Saturday, Nov 10 02:15pm
AUTHOR: Richard Opie

Feature: Brun, Baby, Brun! Inside a special Porsche 962

“You know, I wasn’t really all that aware of the Group C cars in period,” muses Paul Higgins, driving force behind Classic Revival. We’re sat down, discussing Classic Revival’s recently restored Porsche 962 endurance machine.


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The recollection could appear unusual given the subject material. The reality has far less to do with Higgins’ passion for the Stuttgart brand than it does that in 1980’s New Zealand, the entrenchment of the turbo-era in sportscar racing simply wasn’t widely broadcast.



Half a world away, Porsche were conducting business as usual. 1982 saw Porsche kick off an unparalleled streak of endurance racing domination with the Group C 956. Four straight World Sportscar Championship (WSC) titles fell to the boosted flat-six monster, plus a quartet of Le Mans 24-hour victories. The 956 epitomised motorsport success, until stymied by regulations heading into the 1985 season.


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Debuted at the tail end of 1984, Porsche’s replacement for the 956 hit the circuits in full effect for the 1985 season. Designated 962, to the untrained eye its sweeping lines appeared identical to its predecessor. Safety regulations meant a repositioned axle line forward of the driver’s feet, in addition to a mandated steel roll cage attached to the aluminium tub in place of the previous alloy units.


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It was successful. A further two Le Mans victories made it six on the bounce for Porsche, plus another WSC championship, among countless race victories worldwide. Much of the 962’s rampant success was owing to sheer numbers, no other Group C competition car was produced in such scale. While the ‘works’ chassis numbered only 10, somewhere in the vicinity of 120 962’s in total are reputed to have graced tracks across the globe. 




But while Porsche were embarking on their 962 programme for 1985, so too was Higgins’ passion for the Porsche marque. With a stash of savings burning a hole in his wallet, he made a beeline for the BMW dealership with designs on a brand new 323i. As it would turn out somewhat fortuitously, a dismissive salesman soon put paid to that plan.


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Not far away, at the Coutts used dealership, a 5-year old 911SC caught Paul’s eye. A South African import, with the steering wheel on the left “as the previous owner thought it should be,” the SC kick-started an enduring appreciation for driving and curating the Porsche marque.




Not mere driving, but racing. Higgins delved headfirst into club racing, revelling in the corners of Pukekohe, Taupo and Manfeild until about 18 months later the Porsche experience kicked up a notch. Higgins’ 930 turbo joined the fold in 1987, retired in favour of racing a 1973 911 2.7RS, followed up with a couple of years in the Bridgestone Porsche series in a 2.7RS replica including a Class B overall win.


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Rolling forward to 1995, with the replica RS gone, Higgins found himself behind the wheel of his first factory-built Porsche racer. Imported to New Zealand by Porsche racing stalwart Bill Fulford, this 964 RSR 3.8 came with a glovebox overflowing with history. Campaigned by Roock Racing, the RSR won the 1993 Spa 24hr race overall, won at Interlagos and absolutely dominated the ADAC GT Cup series in 1994.


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The RSR saw several years of service on Kiwi circuits in the hands of Higgins, a car he remembers fondly, maybe even considering it “one that got away. Regardless, selling the RSR opened the doors to campaigning son Andy in Formula 5000s, and the formation of the Classic Revival group dedicated to the restoration and racing of significant old racers.


While Classic Revival had already assumed responsibility for restoration of their 1989 March CG891 Formula 1 car, Higgins’ 2015 visit to Rennsport Reunion at Laguna Seca sowed the sports prototype seeds.



“I went to Rennsport with no other idea than just going to Rennsport,” Higgins quips. A four-yearly celebration of all things Porsche motorsport, the event sags under the weight of Stuttgart’s machines of provenance. Immersed in an environment thick with sports racers bearing three digit type numbers beginning with ‘9,’ returning home and reflecting on the occasion set ideas in motion.




Soaking up the occasion, and taking stock of the drivers in particular set the cogs in motion.


“I looked around and saw all these older guys driving these cars,” Higgins laughs, “and thought, well, I could do this too.” The 962 wasn’t the first choice. The history and character of the 907, 908 and 910s of the 1960’s proved alluring, but price tags disagreed.


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So the scope moved a couple of decades later, deep into the 1980s and into the 962 years. “I’d been enthralled by these a few years earlier at Silverstone,” Higgins mentioned of the 962, “so it seemed like the right choice. What I quickly learned was that not all 962’s were equal.”


To clarify, a Le Mans winner, or even a factory Porsche built car reached the upper echelons of 962 provenance and value.




Conveniently for the future buyer, Porsche withdrew from full-time Group C competition following the 1987 season, concentrating instead on supplying and supporting a plethora of customer cars. One repeat customer was Brun Motorsport, founded by Swiss racer Walter Brun in 1983, responsible for bringing 962-003BM to the track for the 1989 WSC in its blue and yellow Hydro Aluminium war paint.




By this stage many of the customer teams considered the 962’s aluminium monocoque lacking rigidity, especially versus the carbon-tubbed competition. Brun enlisted the talents of John Thompson, of TC Prototypes, developing a carbon fibre and aluminium honeycomb hybrid as a stiffer arrangement. 962-003BM was no different in this aspect, however differed aerodynamically in sprint tail configuration with a specific separate dual-element wing, with uniquely “scooped out” lower sections of bodywork immediately trailing the front arches.



With a factory-spec 3-litre twin turbo, 962-003BM was integral to Brun’s 1989 WSC challenge, achieving best finishes of fifth at Donington and second in Mexico. Driving the car on both occasions were Dutchman Harold Huysman and Argentine Oscar Larrauri, the latter result being the final time a 962 would reach second place in a WSC round.
Despite a strong qualifying performance for Le Mans in 1989, the 962 would DNF with a mechanical failure before reappearing in 1990 for a single WSC round at Monza, and a repeat appearance at Le Mans packing the latest 3.2-litre powerplant. This time, things went somewhat better, with the team crossing the line in 10th after a steady 24 hour performance.



Sold off at the end of 1990, the car competed in a handful of European Interserie races in the hands of German privateer Willy Koenig. 962-003BM then graced two private collections in the UK, latterly the well-known Historic Porsche Collection of Group C cars. From here a deal was inked, switching custody to the Classic Revival team with a sole purpose in mind. Revival and competition among historic Group C grids.



In possession of a remarkable 962, the task of restoration commenced. Having essentially driven off the tracks and into collection status, as the strip down began it was evident 962-003BM offered the perfect starting point.



Having never been molested in later life, nor involved in any major incidents in period, the tub proved to be very straight. “We wanted to restore it sympathetically, retaining as many original parts as possible with a focus on safety and reliability,” Higgins says of the restoration process. Being competitive was of importance, but retention of original character was paramount.



With the car still in the UK, Classic Revival partnered with XTec Engineering in Birmingham, a known specialist with the Group C 962 mechanicals. Parked in a corner of XTec’s workshop, Andy Higgins assumed temporary residence in the UK tasked with stripping and rebuilding mechanicals. Here, the 3.2 received uprated turbos and was rebuilt along with the gearbox. Importantly, the wiring loom was replaced and the old Motronic ECU substituted for a modern MoTec M800 unit in the interest of reliability. You wouldn’t pick it; the MoTec electronics hide inside a bespoke CNC-milled housing mimicking that of the original Bosch.

Dyno runs proved the mechanicals were working as intended – with power levels consistent with those in period – before the 962 was packed down and sent across to New Zealand. Once here, the car was again partially stripped with a focus on the suspension, braking and steering systems. Key Kiwi technical partners were enlisted, namely JWB Group, a progressive Auckland-based engineering firm. With access to cutting edge CNC machinery, many missing or NLA parts were able to be replicated, ensuring exact fitment and function.


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Without design assistance from Kinetic Simulation, a company operated by another of Higgins’ sons David, many of these parts may not have come to fruition. 3D scanning and CAD technology helped breathe life back into a 1980’s sportscar icon. With the finer details in place the short tailed body work was draped over the tub. Naturally, the Hydro Aluminium livery has remained, as vibrant and fresh as it was in 1989. A return to the tarmac in Europe beckoned, but not before a brief systems check at Hampton Downs.

The car arrived in Europe at the end of April, whisked to Akron Sport in the UK who’d be responsible for trackside support while racing so far from home. With a short shakedown and test session at Donington, Classic Revival looked forward to a competitive debut at Spa Classic.


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“I was intimidated by Eau Rouge, but really I shouldn’t have been,” Higgins says of his first crack at Spa. Grasping confidence in downforce proved key to improvement, leading to a positive experience. Following diagnosis of a boost fault, liberating an extra couple of hundred horsepower, the 962 performed faultlessly, qualifying 18th in a field of about 28 cars. The first race yielded an 11th place finish for the Higgins duo, cause for celebration before 962-003BM’s return to Le Mans.

Every two years, Le Mans celebrates endurance racing history with the Le Mans Classic event. The key event for the Classic Revival Porsche 962. Although invitational, the Group C class attracts a huge grid, spanning the early 1980s to the 3.5 litre hardware of the early 90s. Benefitting from simulator time, Andy Higgins qualified 12th, catching the experienced 962 pilot Aaron Scott of Akron Sport and matching pace throughout the race and running as high as 6th.


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A compulsory pit stop saw Paul take the reins, thwarted by a safety car and succumbing to the aggressive but respectful European style of driving. Although finishing a little further down the order, the experience was nonetheless unforgettable. “To drive out of Tertre Rouge in a 962 onto the Mulsanne is just special, although you’re busy, you don’t have time to get too sentimental.” A mid pack finish echoed the cars period results. Testament to the solidity of the rebuild was the 962’s top speed, reaching 315km/h and the third fastest of the meeting.

A chance encounter with a Goodwood selector lead to an invite to the famous Festival of Speed, to run among the hay bales alongside a gaggle of droolworthy Porsche machinery, predominantly museum collection cars. “It’s mind boggling, like sitting down to dinner with the Queen being among those cars and drivers, you wonder how you got there!” Parked alongside Le Mans winning Porsches and socialising with Le Mans winning drivers. The Goodwood experience offered the Classic Revival team the ultimate sign off to the European experience.



At time of writing the 962 is waiting to turn a wheel at Laguna Seca’s Rennsport Reunion, a strictly Porsche affair celebrating the 70th anniversary of the marque. Eventually, the 962 is headed back home to New Zealand, and if the Higgins and Classic Revival’s current form is to be followed, we may yet be treated to the whistle of twin-turbos accompanying the distinctive off-beat howl of a Porsche flat six.