In 1983, I had been thinking for some time about Porsche in competition and how we could do something in the Middle East to promote Porsche in our region and use some of Porsche’s established name in motor sport? At that point there was hardly any recognised motor sport other then national clubs across the region and although small, our own Bahrain Motor Club was one.
However rallying had been well established for the past several years and had recently gained FIA backing for a Middle East Rally Championship (MERC) and Rothmans/Opel were the current Champions. David Richards of Prodrive ran this team with their Qatari driver Saeed Al Hajri was being developed as the best-known Arab driver in the world.
That year 1983, one of our customers, Joseph (Joe) Moussa, who was general manager of Yateem Air Conditioning and very well known at the Bahrain Motor Club, came to us and asked us if we could prepare his road Porsche 911 Coupe for entry into the Bahrain International Rally?
Rob told Joe it would cost a small fortune to do the preparation properly, which we partners all agreed with. Rob, Bob & I had some experience in motor sport and knew what it takes to compete even at a basic level, let alone an International event. Joe informed us that he knew the route of the rally very well and all he needed was the basic equipment added to his road car to make it FIA legal.
We discussed this on several occasions and I forced the matter through our next Board Meeting on the basis that if Joe wanted us to do this as our customer, and he was paying for it, then we should agree to his request. Everyone agreed and we told Joe we would support him as a customer but not as Porsche Bahrain.
Rob and Joe organised a full roll cage, full-length aluminium under shield, rally seats and full harness seat belts, fire extinguisher, electric cut off switch, additional rims and rally tyres, etc. Rob placed Martin Rose and Mark Peters, our two Porsche trained British technicians on to this project, supported by Ibrahim our local top Bahraini mechanic. They stripped all the basic trim out of Joe’s 911 to lighten it as much as possible and within a couple of weeks had the car prepared. We were all concerned about the suspension as this was always the weakest link in previous Rally Porsche 911 cars. However, Joe said this was a step too much for his finances so we settled on fitting 930 turbo Bilstein dampers as a basic compromise (although to be fair to Rob, he did not think these was anywhere near strong enough).
The Rally soon came around and we were all out in force supporting Joe during his practice sessions until the day of the actual event. We had decided that we would portray Performance Cars Bahrain support as strictly one of supporting our customer, pointing at every occasion; this was a private entrant by one of our customers who had asked for our service support.
We did not add any PCB official sponsorship; as there was no way in our professional opinion could Joe finish this event, but we did have a few stickers on the car. The Bahrain International Rally was known to be extremely rugged on a number of special stages, and his chance of finishing with regular road suspension was highly unlikely.
The main challenge the Porsche 911 had was that whilst the suspension could easily be raised the travel on the dampers was limited and every time the car jumped over rough terrain, it pulled on the bottom of the dampers. Eventually these would just break under the stress. We all remembered the Porsche Factory 911 Safari cars had steel wires fitted front & rear to stop this but Joe’s car had no such luxury. Another problem was the rear trailing arms where they were bolted on to the torsion spring plates, had a tendency to stretch the bolts and work loose. Other issues of concern were the engine mountings and brackets, which on a rally car were always strengthened.
Joe ran very well for about two thirds of the event, but then the rear dampers fell completely to pieces a second time and he had to retire as we did not have time to retrieve him and replace these.
Everyone was happy, including Joe, so all was not lost. The important thing that we learned was that for a number of stages, Joe was very competitive in what was basically a road Porsche 911 with only 205bhp and no rally suspension.
Jimmy McRae and John Spiller won the rally in a Rothmans Opel and we had supported David Richards in Bahrain as best as we could.