When Porsches were Touring Cars


Story by Chris Ralph. Pics by Nigel Foote, Dick Sampson, Gary Cooper, Ian Smith, Toni McKeown, Johnson and McKeown Family.

And how a maestro from the era helped an HTCAV competitor build a replica of his car over 30 years later…

Porsche is probably the world’s best-known sports car. So why were they classified as a global Touring Car between 1968 and 70? Regulations have always been scrutinised for grey areas of interpretation. Porsche lawyers took the ‘four seats’ wording to the Federation Internationale d’Automobile, who had to admit that even though only the smallest humans could fit in the vestigial seats of the tiny sports car, it did by definition qualify as a touring car.

And CAMS in Australia had to follow suit. But they dug their toes in when the smart Alan Hamilton, son of Australian Porsche importer Norman, offered up the sharpest Porsche he could find, the 911TR with Perspex windows and lightweight panels. Not so fast, young man! A special order with standard panels and glass windows would have to do – and do it did. Third in the 1968 Australian Touring Car Championship and a sort of ‘win’ the next year – most points but with the rule to drop one’s worst round it was a technical second by one point to Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan in the Mustang.

Meanwhile Victoria’s Jim McKeown, best known for four years of stirring Lotus Cortina drives in what was first the Neptune, then Shell Racing Team, was looking for a fresh car for 1970. Shell had allowed a budget of $10,000, a huge sum in those days. Having been to Kar Kraft in the US when he and Allan Moffat raced their Cortinas at Daytona, he quickly plonked down an order for a Boss 302 Mustang. But with time ticking away before the start of the race season, word came from his sponsors that was above his pecking order. As Jim said, the senior drivers “didn’t want the lad having a V8!”

Jim had battled Alan Hamilton in the Porsche and raced around to order one from the factory. Alas, it could not be shipped in time. But, said Alan – see that Irish Green 911S on the floor? We can air freight all the parts out from Germany and turn that into your race car right here. The car was stripped and in Shell Racing colours by the time the parts arrived and on the grid for the first round at Calder in March.

There Jim came up against a similarly equipped foe from Sydney – the renowned Mini driver Brian Foley. The red Chesterfield Filter Racing 911S and Jim’s Shell yellow car were inseparable, Foley taking first honours at Calder, second and third behind Moffat, then it was McKeown-Foley fourth and fifth at Bathurst, a retirement for Jim at Sandown and Mallala, an outright win for Jim at Warwick Farm, where Brian was caught up in an accident that sidelined him for the year.

Jim won again at the last round at a wet Symmons Plains, winning by a lap and taking second in the Championship, behind Shell team-mate Norm Beechey. The next year Foley had switched to the Chesterfield Alfa Romeo GT AM and Jim’s was the sole 911S left running, finishing fourth behind the Camaro of Jane and the Mustangs of Moffat and Geoghegan. The 911s had finished their run in the sun as the horsepower disparity widened and the regulations ruse was up – the 911s would no longer be accepted as touring cars.

For 1972 911s found a new home in Sports Racing – Closed, better known as Sports Sedans, featuring strongly in what was the golden era for the category. Alan Hamilton, Jim and Brian Foley were back at it again in 2.4 litre cars, with New South Welshman Bill Brown for company. For 1975 Jim built a monster mid-engined 2.1 litre Turbo with 908 suspension and weighing a mere 670kg… but we digress.

Cut to Historic Touring in 2000 when former Cortina and Mustang driver Mark Johnson wanted something a bit different and possibly more reliable to race – and chose a Porsche 911. A semi-finished Group N car from Queensland seemed a bargain. But on trucking it down to Victoria he found an illegal cage was only the beginning of his woes. In starting from scratch he called on the expertise of a well-known HTCAV member – none other than Jim McKeown, for it was the yellow Number 3 car his build would replicate.

Of course, Jim was only too happy to help. When the car was finished and ready for its shakedown at Calder, Jim was right there to help with setup. “I’ll just do a couple of slow laps,” he offered. And then he did a few more, getting quicker with every tour before returning to the pits with a huge grin on his face. “It’s just like my old car,” he said, “felt exactly the same – I even kept looking in the mirror for Foley!”

Mark said he then did “a few more laps to make sure” and when getting out said: “I think you need a millimetre or so toe-in on the rear right…” Mark took it back for an alignment and found his mentor’s racing bum had judged it just right – 1.2mm toe-in was exactly what was needed! Jim continued to follow the car’s fortunes, even driving it in spirited ‘parade laps’ with his old mates at a Muscle Car Masters meeting at Sydney Motorsport Park a decade or so ago.

But the strategy had worked, Mark had a reliable race car that he regularly raced over the past two decades in several states, often against 911 drivers. “Because they were fully developed for competition, they’re pretty bullet-proof,” he said. “I saw Jim’s dyno sheets from May 1970: 230 HP at 7,500 rpm – about the same as today. But the power gap to the V8s has grown. In the day only the best of them was making more than 500 HP. Now most are approaching 600.”

Mark double-entered the car at Phillip Island Classic two years in a row, he in the Under 3 litres class while John Bowe drove in Over 3 Litres. It was a great boost to his driving skills, getting tips from JB and watching with pride as he took it to the big cars. “The Porsche can rocket off the line if you get it right and John led the main race for over a lap until, as he said, he ‘ran out of cubic centimetres’. The new power gap was clearly on display.”

Group S sports cars now appears to be a better home for the 911, but Mark has set the N Spec car aside and runs another in Group S as the regulations differ in several areas. “‘Jim’s car’ is race ready and waiting and I will run it occasionally when the right meeting comes up. I wouldn’t change it, it’s a faithful replica of the car that Jim ran for those two magic years – and isn’t that what Group N racing is all about?”