Tiff Needell

ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED PORSCHES

Tiff Needell

ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED PORSCHES of them all is the 944 Turbo. It was my road car and my racing car for 1988 and little did I think at the time that it would lead to a full-blown season of World Championship Sportscars in 1989 sharing a Porsche 962 with none other than five-time Le Mans winner Derek Bell!

In 1985, I’d raced one of the iconic ’72/’73 911 RSLs in a round of the burgeoning Porsche Cars of Great Britain Production Championship and came away with a big grin on my face after winning at Donington. It was just a one-off outing for a magazine story, but also a part of a growing association with the marque.

Back then I was an instructor for Porsche running track days for owners, working alongside the likes of Richard Attwood and Tony Lanfranchi, and we were involved in the huge launch of the 944 at Millbrook. They even constructed the futuristic building now known as Concept 1 especially for it.

“ONE OF THE MOST UNDERRATED PORSCHES IS THE 944 TURBO ... FOR ME IT REMAINS ONE OF STUTTGART’ HIDDEN TREASURES”

We were all impressed by its neutral handling and confidenceinspiring performance, so when Porsche suggested I race a Turbo model to take on the massed ranks of 911s in the 1988 Production Championship I jumped at the chance – thinking I’d do a bit of pot hunting in a nice, friendly series to complement driving for Toyota in selected Group C sportscar races.

Sponsored by BFGoodrich and Glasurit Paint it looked the business in its flip pearlescent white colour scheme, but little did I expect my year to be one of the closest, hard-fought affairs I’d experienced. The main rivals were Mike Jordan and Chris Millard in a lightweight 911 and 911 Turbo respectfully, and it was full-on war from the word go!

I won four of the eight races, but not the championship, including a memorable win on the Zandvoort Circuit just one year before it was hacked in half and turned into yet another Mickey Mouse affair.

One memory that stands out is that this was during the early days of ABS and the systems were nothing like as refined as today.

A Sierra Cosworth nearly killed me at Castle Combe when the car went light while braking over the crest into Quarry. The ABS decided that meant the brakes were locked, giving me a solid pedal, but no retardation.

In the 944, going over rumble strips caused the sensors to frazzle to the extent that it sometimes disengaged itself. That wouldn’t normally be a problem, but ABS is set to run a much greater bias to the rear, which meant instant lock-up, like pulling on the handbrake. To overcome this, we installed a big light to warn me and a big red button to enable an instant reset – but it still gave me plenty of heart-stopping moments.

In 1989 a season of the World Sportscar Championship in a Porsche 962 came my way, along with a 944 Turbo road car. I enjoyed it more than my other half Patsy, as there were complaints about neck aches when climbing over the Alps...

With the fold-down rear seats there was masses of space for luggage, race kit and sleeping bags for Le Mans and with 186kW it had seven more than fellow MOTOR columnist Jethro Bovingdon’s 968 that replaced it. For me, Porsche’s 944 remains one of Stuttgart’s hidden treasures.