars, starting at 956101, were more standardized

It was the 1982 24 Hours of Le Mans that established the Porsche 956 as the car to beat in Group C. For that race, Porsche fielded three of its Works 956s, all wearing an attractive new livery with sponsorship from the Rothmans cigarette company. Clearly miles ahead of the competition, Porsche utterly dominated Le Mans in 1982, with the Works 956s crossing the finish line together in a magnificent 1-2-3 finish. Porsche 956003 placed 2nd, with 956002 taking the laurels.

956003 returned to Le Mans in 1983, as part of the Porsche factory’s three-car assault on the French endurance race. Driven by Schuppan, Holbert and Haywood, 956003 initially looked to be the weak link in the Works team, starting in 7th position on the grid. Nevertheless, it took more than outright speed to win at Le Mans, and 956003 eventually worked its way into the lead, maintaining a smooth, consistent pace. 956003 crossed the finish line victorious, just before its engine expired in a billowing cloud of white smoke. Schuppan, Holbert and Haywood’s performances not only earned them an outright win at Le Mans, they also captured the Index of Energy Efficiency and broke several track records along the way.


Thor Thorson

SCM Contributing Editor

Thor grew up in northern Iowa. His father bought a red Jag XK 150 in the late 1950s, and that was all it took; he has been in love with sports cars , racing cars and the associated adrenaline rush ever since. He has vintage raced for more than 20 years, the bulk of them spent behind the wheel of a blue Elva 7. When he’s not racing, he is president of Vintage Racing Motors Inc., a collector-car dealer and vintage-racing support company based in Redmond, WA. His knowledge runs the full spectrum of vintage racing, and he has put that expertise to good use for SCM since 2003.

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