Car Insights, Classic Cars, Features

Vern Schuppan’s 1986 Porsche 911 Turbo

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Picture the scene. You’re looking out across a sparkling Atlantic Ocean, glass of Portuguese Vinho Verde in hand.

You’ve recently become just the second ever Australian to win the Le Mans 24 Hours. You’re in the middle of a long-term gig as a Porsche factory driver, and on your resume, you’ve chalked up a podium at the Indy 500 and a handful of Formula One starts. Life’s good. Then a delivery truck pulls up.

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It’s November 1986 and your new car’s just arrived. With such illustrious employers, little wonder it’s a Porsche 911. And as you’re South Australian racing star Vern Schuppan, it’s the mad dog, wide arched, huge-winged Turbo model.

A supercar not for the feint hearted, but since you’re one of the world’s finest endurance race drivers, you start imagining the epic local fast road thrills you and the new car will embark on.

In the right hands

Exactly what this 911 Turbo and its talented first owner got up to on some of Europe’s finest driving roads may never be known, and some of its history after that is patchy. But almost 40 years after it was delivered to Schuppan’s Portuguese home, its steering wheel is now found on the right-hand side, and it lives a much quieter life in sunny Queensland.

Its current owner has known the car for 12 years, as he maintained it for the previous custodian at his Porsche specialist workshop.

A German native with enviable experience restoring and repairing European exotica, he’s keen to stay anonymous due to the Turbo’s provenance and value. “It’s kind of my retirement fund,” he explains. “This is why I keep it, but also because I love it.”

In that way, he’s not your typical Porsche 911 Turbo owner. Those shopping for the latest Turbos (it’s around $540,000 for a 2023 Turbo S) usually love showing off they’re in the brand’s flagship acceleration monster. But the owner of this 1986 Turbo owns it for different reasons.

“It has the rawness modern cars don’t have,” he explained. “When you sit in it you give it a certain respect. There’s no power steering so you need a bit of muscle to move it around. There’s the clutch, the gear shifter and traction control is your right foot. Not everyone could drive this car.”

Nor should they. Back in the 1980s the 911 Turbo was at the supercar top table, and much like all from that era, were best left in the hands of accomplished drivers.

Widow maker

I’m sure the Porsche factory will have been far happier seeing race driver Schuppan’s name on this Turbo’s delivery papers, rather than some got-rich-quick young finance whizz likely to oversteer it into a ditch.

“They call it the neck breaker; the widow maker,” its owner said. “And there’s a reason why. If you had bad tyres on, I definitely wouldn’t take one out in the rain. Not that this car has ever seen rain.”

This ’86 Turbo is in simply stunning condition. It wears its original Granite Green metallic body colour, although it was resprayed (very well) at the same time it was right-hand-drive converted. Exactly when and where this happened is unknown, but Japanese stickers on the door panel jambs show it was imported there before landing in Australia.

Today’s owner had worked on the car for over a decade before buying it four years ago. He had no idea its first owner was 1983 Le Mans winner Vern Schuppan (who drove a Rothmans-liveried Porsche 956 that year), until its history was properly explored by a specialist. “Hearing it was a Schuppan car was a surprise, I was pretty lucky,” he said.

Its documents show it is a rare non-sunroof model with air conditioning fitted. Its grey/green leather seats and carpet match the body colour (black interiors were far more common), while options included electrically adjusted sports seats and a Blaupunkt Toronto radio.

Then, as now, it’s the engine that’s the Turbo’s party piece. Known internally as the Porsche 930, the earliest 1975-1977 Turbos used a 3.0-litre flat six-cylinder. From 1978, engine bore was enlarged from 95mm to 97mm and stroke increased by 4mm, bringing displacement up to 3.3-litres. These later cars were fitted with a larger turbo and an air-to-air rather than water-to-air intercooler.

A piece of racing history

By 1986, the birth year of this car, Bosch Motronic engine management and LE-Jetronic fuel injection was in play, and engine figures were 243kW at 5750rpm and thumping 432Nm at 4000rpm. Hitting 100km/h from standstill in around five-seconds flat meant practically no other production car could touch it. Thankfully, stopping power came from a set of Porsche 917-dervied brakes, the very same used to win Le Mans in 1970 and 1971.

Climbing into the cabin and it’s delightfully 1980s, its distinctive colour over well patina’d leather chairs with truly enveloping bolstering.

Porsche’s distinctive and never-bettered black and white gauges with orange needles are perfectly laid out, and I spot the shift pattern on the manual shifter runs out at number four. What? A four-speed?

Apparently Porsche engineers felt the 930 Turbo had so much torque a fifth cog wasn’t really necessary. By the way, all 930s were only ever available with three pedals, manual shifter and rear-wheel-drive. It was aimed at proper drivers, so no auto was offered. How times have changed. All modern 911 Turbos are dual-clutch auto and all-wheel-drive only – real enthusiasts buy GT3s instead.

“When the previous owner had it the goal for me was to keep it original,” I was told. “He wanted to fit a bigger turbo, but instead I said we could do something different with the exhaust.”

I’m shown underneath while it’s on a hoist, marvelling at the cramped but beautifully formed maze of stainless steel. It’s a Dansk exhaust system which shortens the distance from turbo to the cylinder bank, after oil line modifications.

“It’s street legal for sound in Europe,” I’m told. “It’s German autobahn safe, except maybe when flames come out of the back.” Which, when this car is at play, those following get to enjoy. The exhaust system also makes the turbo lag – such a characteristic of these early turbo cars – slightly smoother.

Green machine

On our test drive I get to experience it. Once you’re over 3500rpm the turbo properly wakes up. There’s a noticeable whoosh in performance. It arrives like a tap being turned on, but is manageably smooth if you’re expecting it. Acceleration isn’t seat-pinning by modern standards, but it is glorious. The sound and energy smash your senses in this Turbo, which perfectly combines rawness with a comfortable, quality-packed ride and drive.

Its owner’s passion has never wavered. “Over the years of working on this Turbo, doing its engine and gearbox rebuild, I just grew to the car,” he said. “I knew it very well, the owner drove it maybe 100km a year, and I’d always serviced it, changed the oils, brake fluids and anything it needed. It wasn’t cheap, but it was the right time in my life to own one.”

What sort of work is needed on these old Turbos, I ask? “The cylinder heads start to rust through; it’s a material fault,” I’m told. “You mustn’t stop the car when it’s glowing hot; you need to get a little bit more oil through the turbo first. There are gearbox bearing issues, problem fuel pumps, and oil leaks mainly through gaskets getting old. They get corrosion on the front fenders, and lower doors.”

A prize

I’m told an engine rebuild takes about 40 hours, with new valve seats and valve stem seals very time consuming on these older Porsche motors.

At least parts aren’t a problem: Porsche keeps a massive inventory for its historical vehicles.

“Everything is available, mostly out of Germany, but prices have gone up horrendously these past two years,” I’m told. The owner had to replace the Turbo’s tyres as they’d hit ten years old, despite them appearing perfect after travelling just 1500km.

“It was $3000 for a set of P Zeros in Porsche specification,” he explained.
“And that is with connections!”

But as with all of us who fell in love with sports and supercars in the 1980s, you’ll forgive them anything. “It’s got a certain kind of smell,” the owner said.

“This is where it begins.

“Then you start it, there’s maybe a short puff out of the back because it’s a boxer engine, and then there’s the punch when the turbo kicks in.

“I love it. It’s still my hero car.”

From a racing legend first owner to its skilled expert current custodian, this well-travelled 930 Turbo is still delivering magic almost forty years later.

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