Articles

Leo Kinnunen’s Porsche

by Paul Darvill
23 April 2018 3 min read
Leo Kinnunen’s Porsche
Leo Kinnunen's Porsche 2.7RS Remi Dargegen Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s (c) 2018

As the tastes of classic car collectors evolve, two elements remain constant: originality and history.

Those that combine the purity of the most original survivors of a given model with a great story elevate that car to star status. Leo Kinnunen’s Porsche 911 2.7 RS Lightweight is one such car.

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Kinnunen was one the shining lights of Porsche’s racing programme in the early 1970s and was instrumental in allowing Porsche to take the World Sports Championship in the first year of that decade.

Kinnunen was a gifted and versatile driver; starting his career on motorcycles, he switched to four wheels in the 1960s and saw immediate success in rallying, autocross and ice racing. By 1967 he progressed to the track in the Finnish Formula 3 Championship and by 1969 he had committed himself fully to circuit racing, winning the Nordic Challenge Cup. His talent was spotted, and he was invited to test a Porsche 917 in 1970; Porsche were sufficiently impressed by his potential to pair him with their star driver of the moment, Pedro Rodriguez. The pair stunned the racing world by winning their first race at the 24 Hours of Daytona and went on to win the championship for Porsche. At the Targa Florio, Kinnunen was a last-minute replacement for Rodriguez on race day at the wheel of the new Porsche 908/03. Astonishingly during the final lap of the race, he broke the lap record by 1.5 minutes, a record which stands to this day.

In 1971, Kinnunen moved to the Interserie with AAW Racing at the wheel of a Porsche 917. Yet again, he won the championship in his debut year and went on to win outright in the subsequent two years. Ever mindful of not being limited to circuit racing, he participated in the 1973 1000 Lakes Rally, finishing third.

An opportunity to move into Formula 1 arose in 1974 and Kinnunen ended up behind the wheel of the Surtees TS16, again under the AAW Racing banner. The car was uncompetitive but Kinnunen became notable as the last Formula 1 driver to compete in an open helmet. Kinnunen returned to the Interserie and continued as a leading driver until his retirement in 1977.

The Porsche 2.7 RS Lightweight remains for many the pinnacle of classic Porsche road cars, the forebear of every RS to follow. Built to homologate a FIA Group IV race car, Porsche took the 2.4 litre 911S and enlarged the engine to 2,681 cc and increased power to a healthy 213hp. In ‘Lightweight’ form the kerb weight was reduced to just 975 kg.

Kinnunen, with his inside knowledge of Porsche’s competition department, wanted something special. It is believed that he used the car as a recce car in preparing for the 1000 Lakes Rally, and perhaps even the Targa Florio, and the car was built around this purpose. Kinnunen had his car built with ST wheel arches to accommodate wider wheels, following the style of Herbert Linge’s legendary Nürburgring safety car. The other obvious modification is the replacement of the classic RS ‘Ducktail’ spoiler with the iconic ‘Whaletail’, as fitted to the 1974 Carrera 3.0. Porsche had been experimenting with various aerodynamic solutions since 1970, and with this in mind, Kinnunen requested the latest technology to be applied to his car. Other indications of a special purpose behind this particular Lightweight come in the form of a full-sized steering wheel, permitting better control on loose surfaces and a slightly raised passenger seat, potentially to accommodate a co-driver requiring extra visibility. The engine remains as standard, however a further variation from the standard Lightweight are the factory fitted adjustable dampers and limited slip differential.

Today the car is remarkably original, with perfect patina on the paint and body. The interior is even more captivating; you sit snuggly in the lightweight bucket seats which are still covered in the original cloth. The engine sound is classic Porsche—throaty, off-beat and raw, and as you look down through the thin-rimmed four-spoke steering wheel your eyes fall on the large black-backed rev counter with its 7,500-rpm rev line, which dominates the instrument panel. It’s very clear that this car is all about performance.

For any collector looking for one of the most original and fascinating Porsche road cars ever offered for sale, Leo Kinnunen’s 2.7 RS Lightweight forms part of RM Sotheby’s 2018 auction in Monaco on the 12th May. Further details on the Porsche and the Monaco sale are available at www.rmsothebys.com.

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