Porsche 718 RS 61
178 bhp, 1,600 cc flat four-cylinder engine with dual Weber carburetors, five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel independent suspension with torsion bar, coil springs, and tubular shock absorbers, and front and rear disc brakes. Wheelbase: 86.6 in.
- Formerly owned and raced by Bob Donner and Don Wester
- Finished 7th overall and 2nd in class at the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring
- Numerous podium finishes at SCCA and USRRC events
- One of just fourteen RS 61s ever constructed
- Brilliantly restored and ready for track action
- Sold for $2,750,000
To many manufacturers, motorsport victories are essential to commercial success. The adage of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday,” was never more true for Porsche during the late 1950s and early 1960s. The mid-engined Porsche Spyders were still attempting to establish a foothold in the United States, and it took to the track in the hands of factory-supported racers and privateers alike, dicing with the likes of Ferrari, Aston Martin, Jaguar, and Maserati for the vaunted spot at the top of the podium. Victory was the goal for many a weekend, and victory on the weekend would only grow the allure of the brand to spectators, leading to further sales and overall awareness of the Porsche brand. Victory was what Porsche needed to gain a foothold in the United States.
Unlike other builders of highly tuned racing cars, Porsche’s engineers relied on constructing a lightweight chassis and powertrain with a streamlined alloy body in order to provide fantastic handling, braking, fuel efficiency, and tire wear, as well as more lightning-quick acceleration. This formula proved to be very effective, and the 550 quickly notched up overall wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, and the Nürburgring 1000. The 550A, 550/1500 RS, and RSK of 1957 would follow, which would only increase Porsche’s domination on race tracks around the world.
The RS 61, and the RS 60 before it, proved to be the ultimate development of the Spyder platform. These cars, which were still known as the Type 718, had a tubular space frame that was similar to the 1959 RSK, but they utilized a wheelbase that was four inches longer. However, these cars were noticeably different from previous Porsche Spyders due to tightening FIA regulations, with the most visible of these requirements being the installation of a larger windscreen, an increase in cockpit size, and space for the FIA-required suitcase.
Nevertheless, Porsche’s Spyders and those who campaigned them were able to make the best of the FIA’s regulations, and they achieved overall victories at the 1960 12 Hours of Sebring and at that year’s Targa Florio. It was clear that the top brass at Porsche saw little reason to change what worked, and they continued production of the Type 718 cars into 1961, but they renamed them RS 61.
Like the RS 60, RS 61s were offered to privateers in almost identical format to the cars campaigned by Porsche themselves, and the RS 61 available today is one of those privateer-campaigned Spyders. Chassis 718-066 is one of the earliest RS 61 chassis constructed, and it is graced with a fantastic U.S. racing history under the names of two very well-known privateers, Bob Donner and Don Wester.
When asked about the car, Donner’s wife remarked that “it was one of his very favorite cars” and that the family had many fond memories of the car with Bob behind the wheel. There is no doubt that some of those memories come from the 1961 12 Hours of Sebring, which was quite far from Donner’s home state of Colorado. At Sebring, Bob Donner, Don Sesslar, and Ernie Erickson drove 718-066 to an incredible 7th place overall finish and 2nd in their class. Later that year, the car was entered in the USAC Sports Car race at Pikes Peak, where it proved to revel off the mountain air and finish in 1st place.
Don Wester, owner of Wester Motors, a Monterey, California, area Porsche and Volkswagen dealer, purchased this RS 61 from Bob Donner in 1963. Under Wester’s ownership, the car was repainted in a distinct two-tone yellow and black paint job, one which was adorned by many of Wester’s cars, making it easy for fans and competitors alike to identify his Spyder on the track. Wester also replaced the Porsche’s original 1,600-cubic centimeter engine with a 1,700 Homer Worth engine for added power and torque; this was something that he did with many of his racing cars. Just like Bob Donner, Wester soon found success in campaigning his Porsche, accumulating eight podium finishes in 1963 alone in SCCA and USRRC races on the west coast of the United States, with two overall wins at SCCA races at Stockton and Cotati.
The RS 61 was then purchased by Eldon Beagle, who continued to race the RS 61 in California in 1964. After leaving Eldon Beagle’s ownership, the RS 61 passed through several different owners, including John Grove and G. Grandell, before landing with its current owner in the 1990s.
Shortly after this RS 61 was purchased by its current owner, it was fully restored by a specialist that was familiar with this era of Porsches and racing cars in general. Any non-RS 61 items that found their way into the car were stripped and replaced with factory-correct components in order to make the car as original as possible. At this time, a correct 1,600-cubic centimeter engine was fitted to the car, and it was also refinished in its original color combination of silver with red leather bucket seats. After the completion of its restoration in the United States, the car returned with its new owner to Japan, where it resided in a collection of other significant racing cars.
Only a handful of RS 61s were produced, meaning that they very seldom come available for sale. This is a splendid example of the breed, as it is still in remarkable condition from its comprehensive restoration and it boasts a significant racing history from two well-known privateers that owned and raced many Porsche racing cars. Chassis number 718-066 has been expertly prepared for either historic racing or rally events, and it would be just as at home on the Colorado 1000 as it would at the Le Mans Classic.
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Photos by Patrick Ernzen courtesy of RM Sotheby’s