Peel back the covers from classic racing Porsches in paddocks at historic meetings and, chances are, Uwe Niermann’s firm will have prepped many of them. I perused the treasures in his Aachen workshops.
The yellow GT40 swoops through Eau Rouge; it’s the ex-Ecurie Francorchamps car, one of eight heading up the classic Spa Six Hours field. Current owner,historic stalwart Chris Stahl has co-opted formidable co-drivers in the shape of Porsche legends Jürgen Barth and Klaus Ludwig and, having led the race, they end up 4th. Behind the scenes, the car’s prepared at Automobilzentrum Aachen, along with a host of distinguished Porsche racers, by Uwe Niermann’s Scuderia M66.
I first met Uwe (pronounced Oover) at Hockenheim’s Jim Clark Revival meeting in 2007 when he was running an RSR, and in May 2008 we featured an ex-works 914/6 rally car (Waldegård/Thorszelius, 3rd, 1970 Monte Carlo Rally) he’d just restored. A couple of years ago he relocated to much larger premises in Aachen, previously a formidable Art Deco style 1930s abattoir, and we stopped by on our way back from the Nürburgring 24-Hours.
The cavernous central hall with its sturdy grey steel pillars, Egyptian-style brick patterns and large-scale artworks is packed with racing Porsches – plus a few high-end classic road cars. A Martini 3.0 Carrera RSR and eye-watering lime green 934 catch my eye, but it’s the fabulous 908s that really grab the attention. One’s a coupé – chassis 001, and a ‘flounder’ Spyder. There’s also a 908 coupé in build, as well as a more petite 910, indications of the depth of expertise on hand here. There’s a machine shop, service bay with two lifts, engine shop, chassis and body shop, and 26 mechanics (count ’em!) fettle a variety of Porsches. A couple of 904s are in the engine shop: one’s just back from the Ring’s 24-Classic curtain raiser, the other is a flat-8, amazingly one of just two built. While 911 ST and S race cars are demobilised post-Nurburgring in the inspection bay, others are readied for Goodwood Festival of Speed and Le Mans Classic. It’s a hive of activity.
Encouraged to follow in his architect father’s footsteps, the youthful Uwe discovered he was mechanically adept while working weekends at the local Porsche centre to fund his old 911’s engine rebuild. Abandoning his architect’s training, he began working full-time at the Porsche garage, and when they got into financial difficulties he bought the business. Suddenly he’d inherited about 160 customers too. The racing bug caught hold when the client of another race shop that had also gone under asked Uwe to finish building his Group 3 2.7RS. ‘After I’d finished his restoration he decided to do the Nürburgring 1,000km race, which was still going in the late ’90s, and we did it four times with the 2.7RS, finishing 2nd overall twice, and 3rd twice. And after three hours we were always around 15th, 20th, and in the last hour all the big RSRs and CSLs were blowing up, and our car just kept on running. And so, after the first year, with this small 911 being so successful, a lot of other customers came to me and said, “hey, listen, we would also like to finish this race, could you maybe prepare our cars as well?” And this was the beginning of our involvement with motor racing.’
It’s a job to know where to look first. Among the projects is a 962 Group C racer, a former Kenwood car that Uwe had rebuilt from the 1994 wreck. Five years on, it’s being repainted in its original ‘art car’ livery by Peter Clausen, and is set to race at Paul Ricard in the hands of Belgian owner Nicolas D’Ieteren. There’s no shortage of top names and well-known cars here: in the orange corner there’s a Jägermeister 934; a white 934 raced by Jürgen Barth; all in red, the ex-Bob Akin Coca Cola 935; in white and pink, an ex-Kremer Racing 935 fresh from the Dijon-Prenois Grand Prix de l'Age d'Or. There are a couple of interlopers: a Renault-Alpine A210/M65 in trad French blue, shortly bound for Classic Le Mans, and similarly there’s a famous Beemer, a 3.0 CSL Batmobile raced by Super Swedes Ronnie Peterson and Gunnar Nilsson, and an Escort Mexico rally car…
During the winter months the Scuderia M66 workshops creak at the seams with racing cars under construction and rebuild, while during the summer season they’re prepped for events. But with 26 staff to pay, Uwe hedges his bets by trading racing cars and a few high-end Porsche road cars too – hence on one side we see a pristine 930, a 993 Turbo, and a low miles SC. These cars are for sale, while a couple of customers’ cars are overhauled in the service bay. ‘Between March to November we are fully booked and over-stretched with motor sport work, but we cannot afford to refuse road-car customers who are having problems; so I respect fully the road cars, and regarding economics I should do nothing else other than road cars, but my heart is in race cars.’
It’s not just fettling cars for race meetings that produces a demanding schedule, Uwe also organises accommodation and trackside hospitality for his clients, and if he’s running ten cars as at Classic Le Mans for different customers that’s an awful lot of catering operations to take care of. Nevertheless, he rationalises the need to diversify. ‘No matter how serious you are as a motor sport preparer you cannot get rich with it, not unless it’s at the expense of quality. So by buying and selling sports cars worldwide, in Japan, United States, UK, trading cars with values of €500 and more, there’s a lot of money coming back in, and that goes back into the motor sport side of the business. So if you have the motor sport side and the trade side, it’s a fair deal.’
Talking of Classic Le Mans, Uwe is a trifle dismissive, not particularly relishing the balance of racing versus hospitality. ‘The cars are not running 24 hours, each plateau is running three times for 45 minutes, so for me, regarding the costs relevant to the actual motor sport it’s almost clever not to go, because it’s a lot of work, a lot of transportation, a lot of entertaining, catering, all stuff which is not money for motor sport, so I prefer to spend it on new tyres, new brakes, in the engines, and less catering. For the customers it is an amazing event, though the mechanics don’t sleep for 40 hours. So if you ask me what I like best, it’s 24-hour races like Nürburgring and Spa; they are really a lot of motor sport for the money. In fact what I totally like is the Spa Six Hours.’
With vast experience of Porsche race cars at every level, Uwe’s favourite is the slant-nose 935 from the late-’70s. ‘My heart goes to the 935; the Group 5, twin turbo 800bhp, it is so masculine.’ Next year his focus will revert a decades: ‘we will finish with the 935 to go on with the 908 in the serious prototype category. The 908 coupé is the most beautiful car they ever did. But on the other hand if you look at the driver’s safety they are very fragile in an accident, whereas in a 935 you need never be really scared in case of an accident because it is a heavily-built car. In vintage cars for sure, the 935, but it is a mass of work to handle in the right way on track, and regarding the looks, it would be the 908 coupé. In two years maybe we start to race a 917, which is every mechanic’s dream, but although this is top of the pops it will be top of fragile problems too, I think, regarding the engine and running gear.’
That is also something dear to Uwe’s heart. Engineering is paramount in his business, and expenses are vast: ‘Every year I budget €150,000 to explode engines on a dyno in order to see when it goes bang and why, what it’s capable of, what could really be saved, but if you save it you will never know how strong it is, so it’s really about passion and quality, and we really try to get on the edge. Exploding engines on a dyno is spectacular but the mess of it breaks your heart. But if you don’t go beyond, you can never know. It teaches you as much about what you don’t need to change as what you do need to change.’ No butchery in this abattoir, then.
There’s certainly been some dissection though. Uwe is something of a GT40 expert too, and as well as running Chris Stahl’s car at events like Spa Six, Goodwood Revival and Nürburgring Old Timer (with Jochen Mass co-driving), he’s also embarking on the total rebuild of what could be an original work’s prototype GT40 from 1963. The black skeleton we see here represents the bare bones, and he’s had fragments of its steel hull laboratory carbon-dated, and they come up with the early-’60s, ergo it’s not a latter-day reconstruction. The welds look right for the period too, and Ford did loose prototypes back in the day (for example, Jo Schlesser’s 150mph biggie during Le Mans trials, 1964). Watch this space, because it could feasibly be a runner at 2014 Spa Six Hours.
Back on the Porsche case, thesleek 908and 910 coupés currently in-build are back-burner jobs, with customer cars taking precedence. ‘The 908 is just waiting for the engine; the gearbox is ready and everything is here, but I absolutely prefer to have the engine in the car to fit the oil pipes and fuel pipes. The engine is nearly finished so it should run in maybe six weeks.’ The 910 is Uwe’s own car, and thus even further down the job sheet.
Uwe’s clients are increasingly coming from France, Belgium and Britain, seeking cars or bringing their own to be prepared for international classic endurance racing, ranging from Tour Auto to Spa Six. The most arduous are the 24-hour events: ‘We are looking forward to the 24 hours of Zolder in August,’ he says. ‘We’ll be doing it with a 996 Carrera Cup car, and it’s a big honour for us as it’s the official Belgian Porsche concessionaire’s car. They’ve hired us to handle the whole 24 hours, and that should be quite a reliable car, like a GT3, running 24 hours with a normal average, we could be between 5th and 10th, just simply by not breaking.’
Uwe perceives the 996 Carrera Cup car as the next most popular incarnation of the 911 racing car. ‘Funnily enough, the most effective car to go endurance racing with is now the 996 Cup. It doesn’t have a sequential gearbox, it’s easy to drive, reliable and very fast on the track, so regarding the fun factor and not to have to work too hard at the weekend, those cars are perfect, even in relation to how much they cost.’
We’ll be heading back to Aachen in due course, no question: Uwe has promised us a go in a 908 coupe for one thing, and that’s a long standing ambition, but before that we might just tag along with his entourage to catch the 996 Cup car in action at the Zolder 24-Hours.