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.  

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1982 Porsche 956
Years Produced:1982–84
Number Produced:28 (10 factory, 18 customer)
Original List Price:$270,000
SCM Valuation:$1,500,000–$2,500,000
Chassis Number Location:Inside cockpit on rear bulkhead
Engine Number Location:Fan housing support, right side
Club Info:Porsche 962 Registry
Alternatives:1982–85 Jaguar XJR 5, 1985–1990 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo, 1983–86 Lancia LC-2
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 50, sold for $10,120,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company auction in Pebble Beach, CA, on August 16, 2015.

You can buy a good Porsche 956 for about $1.5 million these days, but our subject car sold for almost seven times that much. What is going on here?

Actually, this sale makes quite a lot of sense if you understand the marque and the market. Porsche guru Bruce Canepa told several of his customers that it would sell for $10 million well before the sale happened. They didn’t want to believe him, of course, but he proved to be right. Let’s see if we can make sense out of this.

Years of race domination

When people want to think about great auto racing traditions, they automatically dream of the exotic red romantic racers from Maranello, but if you simply look at the results, the Teutonic steamrollers from Zuffenhausen are way ahead.

Porsche has won major international championships for six consecutive decades, and it has been so dominant that many series effectively became one-marque Porsche parades.

The Italians don’t even come close.

That said, Porsche racers have not always been as exciting as the audience would have liked — periods of boring dominance were interspersed with flashes of exciting brilliance and dramatic competition, and those flashes are where the highly collectible cars can be found.

A race car company

Unlike Ferrari, who built racing cars for the factory and a few select customers to race and road cars for people who could afford them (and sometimes raced them), a major part of Porsche’s business from the very beginning was selling racing cars to whoever wanted to buy them.

Marketing considerations in the early days dictated that the cars be relatively small displacement and production-based, with only a very few factory pure racers to promote the marque.

Through the 1960s, as the new 911 model’s success turned Porsche into a major manufacturer, they stayed with the production racer concept with the 904 (110 produced) and the 906 (65 produced), but the temptation to go for overall wins instead of class honors led them back to the factory racer approach.

The 1969 FIA rules specified a 3-liter prototype class, and Porsche was busily developing cars to win in this group (907, 908) when someone realized that if they built 25 identical racers they could use a 5-liter racing engine, and the 917 was born.

The 917 was utterly dominant for the last two years it was allowed to run (1970–71) and has become arguably the most valuable German racing car that can be bought, but in 1972, its European racing days were over, so Porsche moved on. The 1970s proved to be a very tough time for motor racing in general, and Porsche responded by moving back to selling production-based racers using the 911 platform, and very few “pure” racers — they developed the 908 and it evolved into the 936 — for the prototype classes.

This was the period of the 935, a production racer based on turbocharged 911 mechanicals and “silhouette” bodywork that kinda sorta looked like a production 930.

From 1976 through 1981, if you wanted to be in the hunt in either European or U.S. racing, you had to run a 935, and Porsche was happy to sell cars or components to anyone whose check didn’t bounce. The racing was great, but they all looked and sounded the same. Both the FIA and the promoters felt that this was bad for the sport.

Building the 956

For the 1982 season, the FIA instituted a new “Group C” as the top of the hierarchy in endurance racing. It did away with the production silhouette concept and replaced it with a closed-body car that had no production requirement.

Most importantly, the new rules allowed the ground effects aerodynamics that were just being worked out. Porsche’s answer was the 956. It utilized Porsche’s first-ever monocoque chassis and a 4-valve variant on the familiar 935 engine in a package designed from the start to minimize drag and maximize ground-effects downforce.

The 956 introduction also saw the re-establishment of a proper factory racing team, and three cars were liveried in the new Rothmans cigarette company colors.

Nobody’s perfect

The new 956 was introduced to the world at Le Mans in June 1982 and, like the 917K before, served notice that nobody else stood a chance against them. The three Rothmans Porsches finished 1-2-3, with the 3rd-place car finishing eleven laps ahead of 4th place.

The domination continued through the year, with Porsche easily winning the manufacturer’s championship and team driver Jackie Ickx winning the driver’s honors.

For 1983, Porsche actively sold customer versions of the car, but the hierarchy remained: The factory Rothmans cars were always fastest, the customer 956s were next, and everybody else picked up the crumbs. At the 1983 24 Hours of Le Mans, our subject car won, leading a 956 sweep of nine of the top 10 positions (1st through 8th and 10th), prompting the infamous Porsche poster “Nobody’s Perfect.”

A most collectible production racer

Let’s circle back to the original question: Is this car worth almost seven times a lesser 956, and if so, why?

The answers are apparently yes (the bidding was spirited) and for a series of reasons.

First, Porsches in general have become extremely collectible over the past 10 years or so, and it is a growing market.

Second, we have noted the difference between Porsche’s “production racers” and their far-more-special pure racers, and this car is clearly the latter.

Third, of the pure racers, the two that truly stood the racing world on its ear were the 917 and the 956, so they are the most desirable.

Fourth, not only is this a factory team car (chassis 03) but it wears the Rothmans race livery, in iconic value second only to the blue and orange Gulf/Wyer 917 colors.

And fifth, this car not only won Le Mans in 1983, it took 2nd in 1982. Only one car a year wins, and only a handful in history have done both.

Yeah, it cost a lot more than a garden-variety 956 or 962, but it ticks all the boxes and the argument can be made that the true value comparison is with a Gulf/Wyer 917 with history — and those are easily twice what our subject car sold for. A lot of money, yes, but where else will you find a Porsche this important? I’d say fairly bought and sold. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Gooding & Company.)

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