924 GTP Le Mans

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The development of the 924 GTP Le Mans is a debated chapter in Porsche’s history. Some argue that the era lead by Ernst Fuhrmann represents an unwise and ultimately crushed attempt to stray from the essence of Porsche racing. Others might argue that Fuhrmann sought a new strategy, which was ultimately fulfilled by Porsche, whereby the brand would race cars they sold. After all, “[r]acing is good advertising for every car,” he is quoted as saying. And that logic seems to exist within Porsche AG today, with such cars the widely successful Porsche GT3 based on its highly successful race-bred counterpart.

Regardless of the inherent debate of the 924 GTP’s era, the immediate precursors of the GTP (namely, the Carrera GT LM, raced at Le Mans in 1980), and the GTP itself, represent steps on the timeline of Porsche’s development of the production 944 series. In accordance with Fuhrmann’s race-and-sell philosophy, the 1981 924 GTP (often alternately known as the 944 GTP, or 944LM) is the most noticeable transition between a race-bread development and a production car; it’s incarnation as a prototype lead to numerous developments which initially lead to the development of the 944 in 1983, but which also later reappeared in its production sister, the 944 Turbo.

Prior to the creation of the 924 GTP Le Mans, Porsche developed three race prepared 924s, internally designated as 924 Carrera GT. However, since Porsche was unable to meet homologation demands, the cars were forced to compete in the GTP class, where they competed against purpose designed race cars. Thus, from the onset the production based cars were forced to compete in a true race-bred environment, which no doubt translated to their production cars.

These 924 Carrera GTs were the basis for the GTP, although they featured a smaller engine with a lesser output. They also spawned street car incarnations such as the 924 Carrera GT, a wide-flared and aggressive sport version of the production 924. As was the case with all standard production 924s, the race cars featured an Audi built engine with 2.0 litres of displacement. However, when Porsche embarked on its journey to produce a Le Mans racer for the 1981 race, it decided to utilize a new, more powerful 4-cylinder power plant.

The GTP’s brand new all-Porsche engine, an obvious departure from the Porsche/Audi developed 924 engine (which was harshly criticized because it was not a true Porsche power plant), was based directly on the production 928’s V8 engine. The GTP’s engine featured the same 2479cc displacement as the later production Turbo engine, however the GTP featured a distinctive DOHC design. Although the 4-cylinder was half of the 928’s V8, it produced a staggering power output: 410 bhp at 6500 RPM. Alternately, according to Excellence magazine, the GTP that raced in Le Mans produced 420 bhp at 6800 RPM [*]. Although the power generated was remarkable, the engine was very similar to that of the later production 944, including its use of aluminum engine components. In fact, the 924 GTP even employed a variant of the same KKK turbocharger used on the 944 Turbo.

Other similarities between both the Carrera GT the GTP and the 944 and the eventual 944 Turbo model exist as well. Besides employing technical innovations later mass-produced in the 944, such as a counter-rotating balance shaft to dampen engine vibrations (later seen on the production 944), the race cars hinted at the production car’s intended styling. The body lines of both prototype racers mirrored the more aggressive styling of the 944 Turbo, particularly the wide flares and aggressive intercooled front end, although features such as the GTP’s hood scoop were smoothed out of the production 944’s design.

The similarities between the GTP and the 944 Turbo are therefore quite apparent. As if to draw a more concrete connection, Porsche made notable associations. Interestingly, the cam cover of the GTP’s engine featured beveled text reading “944 Le Mans”, a hint at the car’s prototype status. In fact, some sources even refer to the car as the 944 GTP. Even Porsche commented in an advertisement for the 944 Turbo in 1986 that “[b]efore we start production on a car, it’s already finished”, obviously referring to the similarities between the retired GTP and the production 944 Turbo.

The 924 GTP Le Mans competed in the 1981 race, and although it did not bring an overall Le Mans victory, the underpowered 4-cylinder prototype finished 7th place overall. Porsche made note of the cars disadvantage in a comparative sales advertisement for the 1986 944 Turbo, and noted that the car “competed against cars with engines more than twice the size of its own in-line four.” Moreover, the car was noted as being the most reliable, spending “less time in the pits than any other car in the race.”

Ultimately the 924 Carrera GT Le Mans, the predecessor to the GTP, and the GTP itself were retired to history. Regardless of its success at Le Mans, the deviation from Porsche’s rear-engine heritage was quickly corrected. Porsche’s inevitable decision to remain true to their archetypal 911, and therein to counter Fuhrmann’s vision of front-engine Porsche racing meant that the GTP’s era ended soon after it began. The history of the GTP survives. One of two remaining examples of the GTP lives in the Porsche Motorsports museum, the other is owned by Porsche collector Jim Edwards.

[*]According to Patrick C. Paternie of Excellence, the engine of the GTP was boosted to 600 bhp, but for reliability reasons, and for the nature of the Le Mans circuit, it was detuned. Ultimately, according to the former concern, such a decision was warranted, for according to a Porsche 944 Turbo advertisement which featured the “944 GTP”, the GTP that raced Le Mans spent the least amount of time in the pits of any of the cars that were raced.

[*]All gallery images are reproduced for educational purposes. They are copyright their respective owners.

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