Introduced in 1968, the Porsche 908 was created as Stuttgart’s more-focused shot at competition success in the FIA’s Group 6 Prototype-Sports Cars class. The car is simple and completely stripped of any fluff whatsoever. Outside, the 908 gets a short, flat body made from fiberglass (both coupe and spyder variants were created), as well as simplified aerodynamics. The driver sits very far forward, his or her feet hanging ahead of the front axle to make room for the 3.0-liter flat-eight engine. With as much as 350 horses on tap, the 1,100-pound 908 was basically like a big racing kart, beating its heavier, more powerful competition on the twisty, more narrow tracks of the sports car series.
Continue reading to learn more about the Porsche 908.
- Includes both a coupe and spyder version
- Very simple, flat design
- Rear stability fins added in 1971
- 15-inch wheels
"The 908 is like a smooth, short, slap of speed, a wedge that cuts into the atmosphere with purpose and poise"
Like just about any other successful, self-respecting race car, the 908 is all business, all the time. You won’t find an ounce of fat or fluff on it, all the way down to the exterior styling. Simplicity is the name of the game here, simplicity and lots of flat, straight lines. The 908 is like a smooth, short, slap of speed, a wedge that cuts into the atmosphere with purpose and poise.
The nose rises up in a single sweeping motion, housing the wheels underneath a single body panel stretching towards the rear of the vehicle. The flanks take a 90-degree turn at the shoulder line, falling straight towards the pavement in a single, uniform panel. Towards the rear, the tail flicks upwards, forcing the air to push the rear end into the ground.
The whole thing was made from fiberglass, which keeps the curb weight remarkably low. Although the first 908 models (also known as the 908 LH) used a hardtop coupe body style, a design that created the kinds of low of drag preferred for high-speed tracks, the more popular 908/02 (produced from 1969 and onwards) used a more lightweight, open top spyder body style. Long tail versions were also in use, both for coupe and spyder iterations, offering even more high-speed capability. The standard vehicle length was measured at 190.5 inches.
In 1971, the 908 was modified to include twin rear fins, a feature that undoubtedly increased the vehicle’s lateral stability significantly.
Finally, the wheels are measured at 15 inches in diameter, a relatively small size compared to the mammoth rollers used on modern performance vehicles. Keeping them in place is a center lock device.
- Simple layout
- Tight squeeze in the driver’s seat
- Seating position hangs the driver’s feet ahead of the axle
"Like the car’s exterior, the 908’s interior is about as basic as simple as they come"
Like the car’s exterior, the 908’s interior is about as basic as simple as they come. You only get what’s needed to go fast, which, as it turns out, isn’t a whole lot. Pilots are secured in place thanks to a racing harness and fixed-back racing seat, while gripping a thin-spoke, flat-bottom steering wheel. To the right is the shifter knob, while a single rearview mirror is placed to the left on top of a tall, thin spoke. A large tachometer is mounted just behind the steering wheel, while a few other gauges are placed in close vicinity to provide all the pertinent info. The rest of it is a crisscross of metal bars and supports, surrounding the driver in a spider web of metal.
Interestingly, the driver’s position is very much towards the nose in the chassis, thus allowing the heavier engine to be placed more towards the middle of the car and evening out the weight distribution. In fact, the driver is so far ahead, his or her feet actually hang ahead of the front axle. The design also places the driver a bit to the right in the chassis, which helps the car slinging around right-hand turns with more agility (the 908 tackled tracks where the majority of turns were to the right, for example, the 24 Hours of Le Mans at the Circuit de La Sarthe in France).
- Naturally aspirated 3.0-liter flat-eight
- 350 horsepower
- Topped out at 170 mph
- Later equipped with a turbo 2.1-liter flat-six
"The real party piece for the 908 is placed right behind the driver’s seat, where Porsche mounted a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter (2,990 cc) flat-8 engine"
The real party piece for the 908 is placed right behind the driver’s seat, where Porsche mounted a naturally aspirated 3.0-liter (2,990 cc) flat-8 engine. This was the original lump found in the 908/01, /02, and /03, offered as a follow-up to the preceding Porsche 907, which got a 2.2-liter (2,200 cc) flat-eight engine making about 270 horsepower. By contrast, the new flat-eight engine produced peak output of 350 horsepower at 8,400 rpm, a substantial increase by any measure.
Standout features include air-cooling, plus 2 valves per cylinder. While the Porsche engine was similar in many respects to contemporary F1 engines, the 908’s 3.0-liter flat-eight produced about 50 horsepower less than the GP cars. However, this lower peak output was offset with greater long-term reliability, with the 908 managing to put in the time during lengthy endurance stints compared to the F1 equivalent’s relatively short sprints.
Further standout features included mechanical fuel injection and dual overhead cams. Critically, the engine weighed less than 400 pounds, an important characteristic considering the 908’s primary role as a lightweight corner carver, as opposed to a brute force, straight-line super star like the Ford GT40. However, with a long enough strip of pavement in front of it, the 908 could still reach a top speed of 170 mph. Routing the power to the rear wheels was a five-speed manual transmission.
Later lightweight open-top versions of the 908 saw its top speed decreased slightly, due to the increased drag created by no roof. The later 908/03 version also got a power increase, up to 370 horsepower. Even later, the 3.0-liter eight-cylinder was replaced by a 2.1-liter turbocharged flat-six with the 908/04 model, and some examples produced upwards of 500 horsepower or more thanks to the forced induction.
Chassis And Handling
- Weighed just 1,100 pounds
- Aluminum tube frame chassis
- Fiberglass body
- Short wheelbase iteration came later
"Under the fiberglass body panels, the 908 uses aluminum tube frames for the chassis."
Under the fiberglass body panels, the 908 uses aluminum tube frames for the chassis. One of the 908’s greatest strengths was its incredibly low weight. Even in its race ready configuration, the 908 managed to tip the scales at just 1,430 pounds. The racer got further help in 1969 thanks to a rule change to the Group 6 prototype class, wherein Porsche managed to cut out as much as 220 pounds by removing the of roof and long tail body work. It was changes like this that ultimately made the 908 the preferred choice when taking on tight tracks, at least compared to the larger, more powerful Porsche 917, which was better suited to high speeds and longer straights.
This characteristic was reinforced when Porsche introduced the 908/03, shortening the wheelbase and giving the car an even nippier attitude. What’s more, the open-top 908/03 weighs in at just 1,100 pounds, a substantial 800 pounds less than the Porsche 917K.
Helping the 908 stop are disc brakes, while a rack-and-pinion steering system helps pilots turn the thing. In the corners, the suspension set-up utilizes double wishbones in front, including coil springs, hydraulic shocks, and an anti-roll bar. Meanwhile, the rear gets reversed lower wishbones, plus top links, twin radius arms, coil springs over hydraulic shocks, and an anti-roll bar.
With its long, successful career in motorsport, it should come as no surprise that the Porsche 908 has become quite the collectible automobile. Some examples easily reach into the seven-figure range, with desirability depending on factors like individual vehicle condition and history.
The particular example draped in yellow that you see here is a 1970 Porsche 908/03, the same car that was driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood at the 1970 Nurburgring 1000 KM for a second-place overall win. It’s one of only 13 examples built in 1970. One lucky collector snagged it at the 2017 edition of the RM Sotheby’s auction in Monterey for $3.575 million.
Alfa Romeo Tipo 33 (33TT3)
Alfa was quite active in sports car and prototype racing in the ‘60s and ‘70s, most notably with the Tipo 33 racer. As the Italian brand’s racer, active between 1967 and 1977, the 33TT3 generation was the 908’s primary competition, introduced in 1969 as a followed-up to the 33/3 from 1967. Like the 908, the Alfa Romeo 33TT3 also got a 3.0-liter V-8 engine. Output in the Alfa comes to 440 horsepower at a screaming 9,800 rpm, a substantial wallop considering the car’s feathery 1,500- pound curb weight. What’s more, the Tipo also secured some screen time in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans. All told, the 33TT12 managed to take the win for Alfa in 1975 in the World Championship For Makes.
Ferrari 312 PB
Ferrari introduced the Ferrari 312 PB in 1971 to participate in the Group 6 Prototype-Sports Car class, then continued on into 1972 and 1973 in the Group 5 Sports Car class. Originally dubbed simply the 312 P, the car was renamed “PB” to help differentiate it from the previous 312 P model. The Ferrari 312 PB came equipped with an aluminum monocoque and steel spaceframe, as well as double wishbones in front. Power was generated by a mid-mounted 3.0-liter flat-12 powerplant, which fed the rear wheels by way of a five-speed manual transmission. Similar in layout to the flat-eight of the Porsche 908, the Ferrari engine differed thanks to water cooling and four valves per cylinder. The Ferrari was also more powerful, but weighed more than the rival Porsche at a little over 1,400 pounds. The model was hugely successful in 1972, winning every single race it entered in the World Sportscar Championship.
While throwing gobs of power at a racer is usually a relatively easy, simple solution to going faster, the more difficult (but ultimately, superior) method is to make it handle brilliantly. Simply, add lightness, and all that.
That’s what we like about the 908. In some ways, it’s like the Lotus Elise of Porsches – low weight, no fluff, great handling, and capable of winning even when down on power. Although it took some time to perfect, the 908’s subsequent winning career is proof enough of its ability.
This is the sort of philosophy we want to see from Porsche’s future models – pure driving enjoyment, with a focus on cornering, not straight-line power. Indeed, this approach is already seeing a focus from folks like Andreas Preuninger, the head at Porsche’s GT division, who called for an “end to the horsepower wars” back in 2015.
All told, this is what sports cars are supposed to look like.
- Simplicity, low weight
- Small dimensions, nippy handling
- Very long career in motorsport
- Underpowered compared to competition
- Rough start to career
- Absurdly dangerous to drive
History And Background
- Saw racing success after lengthy development
- Raced against icons like the GT40
- Took wins at the 1000 KM of Nurburgring in three separate decades
"The Porsche 908 was introduced in 1968 as response to the FIA’s rule change for Group 6 Prototype-Sports Cars"
The Porsche 908 was introduced in 1968 as response to the FIA’s rule change for Group 6 Prototype-Sports Cars. Preceded by the Porsche 907, the 908 was essentially a more serious continuation of an original design created by Ferdinand Piech, also known as the grandson of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche.
The rule changes saw engine displacement limited to 3,000 cc, similar to the engine spec used in Formula 1, thus giving the typically low-power (and low weight) Porsches a real shot at success in competition.
Thus, the 908/01 was born. Equipped with a 3.0-liter flat-eight engine, the 908 was capable of outmuscling the preceding 907, which came equipped with a 2.2-liter flat-eight making just 270 horsepower compared to the 908’s 350 horses. Interestingly, the 908 was the first Porsche sports car designed to use the maximum engine size permitted under homologation standards, signaling Stuttgart’s renewed commitment to winning.
Although showing promise right out the box with a win at the 1000 KM Nurburgring in its debut year, the preceding 907 managed to prove itself as the more successful model than the developing 908, winning more consistently over the course of the 908’s breakout year.
One of the 908’s biggest threats came from America – indeed, the Ford GT40 was on a rampage in the late ‘60s, outpacing the 908 thanks to its larger, meatier V-8. The more powerful Ford secured numerous wins on tracks where it could really open the taps, most notably the huge straights of the Circuit de la Sarthe, ground zero for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Although it was postponed from June to September due to May Day protests in France, the 1968 running of the famous endurance event saw the 908 challenge the GT40 for dominance. Although Long Tail variants of the Porsche managed to grab top qualifying spots and run at the front for the outset of the race, Porsche’s technical problems saw several of the 908’s drop out, handing the win to Ford, followed by a 907 Long Tail and the one and only 908 that managed not to break over the course of the endurance event.
The 908 experienced ever more problems in 1969 at the 24 Hours of Daytona, wherein each of the three Porsche 908/02’s entered failed to complete the race. In the following 12 Hours of Sebring, the Ford GT40 once again secured a win, beating the three competing 908/02’s.
It was around this time that the Porsche 917 arrived, and considering the 908’s track record, most assumed it would be retired to the history books. Amazingly, the exact opposite happened – the 908 started to win, sweeping the podium in the BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, beating the Ferrari 312P in the process. The 908 scored follow-up wins at such prestigious events as the 1000 KM Spa, 1000 KM Monza, and Targa Florio, and even managed to grab an impressive 1-2-3-4-5 finish at the 1000 KM Nurburgring. By the end of the 1969 racing season, Porsche had managed to secure the International Championship for Makes.
Porsche also managed to make a better showing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year, and although Ford once again grabbed the win, the 908 was near the front for much of the race, with Hans Herrmann snagging second-place in his 908. As the story goes, towards the end of the race, the 908 was running down its brake pads, and the Ford managed to sneak by under braking, giving the Blue Oval the win.
The follow-up 908/3 debuted in 1970, which was smaller than the preceding /02. As such, Porsche ran it as a preferred option on tighter, more twisty tracks over the much heavier Porsche 917. What’s more, Porsche continued to develop the 908, creating a new lightweight open-top spyder iteration that ultimately proved to be the more popular option over the course of the 908’s career. Based on the Porsche 909, the lightweight spyders offered team less weight than the already feathery coupes.
The 908 continued its streak of success on the track, managing to secure wins in the Nurburgring 1000 KM and the Targa Florio in 1970. At this time, the 908/02 also saw a win at the 12 Hours of Sebring, driven by the King of Cool himself, Steve McQueen. The actor/race driver was so impressed, he even decided to use the 908 as a camera car in his iconic film Le Mans.
In 1971, Porsche added a twin set of aero fins to the back end, significantly altering the car’s look in the process. That year, the 908 once again retuned to the Targa Florio. Although two of the entries failed to finish race, both crashing out on the first lap, the 908 still managed to set the fastest lap record. The following race was at the Nurburgring, where the 908 managed to sweep the podium in convincing fashion. As a result, Porsche ended up once again securing the International Championship for Makes, giving Stuttgart three straight titles between 1969 and 1971.
By 1972, the rules had changed once again. The 908 was placed in the Group 5 Sport Car class, wherein the minimum weight was drastically increased, reducing the 908’s inherent advantage by a huge margin. What’s more, the Porsche saw heavy competition from a variety of powerful competitors. Rivals like Alfa Romeo and Ferrari suddenly held the advantage, and as a result, the 908 was sold to privateer racers while Porsche shifted its focus to development of the 917 for Can AM racing. Even still, Reinhold Jest managed a third-place finish at the 1972 24 Hours of Le Mans with a three-year-old 908.
By 1975, the 908 get a new turbocharged engine, similar in set-up to the lump found in the 934 GT. The 936 was also introduced around this time, slated for competition in high-profile races like Le Mans. In response, a variety of 908 owners decided to update their car with 936 bodies.
Between 1976 and 1981, the 908 participated in the Group 6 Two-Seater Racing Car class. And although the 908 was succeeded by the Porsche 936, some 908s were in competition straight into the ‘80s, coming equipped with a smaller turbo 2.1-liter flat-six engine. Incredibly, the 908 even managed to get a win at the 1000 KM of Nurburgring in three separate decades, nearly unheard-of accomplishment in the fast-paced world of top-shelf sports car competition.
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