Chassis # 956-103
1983 PORSCHE 956 Group C
The ex-Preston Henn / T-Bird Swap Shop
2nd overall at Le Mans 24hr 1984
We are thrilled to present for sale this very significant Porsche 956 Group C racing car. One of the earliest of just twelve customer Porsche 956s, built in January 1983 and supplied new to Thunderbird Racing for American Preston Henn to compete in the FIA World Endurance Championship.
This immensely historic example competed twice at the Le Mans 24 hours, initially finishing 10th overall in 1983, then returning in 1984 and finishing on the podium, 2nd overall, in the hands of Jean Rondeau (F) and John Paul, Jr (USA).
Porsche 956 overview
The Porsche 956 was a Sports Prototype designed and built to compete under the new for 1982 Group C regulations primarily within the FIA World Sportscar Championship. The project began in June 1981 with the first prototype 956-001 chassis being completed on March 27th 1982. The 956 featured an aluminium monocoque chassis, which was a first for the company, helping to allow the car to meet the 800kg minimum weight limit.
The engine is the same as used in the previous years 936 model, designated 935/76. The type 935/76 engine is a twin KKK K26 turbocharged flat 6 configuration with air-cooled barrels and water-cooled cylinder heads producing approximately 635bhp. Initially the engines employed Bosch mechanical fuel injection with the factory cars benefitting in 1983 form the fitment of Bosch MP1.2 Motronic fuel injection, which would not be available to the customer teams until 1984.
Exclusively the Rothmans factory team used the 956 during 1982 with chassis 956-001 through to 956-004. For 1983 the factory team had five new chassis, 956-005 through to 956-009, which featured a revised monocoque to increase the front down force. This was followed by one further chassis 956-010 in 1984.
The customer versions of the 956 were available in 1983 with twelve chassis being produced to the earlier 1982 factory specification. These were numbered 956-101 through to 956-112. In 1984 a further six chassis were produced to the 1983 works specification. These were to be designated 956
'B' and were numbered 956-113 through to 956-118.
The 956 would be officially replaced by the works Rothmans new 962 model in 1985 with the customer cars still running till the end of 1986, when they were effectively outlawed by the new IMSA style regulation dictating that the driver's pedal box should lie behind the axis of the front wheels.
One of the first of twelve customer 956s and supplied new in the spring of 1983 to Thunderbird Racing for Preston Henn to compete in the 1983 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Henn, already an established 935 driver in the USA and fresh from coming first overall at the 1983 24 Hours of Daytona with Bob Wollek (F), Claude Ballot-Léna (F) and A J Foyt (USA), now turned his attention to the other side of the Atlantic and prepared for the 1983 season.
Race History: 956-106
Silverstone 1000kms 1983
The first race for 103 was at the Silverstone 1000kms race, with Bob Garretson, the first Endurance World Champion in 1981, as team manager.
The team was based in John Fitzpatrick's premises. In its first race along with some of the other customer cars they were handicapped by having only the low drag Le Mans spec nose and tail bodywork sections rather than the high-downforce sections used by the factory team. They were also running Goodyear tyres and mechanical injection rather than the Dunlop's and Bosch Motronic injection, as the factory always kept the latest developments for the Factory cars. Preston Henn drove with Guy Edwards and Rupert Keegan, but the latter did not take part in the race. Henn started on wet tyres on a rapidly drying track, which ended in the second hour with engine failure with Edwards at the wheel.
Le Mans 24 Hours 1983
For the Sarthe race, Henn hired Claude Ballot Lena (F) with whom he had won the Daytona 24 Hours earlier in the year in a Porsche 935. The third driver was Jean-Louis Schlesser (F). During Wednesday's practice a tyre exploded on the les Hunaudieres straight causing heavy damage to the bodywork and suspension.
On Thursday, an electrical failure stopped Henn on the les Hunaudieres on his first lap. Once retrieved he lapped in 3m 40s on his first flying lap with high turbo boost but the engine failed. Come the race the BP- liveried car spent most of the first hour in its garage with an injection problem and was lying forty-seventh on the time sheets. At the ten-hour mark, it had fought its way up into thirteenth place. Then more problems arose with the door, gearbox and uprights, losing a further fifty minutes just before half distance. Further minor problems arose before eventually finishing 10th overall.
Brands Hatch 1000kms 1983
Back in England for the third round of the championship, the first with the high-downforce rear bodywork but still with the low-drag front. Henn teamed up with David Sutherland (GB) and Davina Galicia (GB). Both were making their debut in Group C cars and things were made more difficult for them when Henn blew up the engine on his third lap during qualifying. A new engine was fitted for the second qualifying session with Sutherland posting the slowest time of all the 956s. During the race Sutherland went off under braking for Westfield hitting the guardrail damaging the suspension.
Fuji 1000kms 1983
The car had a new livery in Japan in the colours of Advan and Alpha Windsurfing, Ricky Chiba's company that had bought 956-103. Advan's backing led to the adoption of Yokahama tyres. Local hero Kunimitsu Takahashi (J) qualified second-last place of the 956's. John Paul Jr (USA) the reigning IMSA champion completed the driver line-up. Takahashi started the race in sixth place but had to stop early due to a fuel feed problem. On lap 64, the left side of the nose section was torn off in a collision with a back marker. As the team did not have a spare nose section the officials refused to allow the car to re-join with a wheel partially uncovered.
Le Mans 24 Hours 1984
Although 956-103 was supposedly sold to Ricky Chiba, Preston Henn held on to it for a few months further. For le Mans John Paul Jr was again part of the driver line-up with Jean Rondeau. Even though Henn's name appeared on the bodywork, he drove his own 962-104 that was entered in the GTP class.
During practice Michel Ferte qualified the 956-103 while John Paul Jr qualified the 962-104! Jean Rondeau put the number 26 956-103 on the 26th grid spot.
The 956 had an uneventful race apart from losing a wheel on Sunday morning. It moved slowly up the time sheets from eighteenth place at the end of the first hour to fifth with a quarter of the race gone. In front of it were two Lancias and 956-114 and 956-115; it gained another place when 956-115 collided with a back marker. The two Lancias and the 956-114 all succumbed to engine problems leaving the Swap Shop 956 to take finish on the podium, 2nd overall, behind the New Man Joest Racing Porsche 956B 117.
It was 956-103’s last ever race in Europe and its most notable performance.
Suzuka 1000kms 1984
The Nova Engineering team bought 956-103 to race in Japan. It competed in this round in the From A colour scheme with Dunlop tyres, its livery in the last two races, counting towards the Japanese Championship. Its drivers were Jiroh Yoneyama and Chikage Oguchi who qualified in thirteenth place finishing seventh.
Fuji 1000 Kms 1984
Its last World Endurance Championship appearance. Its drivers were again Jiroh Yoneyama and Chikage Oguchi who qualified it last of the 956s. 956-103 would later retire with a blocked gearbox.
Fuji 500 1984
The All Japan Fuji 500 race on 25th November 1984 would be 956 103’s last race in period, which ended in an accident during qualifying and a DNS.
Ownership & Provenance
Thunderbird Racing - Preston Henn (USA)
Taisan International - Ricky Chiba (J) Nova Engineering
Vern Schuppan (AUS)
Rob Dyson (USA)
Vern Shuppan (Aus)
Chris Crawford - Group C Limited (UK)
For sale with Maxted-Page
956-103 is offered complete with extensive original paperwork, including the original Porsche sales invoice to Thunderbird Racing and the car’s FIA Technical Passport from 1983. Further accompanied by the signed and dated Sale Agreement of October 1983 from Thunderbird Racing to Taisan International.
Vern Schuppan then purchased 956-103 from the team in a damaged state after the Fuji accident in 1985 and briefly sold it to Rob Dyson on the understanding that the chassis be returned to his ownership following the delivery of a new Porsche 962 chassis, which were only available for purchase to teams that already owned a 956 chassis. Dyson required a 962 IMSA chassis as the 956 was no longer an eligible race-car for the USA. 956-103 was then returned to Vern Schuppan as soon as Dyson had secured their new 962. In 1996, the car was sold by Schuppan in part-restored condition to UK based Chris Crawford, who at that time owned Group C Limited. Trevor Crisp (now Katana Limited) worked there at the time and principally completed the rebuild himself to their highest standard in 2004, using all correct parts and components.
The car has subsequently done just one historic race at le Mans in 2004 (finishing 2nd) and still has very low hours on the engine. Katana continue with periodic maintenance. The engine (2.65 litre) was upgraded from injection to Motronic in 1985 and runs the same configuration today. The car is in 1984 LM long-tail configuration and Swap Shop / Hawaiian Tropic livery and presented in truly authentic and beautiful condition throughout.
A rare opportunity to acquire a genuine and well-documented Porsche 956, with podium history at le Mans and in beautifully presented cosmetic and mechanical condition.
Porsche 956 - Reynald Hézard & David Legangneux
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