With 65 units built, the Carrera Six – otherwise known as the 906 - was Porsche’s last street-legal racing car. On events like Tour de France Auto and Targa Florio it doubled as a road car too, so I put one to the test on the Hampshire downs.
Barefoot ’60s popster Sandy Shaw would have would have been a shoe-in with the Carrera Six. To access the clutch pedal I’m obliged to emulate her trait by removing my size 10s in order to fit the left one between footwell wall and steering column, to thrust clutch pedal deep into the 906’s nose while probing its gate for dogleg first.
Between that and the fact that there’s nowhere for me to put my head, the 906 is a tricky drive; away from its natural racetrack environment, keeping it ‘on the cam’ in traffic means dropping to second or third to avoid the 2.0-litre flat-six s-s-s-spluttering. And that’s after I’ve actually made it into the cockpit, literally the first hurdle. Both legs in first over the broad sill, using the handily slanting side-impact chassis tube as a support, easing them beneath the flat-bottomed Sparco wheel, and settling into the spartan bucket seat. Phew!
I’m the guest of Adrian Hamilton, purveyor of historic racing cars and roadable exotics (www.duncanhamilton.com). He’s selling the 906 on behalf of its French owner from his idyllic barns near Basingstoke. Racecars are in the blood: Adrian’s father was 1955 Le Mans winner Duncan, and his boy Archie is doing well in the Porsche Carrera Cup this year. Adrian is also putting together a collection of Gulf-sponsored cars for a client and is now up to 14, including the Gulf 917 that Richard Attwood and Vern Schuppan drove at Classic Le Mans – which was where I last spotted this British Racing Green Carrera 6 in action. Back in 1966, chassis 906-129 was bought from the factory by semi-pro racer Mike D’Udy (pronounced D-you-D, though he never actually campaigned it at Le Mans. A scion of the Cunard shipping company, D’Udy was a wayward skipper behind the wheel. His first outing, in April that year, was at the Targa Florio. Though Porsche triumphed, D’Udy crashed in practice and UK concessionaires AFN repaired the car. D’Udy had a successful outing at a Silverstone clubbie in July and the car was shipped to South Africa for the Springbok Series, with Peter de Klerk co-driving. The car crashed again mid-way through the Kyalami 9-Hours, and was mended by local F1 racer Doug Serrurier and painted light metallic green - the livery of D’Udy’s Grand Bahama Racing Team. In 1967 Colin Davis and Roy Pike drove it at the Spa 1000kms, and the Mugello GP was contested by D’Udy and David Piper. The highlight of the year, for the car at least, was the legendary BOAC 500 at Brands Hatch, where 906-129 was driven amongst the gods (Stewart, Rindt, Brabham, Hill et al) by Swiss pair Dieter Spoerry and Rico Steinemann to 13th overall and 2nd in class (D’Udy was busy further up the grid with his Lola T70). The car’s standout appearance the following year was Brands Hatch once again, where journeymen Mario Cabral and Jacques Duval finished 19th - and last - in the BOAC 1,000kms World Sportscar Championship counter.
After a year running in domestic and international endurance events, back in its original dark green, D’Udy sold 906-129 for £3,800 to Dr Karl Armstrong in Ohio. It ran in SCCA events in the States in the hands of Tom Richmond, and spent 25 years with Bruce Tuffli before Terry Hefty took over in the late ’90s. Hefty commissioned a comprehensive body-off restoration from Thomas Vintage Motors of Boulder, Colorado, and the car came back to the UK in 2004 when Paul Howells bought it and had the engine (906-165) and gearbox (906-132) rebuilt. He ran it in the curtain raiser at the British GP in 2006, selling to its French owner in 2009.
Now it’s on the market for £685,000, and, as Adrian Hamilton says, ’it’s a rare opportunity to buy something rather special with significant period history.’ He flags it up as a usable classic, being road registered with an MOT, so it’s eligible for events like Tour Auto, Giro Sicilia and Tour Britannia. As a point of reference, in ’66 the Carrera Six cost a little over £6,000. Fast-forward four decades, and Coys sold ex-work’s chassis 906-111 for £398,000, and when ex-AFN chassis 906-101 changed hands at Monaco not so long ago, Bonham’s hammer dropped at 579,500Euros. Don’t despair - if that’s out of your league, Vintage Racing Cars of Buenos Aires (www.vintageracingcars.net) will make you a replica for a mere 85,000Euros.
So where does the 906 - or, colloquially, Carrera Six, fit in the Porsche pantheon? Zuffenhausen’s racing cars evolved apace in the mid-’60s: following on from the ladder-frame 904, the Carrera Six with its mid-mounted flat-six was built on a multi-tubular spaceframe chassis. Like the 904, it was clad in a shapely, if crude, fibreglass body, though unlike the 904, the 906’s broader, flatter shape stemmed from wind tunnel tests. In 1966 Porsche was looking to participate in the new Group 4 category for competition sports cars whilst continuing to produce the prototypes that honed the breed. That meant producing a minimum of 50 identical machines, and by April 1966, the 906’s homologation papers were stamped.
The job of making 50 elaborate tubular spaceframe chassis was delegated to Karosseriewerk Weinsberg, while the low-slung 38.6 inch-high body with its bulbous front wheelarches to house tall 15in steel-wheels and its lift-up beetle-back engine cover, plexiglass greenhouse windows and gull-wing door cockpit, was laid up by hand. The 906’s fibreglass body is actually wrapped around and bonded over the lower and mid-ships chassis tubes. The quality of the fabrication leaves much to be desired; on the bodyshell’s painted outer surface the weave and weft of the fibreglass matting is visible in a raking light, while inner surfaces were unfinished - as a glance inside the engine cover starkly reveals. The whole construction is very raw, and there’s a slight gap between the door and the hoop of the windscreen frame. Those front spoilers that look like recent aerodynamic add-ons were present from the off, though some 906’s were larger than others.
Taking advantage of its stock of 904 componentry, Porsche fitted the 906 with unequal length wishbones and coil-spring damper units at the front and wishbones, twin forward-facing radius arms and coil-spring damper units at the rear, with braking by ATE-Dunlop discs all round. The 15in, five-stud GA steel wheels are shod with Dunlop racing tyres, 5.25/10.50-15 on the back and 4.75/10.00-15 on the front. Power is provided by a much-modified, dry-sumped 2.0-litre 911 flat-six, based on a magnesium crankcase rather than aluminium, with new cylinders, pistons, titanium conrods and valve-gear, with 10.3:1 compression ratio. Two banks of three triple-choke downdraught Weber 46IDA carbs surmount the Porsche-logo’d cam-covers cladding the twin-plug heads, and the cooling fan faces forwards, directly behind the cockpit’s rear bulkhead.
Transmission is via single-plate clutch and five-speed all-synchromesh gearbox. Up front under the Dzus-fastened panel lies the oil tank, oil cooler and the clutch and brake fluid reservoirs. Like the crankcase breather hoses at the rear (the one on the right hides the 906-129 stamping on the chassis tube), bulbous orange flexi-pipes emerge python-like from the two channels in the nose of the car, where the frontal chassis tubes are embedded in the fibreglass floorpan. The 906 weighs 580kg and delivers at least 210bhp at 8,000rpm and 145lb/ft torque at 6,000rpm - though on the cam it feels like way more than that.
Porsche debuted the Carrera 6 at the ’66 Daytona 24-Hours, Hans Herrmann/Herbert Linge placing 6th overall, and soon afterwards Willy Mairesse and Herbie Müller won the Targa Florio outright in a work’s 906 – now, those Sicilian back-doubles really are country lanes. Eventually 65 Carrera 6s were made, including nine Bosch fuel-injected cars, designated 906E, one of which (Siffert/Davis) finished 4th at Le Mans that year and won the Index of Performance. Like its two siblings that came 5th (Herrmann/Linge) and 6th (Schutz/de Klerk), it ran the long-tail bodywork that prefigured similar versions of 907, 908 and 917 models. The 906’s legacy is that it spawned a generation of increasingly refined tube-framed Porsche racing cars. Introduced in 1967, the 910 was similarly specified to the 906 - with 2.0-litre flat-six and 2.2-litre flat-eight engines - but in a more rounded shell and running on 13in wheels. By 1968, twenty-eight 910s had been built, qualifying it as a Competition Sports Car so it was up against more prosaic machinery. Later in 1967 came the 2.2-litre 907 prototype, a still more aerodynamic shape, swiftly succeeded by the 3.0-litre 908 prototype in coupe form and Spyder in 1969. And that was superseded by the mighty flat-twelve 917. ’Nuff said.
And driving this mean green machine? With the doors closed I feel cocooned and I’m immediately conscious of the lack of headroom - either they were shortarses back then or the seat was even lower - though AH’s mechanic Doug assures me they are the originals, albeit refurbed. Some well known bums have already caressed this leatherette - for instance Rico Steinemann at the 1967 BOAC 500 for one - he went on to be Porsche competitions chief. Plus David Piper, and F1/F2 engine builder extraordinaire, Brian Hart. But did they have the protection of the five-point Willans harness that envelops my torso like a spider’s web? A lap belt, maybe.
The switchgear is racecar basic, the procedure for starting up child’s play. The red on-off key for the battery is in the front door-shut, with a fire extinguisher pull-switch above it, while on the far side of the dashboard strip are the two little pull-out ignition switches and a matching turn indicator switch next to them. The oil pressure and temperature gauge is in a tiny niche like something from a nativity tableau, then there’s the wash/wipe button and switch for the single cantilever wiper, which, mercifully I don’t need, and the rev counter in its round arched binnacle right in front of me. There’s no speedo, and the light switches are on the left of the steering column. A fan is angled right at the driver, though I can’t work out how to operate it, and there’s an air vent in top of the dash that’s not connected up; my scant ventilation comes from the two flaps in the doors’ side windows. The windscreen washer catheter lives in the passenger footwell. There’s a fly-off hand brake as well.
Once all ignition switches are turned on I twist the key right a notch and the fuel pump ticks away, then I turn it further and the flat-six snarls into life. I catch the revs with the accelerator pedal and those Weber throttle slides do their work. Up and running, heel and toeing is straightforward, but I need the full travel of the clutch pedal to find 1st and reverse gears, and it demands 3,000rpm to get it rolling without hiccoughing. In fact the clutch action is surprising soft, it’s just a long way down. The brake pedal benefits from pumping for maximum ralentando, though once on the move the brakes seem absolutely fine. I’ve already made the cardinal error of heading off without wearing ear defenders, and I’m paying the consequences to this day. Some people wreck their hearing standing by speaker stacks at rock gigs; me, the unsilenced Carrera Six did the trick!
I sit very low in the creaking seat, backside inches from the blacktop, and from time to time I’m reminded of its proximity by a harsh scrape as the bellypan bottoms out. My view directly through the rainbow-arch of the plastic windscreen is of the road a few feet ahead, and the front wheel arches topped by the dinky ’60s streamlined mirrors dominate peripheral vision like a pair of giant green bananas either side of the car. The rearward view provided by those chrome wing mirrors is miniscule and not much better in the inside mirror, looking back through the sepia tinted opaque plastic of the engine lid window. But with no bodywork visible straight ahead, my middle distance forward vision is perfect for judging apexes for turn-in. No time to think too hard about that though, it’s mostly intuitive, as pretty soon the next corner comes rushing up. It’s fine though flowing bends but in tight turns abrupt oversteer concentrates the mind.
Beguiling from the standpoint of a trackside spectator, the crisp bark of the flat-six at high 5- 6,000rpm revs - with its gunshot-staccato key-changes at successive gearshifts - is deafening within the cockpit. I tolerate it because I’m living the legend that emanates from those late ’60s endurance races. It’s like having Johnny Rotten screaming in my ear - only it’s me controlling the duration and intensity of the sound as I work the gearbox and throttle according to the terrain. It’s entirely possible the Spitfires and Lancasters of the Battle of Britain flight practicing overhead can hear the Porsche above the sound of their Merlins. Racing drivers aren’t merely showing off as they drive through the paddock constantly blipping the throttle; if you don’t, the engine stalls. This isn’t widely understood by the good citizens of Farnham as I negotiate the one-way system of its splendid Georgian centre, and a few bemused glances come my way.
The paradoxes don’t end with the derestriction signs. Out on the open road the 906 is a riot, and not just because of its omnipresent soundtrack. Diffidence has no place here. Forsaking all the niceties of my 911 road car I remind myself this is a racer, grab it bouncer-like by the lapels and just go for it. Now it makes sense. Give it its head on the undulating country lanes and it’s a tiger. Thing is, it needs to be kept on the cam to avoid misfiring, and that means there’s little time to relax between corners when I’m downshifting, double-declutching and feeding it into apexes, always a bit of power on. During rear tracking, my photographic accomplice Antony Fraser tells me it is popping flames on that crackling overrun. Get in! Given a pair of earplugs I could do this all day.
Whilst the 906 twitches and jiffles, every steering input eliciting instant effect, bump steer is also in the recipe as the taut chassis and those tall Dunlop racing tyres paw their way over the B-road contours. I reflect that it feels more securely planted than a mid-’60s 911, as it should.
This is some workout. We pause to check if Fraser’s tracking shots are focussed and I unclip the rudimentary gullwing door catch from the driver’s seat and hoist the lightweight panel above my head to aerate the steaming cockpit. The Meccano bracket hinges up and clips on to support it. Not pretty but it works. When we’re done, AH’s mechanics kindly remove the door altogether so I can clamber out. I’m soaked with sweat, and my scalp bears livid creases where it’s bounced off the chassis tubes in the cockpit roof and the lip of the door top. Maybe I’m scarred forever - in which case, as Sandy Shaw sang, there’s always something there to remind me.
I will never forget the thrill of driving this 906, possibly the ultimate racer for the road. Is it worth half a million though? Here’s why: the Carrera Six is an iconic spec, a flawed yet achingly beautiful design, and 906-129 is the genuine article. Its double-edged specification allows you to do the Le Mans Classic and drive it home if you want. Provenance is the clincher though. It never won big time like the work’s 906, but it still participated in those battles of the giants in the late’60s, and that’s priceless.