The Old Weird Herald

Porsche's Giant Killer

OWH Tests the Fly Porsche 908

Photos and Text by Bob Ward

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Fly's new Porsche 908

The years 1968 and 1969 were an interim period in world endurance racing. FIA regulation changes had legislated the monster American cars, the 7-liter Ford MkII and MK IV prototypes and the exotic Chaparrals, out of the picture. The European factories needed time to exploit a loophole in the new rules that eventually would allow Porsche to field the awesome 917 in its many versions and Ferrari to counter with the 512S and 512M. So, for two seasons Porsche and Ferrari built 3 liter cars to contend with privately entered 5 liter Ford GT40's for the World Manufacturers' Championship.

Porsche's 3 liter entry, the 908, was Zuffenhausen's first serious contender for overall endurance wins and brought Porsche its first endurance championship in 1968. Based on the chassis of the successful 2.2 liter 907, the new flat-8 powered car, with 350 horsepower on tap, was produced in both coupe and a spyder form and in long and short-tailed versions. The 908 remained a force in endurance racing for an incredible 15 years, scoring high finishes in international events as late as 1982.

Along the way, the 908 won most of the major endurance races and lost LeMans by only a couple of seconds in 1969's epic Ickx-Herrmann battle to the finish. Then there was Steve McQueen and Peter Revson's 908 drive at Sebring in 1970. McQueen, driving with one foot in a cast, showed he was more than just a wealthy actor playing racer as he and Revson fell short of beating Mario Andretti's Ferrari 512S by just 24 seconds after 12 hours. And who could forget what was probably the little Porsche's most improbable adventure of all, Englishman Tony Dean's victory in a 908-2 spyder over the 900-horsepower leviathans of the Can Am series at Road Atlanta in 1970.

The 908-2 spyder is a most worthy subject to be selected by Fly as the second car in their Classic series, following their impressive-looking Ferrari 512S. If you bought the Ferrari and lamented the fact that there was no other comparable car to race with it you now have your wish. The 908 fills the need admirably, both in performance and as a contemporary of the Ferrari that frequently raced against it. We predict some exciting basement endurance races this winter with the Ferrari-Porsche rivalry at fever pitch.

Body and Finish

Fly's newest product, stock number C-11, is a model of the Porsche Salzburg 908-2 spyder driven to victory in the 1969 Nurburgring World Manufacturers' Championship race by Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. It comes in the usual plastic case with a black base and a dark blue paper insert forming a backdrop for the car. "Porsche 908 1st Nurburgring 69," is stamped in gold on the base. The car is the first of four 908 spyders slated for production, with more said to be in the works.

Fly has done an outstanding job of capturing the shape of the car in miniature. If there are any discrepancies in the overall shape we couldn't see them in comparing the model with numerous photos from our library. Fly did make one little mistake, though. The wheels, very handsome and accurate five spoke units molded in black, are set visibly forward of center in the wheel openings.They are not far enough off to cause the tires to rub on the body, but the misplacement does detract from what is otherwise an attractive overall appearance.

Dimensions are a different story. Are you ready for this? Can you take it? If you're a scale purist, are you sitting down with a couple of scotches in you? The car's oversize. Yep, oversize. Two different reference books list the 908-2's wheelbase and width at 90.6" and 72" respectively. Guess what? Fly's 908 scales out to 98" and 78" (80" if you measure across the spoiler tabs.) For you math freaks, that makes the car's actual scale about 1/29.6. What have we here? Is Fly turning out "cheater" cars?

Ummmm...no. It's really a packaging problem. Fly's rear pod is about as compact a structure as can be designed around the normal Mabuchi motor. The width of the pod plus their standard spur gear and the Firestone tires scales out to about 75 inches. There's no way they were going to get all that under a body 72 scale inches wide without redesigning the pod as an anglewinder, narrowing the tires, or going to an inline arrangement. So, they just made the car wider. Once they made the car wider they had to make it longer to keep the proportions from looking funny. The road to dimensional Hades is paved with good intentions, but we won't write Fly any nasty letters--the extra width is certainly not going to hurt the handling.

Well, the measurements may be off, but there's something refreshing about the cleanness and simplicity of the paint schemes and markings carried by cars from the days before every square centimeter of the body began to be covered with advertising. The 908's livery is economy itself, an overall white with red stripes down the fenders and red lower body sides. Fly's tampo stamping, as always, is crisp and opaque.

We did find, however, that the placement of many of the markings differ from our photos of the 1/1 scale car. The red stripes are narrower than they should be and do not come down onto the sides of the car as far as they should. On the front fenders they don't extend below the prominent spoiler tabs and don't continue all the way down to the bottom of the nose below the headlights.The Shell decals on the sides should be larger and above the P in the word Porsche, which appears to be too high up the side of the car. The number 1 should come farther down the body sides. The large "P" class designator on each side is too far aft and does not overlap the red stripe as it should. In addition, the depressions for the NACA ducts on the rear fenders should be red, not white.

Now that we've nitpicked the dimensions and the paint job to death we also have to say that these differences are prime examples of the adjustments manufacturers must make to accommodate the requirements of mass production and pricing constraints. Just as the extra width was necessary to avoid expensive redesigning, the changes in the car's markings were needed to work within the limitations of the tampo stamping process. Even so, every element of the car's markings, though not necessarily in exactly the right place, is there and few people, without photos to compare with, will either notice the differences or care about them. The overall finish is flawlessly smooth and glossy, and the whole car gives the impression of having been custom-painted by a master modeler. In addition, the Fly toolmakers have succeeded in placing the part lines almost entirely along panel lines and edges so the only visible part lines on the body are on the bottom of the nose below the headlights, where nobody looks anyway.

Detailing

We've raved about the detailing on every Fly car we've reviewed, and on each successive one Fly manages to add something new. The 908 is no exception.

At the front the clear headlight covers also incorporate the headlight lenses, and they fit in place with none of the looseness we found on the Joest and the Ferrari. The front fender spoiler tabs are molded into the body and appear quite sturdy without looking too thick. The windshield fits perfectly and surrounds a full-depth cockpit filled with detail, so much, in fact, that you almost have to take the car apart to see all of it.Porsche 908 - Top View

The driver can be identified as Jo Siffert, the Swiss who was a key member of Porsche's driving roster until his death in the early 70's. His trademark Swiss flag design is stamped on the open-face helmet, and he wears a white bandanna over his face and a white uniform with black gloves. The seat belts, black with a silver buckle, appear too narrow, a problem we have noticed on many slot cars. Other cockpit details include a full steering wheel, stamped instrument faces, pedals, and a bright red fire extinguisher bottle. A windshield-mounted rear-view mirror looks just like the one on the 1/1 scale car, but would look really nice with a tiny chrome piece for the mirror face. A tiny Swiss flag decal is placed on each side of the car next to the cockpit along with a British flag for Redman. Even the door latch recesses are there.

Just behind the cockpit, Fly has provided a beautifully detailed engine molding with cylinder head, distributor, cooling fan, and fuel injection details. Atop this sit two white air cleaner housings with black hold-down straps and a roll bar with a rearward brace. The roll bar is molded in black, but the photos show that on this car it should be white. Three chrome filler caps are in their appropriate places on the body. The panel lines are well represented.

Porsche 908  Rear ViewAt the rear of the car, gearbox, oil cooler, space frame tubing, and exhaust detail are included in an intricate part even more detailed than the similar part on the Ferrari. Clear taillights are attached to the body through this part, holding it in place even when the chassis is removed.

Chassis and Running Gear

As with detailing, every new Fly design seems to come up with a new wrinkle or two in the chassis department. On the 908 Fly has utilized the full potential of its excellent sidewinder motor, magnet, and rear axle pod by using it as the entire rear of the chassis. The black-molded chassis plate itself ends just in front of the rear wheels, the pod engaging it with a tab, just as on previous sidewinder cars. What's different is that the screw mounting at the rear of the pod attaches directly to a post on the body. This eliminates a good deal of structure at the rear of the car and permits the use of the sidewinder arrangement without making the car even wider than it is. With the chassis plate secured to the body by four self-tapping screws, the pod is securely sandwiched between the plate and the body.

The motor, gears, axles, guide, braid, and lead wires are all standard Fly items. The independently rotating front wheels and stub axles are retained, and still have considerable slop in them, though we didn't see any tire rubbing during our test.

The tires are the treaded Firestones introduced on the Ferrari. Our research indicates that Firestones were used on the Nurburgring winner, so the tires are accurate. One complaint about the tires carries over from the Ferrari. The white ring and Firestone name still rubs off the tires far too easily. As with the Ferrari, we advise any 908 buyer who want to preserve the collector value of his car to buy a spare set of tires to be carefully stored away and installed just before selling the car.

Porsche 908 (on routed club track)

Track Testing

Our test car was delivered to us at Fantasy World Toy & Hobby by none other than A Day At The Races owner Alan Smith, in person, only hours after the shipment arrived at his warehouse. Alan deserves more credit than he gets for promoting the 1/32 scale slot car hobby in America. He has often been a valuable source of information to OWH and has spent many thousands of dollars showing his products at trade shows and other industry venues, as well as working with dealers who are seriously interested in developing the market. When we spoke with him he had just added two new sales people to his staff to line up more dealers across the country. He was looking forward to his upcoming meetings with several prominent racing teams to secure licensing deals for future U. S. market products.

As always, our thanks to Fantasy World for arranging for our test car and providing the track. The 908 is in stock there now, along with hundreds of other cars, Scalextric and SCX 1998 race sets, and a large selection of parts and accessories.

Inspecting our test car, we found only one problem, a rear tire that was not seated properly on its wheel and was rubbing on the chassis. We straightened it out and pushed the wheel and tire slightly farther outboard. We gave the car the OWH magnet test and were surprised to find that it stuck to the Scalextric track section all the way over and hung upside down. The Ferrari had rolled well before reaching the vertical. The 908's extra magnetic attraction would be evident on the track, too, though in a way we didn't expect.

After the usual lubrication with Parma bushing oil, the car broke in quickly and without drama. Even during the break-in runs we found the car to be smooth, forgiving, and pleasant to drive. We found it much easier to get into a steady driving rhythm with the 908 than with the 512, which had been somewhat nervous and unpredictable in its handling throughout our test. This car was easy to get comfortable with.

The test proper began with 5 one-minute timed runs on the FW track, driving with an old-style Scalextric controller and using a DS030 lap counter / timer to keep track of things. On the first run we recorded a fast time of 7.406 seconds, gradually working our way down to a best time for the 5 runs of 7.138 seconds.

We used one of the new 1998 Scalextric controllers on the second 5-run set,mostly to get a comparison between the new and old controllers. With the new controller the 908 was marginally faster, recording a best time of 7.010. Both Scalextric controllers have 70-ohm resistors and we couldn't detect any real difference in the way the car responded. The real advantage to the new controller is that it feels more comfortable in the driver's hand. We think it would help the driver maintain a higher level of performance over a long race. It also can be driven comfortably with either the thumb or the index finger.

For our third set of 5 one-minute runs we switched to a 45-ohm Parma. The Parma demanded a lighter touch on the trigger than either of the Scalextrics and actually delivered a slower time than the 1998 Scalextric, at 7.087 seconds. We would have liked to try a 60-ohm controller, but had to save that experiment for another day.

Porsche 908 & Joest

The two recent Fly Porches - the 908 & Joest

We knew from the magnet test that the 908 had much more magnetic "stick" than the 512. We expected it to drive like a Fly GT car, that is, somewhat like an HO car, very "glued down". We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Porsche drives not like an HO car but like a non-magnet car, only at higher speeds. You can slide the tail out and spin the car very realistically. The result is a car that is entertaining to drive, one we would not get tired of driving in a long enduro. In this way it reminds us of the Ninco F-1 car, though it is not as fast.

In fact, our 908 was not as fast for a single lap as the 512 we tested, which clocked a 6.833 second lap, even though the 908's handling is much more to our liking. The deficit is in straightaway speed, particularly on the 16-foot main straight. This was partly because of more magnet drag but more due to a noticeably soft motor. With a motor from over on the happy end of the performance bell curve, we're confident that the Porsche would be as quick if not quicker than the 512. Even as is, the 908 is the car we'd choose for an enduro. The two cars were meant to be raced together, and which is faster on a given day and circuit probably comes down to normal performance differences between individual cars.

We had just received some sample silicone tires, including a pair that fit the 908, so we added another 5-run set to the test. Given the rapturous reports on "sillies" circulating on the Internet, we expected a big drop in lap times. Surprisingly, that didn't happen. The fastest lap on silicones was 7.012, .002 slower than our best time with the stock tires. Even more surprisingly, the silicones made no noticeable difference in the feel of the car. By all accounts this is not the way it's s'posed to be, so we're going to check in with the maker of the tires and see if we're doing something wrong. We'll follow up at a later date.

In a previous review we noted that Fly has a history of turning out wonderfully detailed and engineered cars with occasional lapses in execution. The 908, with its out-of-location wheels, is a small step back from the Joest and the Ferrari in precision of fit but continues Fly's ascent to ever higher standards of detail and finish. It's handling is a big improvement over the 512 and our test car's lack of straight line speed is almost certainly not typical. With all its faults and virtues, it's a car we thoroughly enjoyed driving and one we look forward to racing.

Porsches Galore

Another Fine Addition to the Porsche Stable

What would we change on it? Aside from correcting the wheel location, we think Fly ought to offer these great endurance racing cars with working lights, or at least offer a lighting kit as an add-on item. We'd also like to see Fly do the car as Tony Dean's Can Am winner. And, just as they're going to do a long-tail Ferrari 512S, how about a longtail "Sole" 908 and a 908 coupe? While we're at it, the wheels used on the 908 are the same style used on the 917's and many other racing Porsches. The 906, 907, 908, 917, and 917-10 all have wheelbases within one inch of each other so the 908's chassis and wheels could serve for a whole line of classic Porsches. Of course, they would all have to be "fudged" to 1/29.6 scale, but why not? Sources close to Fly say the company is unlikely to do a 917 coupe because SCX has already done one, but wouldn't the 1970/71 longtail make a mouth-watering model?

We've given a lot of attention here to the unavoidable compromises Fly has made to bring this car to production at a reasonable price. It is to Fly's credit that they have made those compromises so skillfully. The result is a highly enjoyable car, both to look at and to drive. Fly is giving us the cars we missed out on after slot racing went "thingy" in the late 60's. Like the song says, stay right here 'cause these are the good old days.

Bob Ward

Mailboxemail: bobward@oldweirdherald.com

For more info on Fly, Scalextric, Ninco, SCX, etc., & a list of Retail Dealers, check out:

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