This Porsche, 962103, better known as the Holbert Racing Löwenbraü Special, is widely considered to be the most successful and recognizable 962. Built by Porsche AG in spring 1984, 962103 was the third customer car completed at the racing department in Weissach. Intended to compete in the IMSA GT Championship, 962103 was originally delivered to Holbert Racing, an American outfit with long-standing ties to the German marque.
Twenty-five years have passed since 962103 last raced, yet the original Holbert Racing Löwenbraü Special remains one of the most recognizable racing Porsches of all time. Despite being one of the first 962s built at Weissach, 962103 remained competitive throughout four IMSA GT Championship seasons, winning four races in 1984, five in 1985, four in 1986 and two in 1987, for a total of 15 overall victories. This record is a testament to the longevity of Porsche’s engineering and the incomparable talents of Holbert racing.
While accumulating more than 14,000 race and test miles, 962103 contributed to three IMSA Driver’s Championships, captured back-to-back victories at the 24 hours of Daytona, became the most winning IMSA GT chassis, and helped Porsche regain a position of dominance in American sports car racing. Beyond its outstanding racing achievements, 962103 remained in the care of the Holbert family for more than two decades before joining the finest private collection of turbocharged Porsches ever assembled. Its provenance is unquestioned and its pedigree is second to none.
|Vehicle:||1984 Porsche 962|
This car, Lot 53, sold for $1,925,000, including buyer’s premium, at the Gooding & Company Amelia Island auction on March 9, 2012.
Auctions are an imprecise business. The perceived value of any given car as it passes across the block is a function of tens if not hundreds of uncontrolled variables such as the underlying desirability of a car, the expected use, the enthusiasm of the crowd, and the number and aggressiveness of aspiring bidders.
As a result, winning bids for similar cars can vary wildly from auction to auction and even hour to hour within a single sale. This is fabulous for pundits like me who get to speculate endlessly about why this or that car sold for what it did; and what factors likely weighed in the minds of the bidders.
Once in a great while, though, we get the chance to watch what is effectively a controlled experiment: When two almost-identical cars (but with significant and defined variations) cross the block and sell at the same auction and almost the same time. We were treated to this at Amelia Island, where the subject car, arguably the most important and collectible 962 in the world, was sold just six lots before its sister car — identical down to the paint job but without the originality, history and provenance — went across the block.
We thus have an opportunity to parse out how the market values collectibility vs. vintage racing “go drive it” values in a 962 — a car that can possess loads of both.
First, we need to figure out the 956/962 series of Porsche racing cars, which many claim to be the most dominant racing car design in history. The new design started when the FIA decided that it was time for a major revision in the rules governing racing, beginning in 1982. They decided that rather than controlling displacement, weight, and the like, they would concentrate on fuel economy. Although there were a ton of design requirements, the basic control was that cars could carry no more than 100 liters (26 gallons) of fuel, and they couldn’t refuel more than once an hour. At contemporary racing speeds, this translated into requiring about 4.5 mpg consumption, so “economy” remained a relative term, but it was going to demand a completely different approach from the past.
Porsche had spent the past number of years successfully campaigning the production-based 935 series — and a short-lived update of the old 908 design called the 936 — but it was time to start fresh, and the result was the 956.
A winning design
They started with an extremely compact aluminum monocoque tub (Porsche’s first) with an integral aluminum roll cage and a stressed engine/transaxle to carry the rear suspension. The driver was set forward to keep the weight centralized, with the driver’s feet well ahead of the front wheel centerline. To balance fuel economy with power, they chose the 2.6-liter flat six that they had developed for the stillborn Indy Car project: a twin-cam, twin-plug, four-valve design fitted with twin turbochargers. The body was an evolution from the 917 design, with very low drag and lots of downforce from both wings and tunnels.
The resulting Porsche 956 was an extraordinarily successful car almost from the very beginning, taking 1-2-3 at Le Mans in 1982 and going on to dominate the FIA Championship for the next four years.
In the United States, however, Porsche had a bit of a problem. A group called IMSA controlled professional American road racing, and they used rules that, though similar, differed in very substantial ways. The most consequential of the differences were that IMSA required the driver’s feet to be located behind the front axle line, the roll cage had to be made of steel, and twin-turbocharged, four-valve twin-plug engines were not allowed. IMSA used a weight-based formula that favored single-turbocharged, production-based engines.
The American market was too important for Porsche to ignore, so they set about creating an IMSA-legal version of the 956, to be called the 962. The biggest issue was the “feet behind the front axle” rule, as the 956 tub was so small that (save finding dwarf drivers) there was simply no way to meet the rule. Porsche solved this by stretching the chassis (and the wheelbase) forward by five inches and incorporating a steel roll cage.
The engine rules were really no problem at all because Porsche already had the two-valve, single-plug, single-turbocharged 935 engine. It was bigger and thirstier, but it fit the car, made plenty of horsepower, and met the rules. The overall length of the car remained the same as the 956, so the most evident visual clues identifying the 962 are the longer panel between the doors and the front wheelarch, a correspondingly shorter, more abrupt nose, and a hump at the back to clear the turbocharger, which was mounted above and behind the engine instead of to either side , as it is on the 956. The exhaust dumped out the sides of the 956 but came out the back of the 962.
The first cars were delivered in the spring of 1984 and immediately took over the entire IMSA series — to the extent that for several years there was virtually nothing else even entered. If you wanted to be anything but a backmarker, you went to Porsche and bought a 962.
Lots of non-original chassis
Success has its consequences, though, and Porsche found itself struggling with more demand than they had resources, as the existing cars got used up and crashed, which required parts.
The monocoque chassis were a particular problem, as they got soft and flexible over time and abuse, and they needed to be replaced. The result was the creation of a number of aftermarket, non-Porsche chassis that ranged from close-to-original versions on to carbon-composite and honeycomb units. These creations replaced broken original chassis, and they were frequently the base for entirely new cars.
Porsche didn’t seem to mind; they were happy to sell the other components to whoever wanted to buy them and keep the 962s dominant, with the result that many cars ended up with non-Porsche chassis.
All this brings us back to our original thesis.
Race provenance trumps weapons-grade
Our subject car, 962103, was one of the first cars built in Weissach, and it was delivered to a top team where it ran everything — and won almost everything — for years before being honorably put away when it got too tired.
The second car at Gooding’s Amelia Island auction — 962HR1 — was built from parts in the United States on a non-Porsche chassis. This car was essentially built to supplement — and then replace — its predecessor, 962103.
As a later, improved version, 962HR1 is probably a bit faster; it ran as the Löwenbraü Special, had its own share of success, and is apparently restored to race. But the car doesn’t carry the collector panache of “the real one.”
If the same person bought both (I don’t know), this would be a classic example of “one to run and one to collect.” Number 103 is too original and too important to make into a driver, while HR1 is the opposite.
The “real” car sold for effectively a million dollars more than its weapons-grade twin.
So, the market verdict on March 9, 2012, at Amelia Island was that a history-rich original was worth twice that of a perfectly good (and real, with history) clone. There are a lot of driver 956/962s out there, so collectibility probably carries more value here than for a more rare car, but the effect is real and worth noting. The market has spoken, and I’d say fairly bought.