More books have been written about Porsche than any other car company so the publication in English of another tome is hardly headline news until you realise that the author, exceptionally, is a Porsche insider, but not just any insider. Jürgen Barth was at the epicentre of Porsche’s racing activity from the time he joined the Zuffenhausen payroll in 1966 until he retired four decades later. So, Karl Ludwigsen’s Excellence and Paul Frère’s 911 Story notwithstanding, Barth’s 1500-page Porsche Book will probably come to be seen by historians as the technical reference. But for the general reader, perhaps more interesting would be the book that Barth hasn’t written yet and that is his own story. Recently, the author met Jürgen Barth at his home in Sachsenheim, near Stuttgart, to get a more personal flavour of the man himself and perhaps of what that book would be like.
He was born in 1947 in what was then East Germany, the son of Edgar Barth a successful car and racing motorcyclist before the war, who resumed his racing career in the GDR with the EMW in 1951. This was a 1500cc light sports racer (which looked something like Chapman’s Lotus Eleven) and Barth senior soon made a reputation for himself outrunning the Porsche 550s at the Nürburgring. His talent was spotted by Porsche’s racing manager Huschke von Hanstein who offered him a job as works driver and manager of the client racing department. In the deteriorating climate between the two Germanies in 1957, it was too good an offer to resist and the Barth family left most of their possessions behind, defecting to the west and settling in Kornwestheim, just outside Zuffenhausen. Edgar Barth fully justified von Hanstein’s confidence in him with a string of successes in flat-four Porsche racers that included a Targa Florio victory and three European hill climb championships. As well as being works test driver, he had become very much part of the Porsche inner circle before his untimely death from cancer in 1965.
Edgar regularly took his son to test sessions and minor race meetings at the Nürburgring. Initially Jürgen was not especially interested: “I preferred to go bowling at the Nürburgring Hotel,” he recalls. But one day when he was 14, Jürgen had to do both timing and pit signal duties for his father as nobody else was available. Having to concentrate for the first time suddenly gave him a sense of involvement. Then it began to mean something to him when the Formula 1 drivers of the time, Bonnier, Gurney, Hill, Clark and the others used to come back to the Barth household after races at Solitude which is just west of Stuttgart. His father’s racing became the high point of his life too and charming black & white photos of those days show Jürgen in the passenger seat of the RSK barely able to see over the dashboard, but grinning from ear-to-ear, as his father pulls into the pits after a lap of the ’Ring. Such excitement was infectious and it was inevitable that he would want to follow in his illustrious father’s footsteps. But Edgar was insistent: “He told me I would have to finish school and get professional qualifications before thinking about any motor sport. Today I think he knew exactly what sort of future he wanted for me.”
So, Jürgen Barth went to Zuffenhausen in 1963, but as an apprentice. “Through Porsche I did technical and business studies and gained an engineering diploma. My first job was in the press department working for Huschke von Hanstein and it was really me who started the Porsche archive. Then I got involved in client racing support, almost by accident: I had been sent to Le Mans to ‘observe’ and one of the privately entered 910s came in with the exhaust hanging off. So, I welded it back together. It was the start of customer service! This soon became a commercial operation, selling parts to racing customers.”
Once the site at Weissach became fully operational in 1972, the competition department assumed a more important role as Porsche actively encouraged private teams to purchase its race cars. This was always a profitable business, particularly in the days of Group C which coincided with the dominant period of the Porsche 956 and 962.
But with a name like Barth, Jürgen was not going to stay out of the driver’s seat long. By the age of 21 he was already rallying in a 356 owned by one of his father’s former mechanics. “Then I co-drove with Ove Andersson in his 911. I did the preparation on the car and he paid the entry costs! What I learned from rallying was car conservation – making the car last the distance without breaking something. In the seventies and eighties, endurance sports cars were a lot more fragile than they are today. I was known as the driver who could hold the car together.”
In 1971, he made the first of thirteen Le Mans 24 hour appearances, all with Porsches, a record unsurpassed by any other driver with a single make, finishing 8th in a 911 S with René Mazzia. Sharp-eyed fans of the Steve McQueen Le Mans film will also have spotted Barth’s name amongst the credits: he was one of the ‘917’ (some were mocked up Lola T70s) drivers. In real life, Barth’s greatest moments at la Sarthe came of course in the 936 in which he shared a win with Ickx in 1977 and the following year when the pair finished second. In 1982 he was third in a 956 and fittingly raced a 911 RSR to 15th place in his final attempt at the 24 hours in ’93. Amongst other track successes was his 1980 win in the 1000km at Nürburgring with Rolf Stommelen.
He was also interested in rallying: “In fact I prefer rallying to circuit racing because of the longer distance.” He participated in the 1978 Monte Carlo rally in a Toyota though part of his reason for being there was to be able to offer support to the Alméras brothers’ 911 SC driven by Jean Pierre Nicholas. This was during that frustrating period when Dr Fuhrmann had ordained that 911 production was to finish in 1982 and that the factory would no longer develop or race it. Barth’s intervention on the Alméras’ behalf was strictly unofficial: “The brothers were very good customers of mine and they had won a lot of regional championships over the years with their 911s. I remember their car was well placed, but Nicholas was complaining about brake bias which was locking the rear wheels too easily in the snow. I got them to saw the rear pads in half.”
It was astute advice typical of the man – Nicholas went on to a famous victory which was a shot in the arm for the 911 camp. It also persuaded Barth that the 911 could still prove itself in competition. “The Monte win meant we got the go ahead to offer official support to the Alméras, so besides preparing their 924 GTS, we also had an SC for Walter Röhrl to race under Alméras colours. In the 1981 San Remo Rally he was even leading the Audi quattros on the final stage when a drive shaft broke.”
Barth took part again in the 1982 Monte in a 924 GTS, but the following year tackled it in another Alméras 911 SC for which he had Weissach prepare a 280bhp engine to his specification. Accompanied by Roland Kussmaul, a Weissach development engineer, kindred spirit and also a highly talented driver, they finished ninth overall and second in Group B.
“We were extremely impressed with the car and both convinced that the 911 still had a future at this level of competition. We persuaded (Development director) Helmuth Bott to give us the green light to build a series for competition clients. The decision went in our favour because as the SC had already been replaced (by the 3.2), FIA homologation rules meant we needed to build only 20, not 200.”
It might have been different had Porsche been further advanced with the 959, but in 1984, the 959 was not ready for Group B homologation and this opened the door for Barth and Kussmaul. Had it been left to Barth, the 959 group B entry would never have been built the way it was. “I told them that we should build a mid-engined car. 80% of my clients raced only on tarmac so we didn’t need a 4×4. We had plenty of experience with that configuration and we had a race proven engine, the 2.1 turbo.”
In this contention, they were supported by veteran engineer Peter Falk, but to no avail. Bott was concerned that Porsche might be alone with a mid-engined Group B car in which case the class might be abolished. It was also apparent that he was committed to Peter Schutz’s idea of a top of the range 4×4 sports car which would compete with prestige competitors like the Ferrari F40. It was too complicated a concept for Barth who continued to believe in the simplicity of the SC RS for competition. He was proved right: under Rothmans colours the Prodrive SC RS won the British and Irish championships and dominated the Middle East rally scene till the end of Group B. On tarmac, too, the SC RS was extremely effective: “I raced the Alméras car in the modified production sports race at Monaco prior to the 1987 grand prix and finished sixth ahead of a flotilla of turbos!” said Barth.
There might have been differing points of view, but Porsche was never factional. “I got on with everybody, Bott, Fuhrmann, even Peter Schutz. Schutz once lost his temper and sacked me on the spot at Le Mans because apparently, I had upset his new wife. Then he apologised and reinstated me a few minutes later. We still send each other Christmas cards.” The other two he remembers above all as practical engineers: “We were at Paul Ricard testing the 934 and something needed adjustment. Ernst Fuhrmann just rolled up his sleeves, picked up spanner and screwdriver and fixed it himself. Can you imagine the managing director of Porsche doing that today?”
He has especially high regard for Norbert Singer with whom he has collaborated extensively: “He is a natural engineer, fantastic to work with, never satisfied with what he’s achieved, always trying to improve. I rate him with people like John Barnard. It’s a shame he never had a go at F1.”
As Porsche’s motor sport coordinator, Barth became increasingly involved in the running of the sport. In the early 1990s, Group C went into decline as manufacturers withdrew, objecting to what were seen as FIA attempts to make it into a supporting act for Formula 1. If he couldn’t sell 962s any more, Jürgen Barth would find a way to get the evergreen 911 back into international competition. The Porsche Cup which in 1990 became the Carrera Cup, had successfully returned the 911 to the limelight – many of the races were scheduled before European grands prix and also provided the opportunity for the profitable sale of the 2000 homologation cars, cleverly and appropriately marketed as the Carrera RS. The next move was to engineer an international GT series.
“I knew Patrick Peter and Stéphane Ratel, the guys running the one make Venturi races in France and for 1994 between us we set up a new championship, the BPR after our initials. The aim was to re-establish GT racing globally and we did, because besides European rounds, there were races in China and Japan.”
These were high profile events usually three- or four-hour races and once again coinciding with an F1 race where possible. The BPR was the genesis of the 964 RSR of which Porsche built around 150 very profitable cars. The RSR had little serious competition until the following year, but by then Weissach had developed the 993 GT2, a consistent winner until 1999 and this programme also spawned Porsche’s Le Mans winning GT1. The Porsche Supercup today is a direct descendant of the BPR series. It has also made the 911 GT3 Cup car the largest single model race car ever built with, by 2009, over 1500 examples produced.
But among 911s, the two most associated with Jürgen Barth are the SC RS and the C4 Leichtbau. This car is effectively a lightened 964 RS with 4wd. “I had wanted to build a race version when we were doing the 953,” he says, “if only to use up the 4wd running gear left over after the project.” When the (initially 4wd) 964 was introduced in 1988, his Californian friend Kerry Morse, journalist and sometime classic car racer and broker suggested Barth should build an RS version and he would buy the first one. “There was no particular race series in mind,” continues Barth, “but looking back over the success of the previous RS, the 2.7 and the 2.8 and 3.0 RSRs, I believed we would find a market.” Word went out through the grapevine and before long, he had orders for 50 cars. “We couldn’t begin immediately, but when the Formula 1 engine contract ended early, I had 40 engineers with nothing to do. That’s when we started on the C4 Leichtbau.
In the event, 21 cars were built, “That’s exactly how many complete sets of running gear we had,” approximating to the specification Roland Kussmaul and Helmut Flegl had worked from to produce the 964 Carrera Cup car. In other words, a stripped competition interior with racing seat and harness, roll cage and fire extinguisher. There was one notable difference, the two knurled knobs which on a 935 would have controlled the turbo boost, were here deployed to relay the torque from left to right and from front to rear axle. In appearance, the 964 C4L was undramatic, lowered, and sitting on standard (but magnesium) wheels, the game was given away only by the two exhaust outlets and the glass fibre whale tail. Weighing under 1100kg “I’d like to have gone further, but the management wouldn’t let me,” the C4L with a Cup (265bhp) engine offered staggering acceleration (0-62 mph in 4.2 seconds) thanks to the low ratio 953 gearbox, which also limited top speed to 125mph. Originally proposed at DM225,000, the final asking price was DM285,000, which raised a few eyebrows though all the cars found homes very quickly. But when a Carrera Cup car cost DM123,000? Jürgen Barth smiles mysteriously: “They were all hand-built cars, remember.” Another successful Jürgen Barth enterprise!
He left Porsche in 2007 aged 60. “Porsche offered me reasonable terms. I was beginning to feel like a dinosaur there.” He does not say so, but he undoubtedly felt his wings had been clipped by the Wiedeking regime which was unenthusiastic about racing and curbed Motorsport’s autonomy. “Anyway,” he resumes, “I have a nearly full time job administering the ADAC GT Masters championship and I sit on various FIA committees. I don’t do anything more with Porsche, unlike Roland Kussmaul who’s stayed on in a consultancy role. I’m extremely busy – you’re lucky to find me at home. I average three nights a month here.”
We remind him that the ties with Porsche still exist: he raced a 917 at the Le Mans Classic in 2008. “That was quite an experience! First I could hardly get into it, but they adjusted things to fit me and the biggest problem with those old cars is that there’s barely enough headroom for modern helmets.” Nevertheless, he won both his races and was more than a little proud of his fastest lap of 4:19: “As fast as today’s GT2s!” It was the realisation of a dream driving the 917: “I drove the open 917 in the ’73/4 Interserie, but never the closed car. 200+mph on the Mulsanne straight was bloody exciting!”
Jürgen has sold off most of his collection of Porsches – “Just didn’t have time to use them,” commuting in his 997 Cabriolet. He has a 356 Speedster in the garage, an unfinished project. “I do regret though getting rid of one car, Walter Röhrl’s Safari 911.” The connection between Jürgen Barth and Porsche remains nevertheless pretty unshakable. When we arrived at his home for the interview, his old pal Kerry Morse, now editing the US based ‘European Car’ magazine, was leaving: “Come to see the great man?” he asks. Indeed, we had and when you look at Jürgen Barth’s career, there is no other way to describe him.
Written by: Kieron Fennelly
Images by: Porsche, Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale & Margaux Doey