I met the author, Serge Vanbockryck, a good number of years back at the Le Mans 24 Hours, and since then I have known him to be the quiet, hardworking PR manager for the Chev Corvette GT team in Europe. As a fellow-Porsche author, we had often shared with each other some of the interesting processes of researching and writing books on matters relating to the Stuttgart manufacturer. I knew, back then, of his now three-decade long labour of love covering the Works Porsche 956 – The Definitive History, and I knew then that once this work surfaced, it was going to be something really special. Those lucky enough to buy one of these two-volume sets, will not be disappointed!
Having started his career as a journalist back in the late-80s, the author began gathering and documenting data over the next three decades on all 956 and 962 races and tests. His research work for this book, which covers just the works 956s, included sifting through thousands of pages of period documents in Porsche’s archives in Stuttgart and interviewing dozens of people including drivers, engineers and sponsors. The result is the telling of the 956 story in unprecedented detail and with fresh insights.
The story of the Porsche 956 has been told before, but never in so much detail and not so completely or in such an all-inclusive manner. With the author working full time in the motorsport industry over such a long time, he has been in the perfect position to seek out key people or hard to find bits of information, all of which has benefitted this impressive piece of work. Without further ado, let’s dive into the meat of this very comprehensive two-volume set.
The first volume of this set begins by focussing on Porsche’s racing heritage (Part 1). When writing about a subject model within the Porsche family, it is interesting, and worthwhile, to consider the family tree and timeline of the model being covered by examining what went before. With Porsche, this is particularly relevant as the engines grew both in size and number of cylinders over the years, but they can all be traced back to the original units. From as far back as the late-50s and early-60s, Porsche’s boxer 4-cylinder engine evolved into the 6-cylinder, 8-cylinder and eventually the 12-cylinder which powered the mighty Porsche 917.
When the 917 was outlawed in the early-70s (in the World Championship of Makes), the racing authorities sought to downsize engines and bring international racing around to a more GT-focussed formula. Enter the turbo era, but as the Porsche 935 rose to dominance, the racing authorities with the manufacturers introduced a new set of rules for the 1980s, which ushered in the Group C era in 1982, and the mighty Porsche 956.
From this introductory section, the author moves on to the design and development of the 956 which forms a significant section of the first volume as the only proven component of the whole package was the engine. But this is where the brilliance of Porsche’s original engine concept of horizontally opposed individual cylinders showed how versatile this format was to develop. The engine that would power the 956 would be the same 2.65-litre engine that powered the 936/81 Spyder that won the Le Mans 24 Hour race in 1981, and which had been left unused after the abandoned Indy 500 project. Power in the 956 was an impressive 620 bhp, enough to be both competitive and sufficiently fuel efficient in accordance with the new Group C regulations.
The end of the first half of Volume One (Part 2) is devoted to the growth and development, and the crucial part, that the Weissach ‘Centre of Excellence’ played in the gestation and birth of the 956. Here the engineers could conduct their work away from not only the prying eyes of the public, but also other Porsche employees, thus almost eliminating totally the possibility of confidential work getting out.
Part 3 and Part 4 of Volume One is devoted to the 1982 and 1983 seasons respectively. On 16 May 1982, Porsche 956001 made its competition début in the Silverstone Six Hours. An entire chapter is thereafter devoted to each race in the world championship season, giving the reader ample detail on each race, as well as commentary and interviews with key players such as the drivers and engineers.
Having so much space for each race, the book has been generously populated with excellent period photography, but not at the expense of the story behind each race. Having spent three decades compiling this historical account of the 956s, the author has accumulated a substantial amount of history and background information to each race, including both the works 956s and their rivals. This provides a full picture for the reader to enjoy.
For the 1983 season the works 956s underwent further development with engineer Norbert Singer ensuring a constant flow of models on his regular visits to the wind tunnel. This kept the 956s ahead of the competition through these early years of the Group C era. It was also the season in which Porsche sold the 956 to its customer teams, and so it became the company’s policy to only release any updates two races after the introduction of those updates on their own cars. Of course, they gave the reason for this as needing to thoroughly test the updates first before releasing them to their customers, but in reality, this ensured that the works cars always had a slight advantage over the customer cars.
In the same way as the first volume, the second volume gives the same detailed account of the 1984 and 1985 seasons in its Part 5 and Part 6 sections. The photography and the photographic selection throughout both volumes is superb, and the great thing is that the author has used a good number of different photographers. In such a large two-volume set, this is not only a wise move, but also essential as not all photographers can cover all the races in one year, and this has allowed the author to use specialist photographers for certain circuits.
It is not necessary to repeat the same style and coverage details for the 1984 and 1985 seasons as we did above for 1982 and 1983, suffice it to say that the same quality of work is continued in Volume Two in this area. In addition to the two later seasons covered, the author has devoted a generous amount of space to the key personalities (Part 7) who made the works 956s the huge success that they were. This section includes the likes of Norbert Singer and Roland Kussmaul, and drivers Jacky Ickx, Derek Bell, Jochen Mass, Vern Schuppan, Stefan Bellof, Al Holbert, Jürgen Barth, Hurley Haywood, Hans Stuck, John Watson and Henri Toivonen.
Of course, this substantial piece of work would not be complete without a detailed look at the works cars that did duty during this four-year period. Part 8 is devoted to detailing working life of each of the works 956s, giving their individual histories, as well as the technical specs of each car. Each car’s history is impressively comprehensive, as the account of 956003’s racing life over ten pages will testify. These details also include when an original car was given a new chassis number due to an accident with the original chassis, and where the paperwork for a race had already been submitted.
The final section, Part 9, covers ‘Asides’ which includes some odd incidents and happenings. The last chapter, entitled ‘Lights, Camera, Action’ shows where the works 956s were used for filming duties. Admittedly, it looks a bit alien to find a 956 fitted with large movie cameras front and back, but these cars were used in this manner.
At the end of each chapter, and throughout both volumes, the author has given the details of the references in that section under a heading, ‘End Notes’. In a two-volume set of 800 pages, this is the only practical way to give accurate reference to the references used. Also at the end of each chapter, in Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6 which deal with the individual races in the season, each race has its own panel of results, which is very handy.
The narrative style throughout is very easy to follow, the text is well spaced and the font size makes for easy reading. There are no fancy stylistic extras given to the two volumes, the text is well presented and the pages are laid out in a clear and uncluttered style.
These two volumes add up to 800 pages, which the publisher believes is the biggest book ever written on the subject. That may well be correct, but what is not in question, is the level of detail contained within its pages. This is truly an impressive piece of work, and it is clearly evident that the author has devoted a large portion of his life to its compilation, and his attention to detail is commendable. Without any doubt, this is the most complete record of the works Porsche 956 Group C cars.
The two-volume ‘Limited Edition’ set of books is quarter bound in bonded leather and high quality cloth and is housed in a handmade cloth slipcase, making it a substantial and hard-wearing publication. Should you invest in this impressive, substantial and very complete piece of work? There is no doubt whatsoever, that this book, representing a period of Porsche’s mightily impressive racing history, is one that you don’t want to be without, and in the longterm it will reward you handsomely. You had better hurry to get your copy though, as they are limited to just 956 copies. But be warned, this two-volume set is no lightweight, so reinforcement of your bookshelf may be necessary!
|Title||Works Porsche 956 – The Definitive History|
|Publisher||Porter Press International|
|ISBN||978-1-907085-90-1 & 978-1-907085-98-7|
|Print run||Limited to 956 hand numbered books|
|Page count||800 pages (2 volumes) – 322,000 words|
|Image count||850 B&W and colour images|
|Format||340 mm x 245 mm portrait, hardback, slipcase|
Written by: Glen Smale