This book is so much more than its title. Ultimate Works Porsche 956 undersells this tome hugely. The book benefits from a forward by Jurgen Barth and then the narrative starts in earnest.
Rather than jumping straight in, as perhaps one would expect, the book goes right back to 1951 and Porsche is very earliest days of racing. It covers Le Mans history and the early RS60 racers as well as the type 718 Grand Prix cars. Large credit is given to Ferdinand Piëch and his huge effect on the company's success both as a manufacturer and as a competitive force, constantly seeking to be the best.
The evolution of the Porsche brand and its racing heritage is covered in depth looking at the Porsche 908 through to the 1969 cars which were run in parallel with the very earliest 917. Author Serge Vanbockryck talks about The Porsche 917 in some depth and interestingly dispels the myth about Porsche having the row of 25 917s ready for the CSI to inspect for homologation. In actual fact, Porsche had tried to satisfy the CSI by presenting 25 part-built cars as many other manufacturers had done previously. The 917 was absolutely legal but drove a coach and horses through the spirit of the rules and they were rejected out of hand. They were told they had to produce 25 completed cars. No one thought they would do it. But history of course tells us they did just that, surely nothing sums up the ‘Porsche way’ more than this true tale.
This early part of the two part, nine volume, 800 page book, covers not only those early days of Porsche but the emergence of Group C. Indeed it is worthy of note that other manufacturers such as Rondeau, WM, Lola, Lancia, BMW and Aston Martin are all highlighted before the 956 is even mentioned in this particular section. This part of Vanbockryck’s book on Group C in general is well researched and actually fascinating even to the most hardened aficionado of Group C. Even I, as a dyed in the wool fan, learnt quite few things.
Porsches abortive Indycar, which gave its engine to the 956, is covered too, and no punches are pulled in telling this tale either.
Amazingly it is not until page 190 that we see a photo of the completed 956. In line with the rest of this book the development of the 956 is covered in fine detail and once again there are many fascinating facts which came to light. There is a brief deviation, well a whole chapter actually, which covers the research centre at Weissach and also the use of a mule Porsche 956 (chassis 107) which was used to test the TAG funded Porsche engine which was destined for Formula One in the back of a McLaren.
It’s not until we get to the arrival of the 956 in competition that the book gets into its stride. This is in no way a criticism because the preceding chapters have been fascinating and add hugely to the story being both brilliant and Informative. Much is made of the steam roller first, second and third at Le Mans in 1982 and the victory is covered in detail by Vanbockryck’s steady hand. The story of that victory sets the tone for the dominance this car had over the following years.
From this point on there is less unique information, indeed many of the book’s readers will have been to these events in period. Chapters on the 11 works drivers (which is a surprisingly small number)are interesting although there is little in the way of new information for the anoraks amongst us. However Chapter 52 is one of the best! This covers the history of all the Porsche 956s that ran as works cars with (as far as is possible) their history from build right up to the present. There are 12 cars which carried the ‘works’ label and all are covered. There is even acknowledgement of the Richard Lloyd Racing cars which ran occasionally in Rothmans livery to work as in-car camera vehicles.
That this is a reference book is true, but it is much,much more than that. You can pick it up and put it down at will, always finding the odd nugget of information, but I would guarantee that this is a book which the reader will go back to time and time again. Sometimes it will be just to fulfil the curiosity of a little known fact but probably more often just for the joy of a good read; because this is a fascinating and beautifully produced work of art.
The Ultimate Works Porsche 956 by Serge Vanbockryck.
Published by Porter Press International. 800 pages, 850 images, 322,000 words
Available from PorterPress.co.uk at £450.