AlphaLuxe Drives Koenig C62 Porsche 962 – The Drive (Part 1 of 2)

03/21/2020
Billy Johnson

BEHIND THE WHEEL
I was asked if I would be interested in driving this super rare Koenig C62 from Los Angeles to Buttonwillow Raceway Park and put it through its paces, something this particular car might have never done before.  The offer to drive a street-legal Porsche 962 was hard to pass up.

Koenig C62 review front1

Photo: Evan Feldman

I met the car for the first time in the early hours of the morning at the AlphaLuxe Unicorn Sanctuary.  The silhouette and greenhouse is unlike anything else in history and easily identifiable as a GTP/Group C era race car.  The Porsche 962 won LeMans with Derek Bell, Hans Stuck, and Al Holbert the year I was born, so it was even more special to me to be able to drive the Koenig C62, especially on the street.

Raising the quirky door and sliding over the wide door sills is a contortion act that all GTP and even modern LMP racing drivers do on a routine basis.  While this felt familiar, it can be an awkward and uncomfortable task for most people who don’t do this for a day job.

Koenig C62 review doors open1

Photo: Xinzhu Li

After sliding into the thinly padded carbon fiber bucket seats and flipping on the air compressor and two master power switches located in the side pod, I closed the door and was encapsulated in the tight cockpit of the C62.

Koenig C62 review interior1

Photo: Evan Feldman

The fishbowl front windscreen is like nothing short of a modern LeMans Prototype race car, but the shorter and wider greenhouse is uniquely GTP in feel.  Especially when you are looking at an array of round gauges and a 3-spoke D-shaped wheel that only has 3 buttons on it and no digital readout like modern race cars.  Forward outward visibility is excellent and framed by prominent wheel arches that give you a great visual for how wide the car is and where to place it in the lane on the street, or on an apex curb while at the track.  The road only car that remotely comes close to the outward visibility and visible fender arches is a first-generation Acura NSX.

Turning the key mounted in the center console brings the air-cooled flat-6 Porsche engine to life in a fairly unassuming way that is not much different from most 1980’s Porsches.  You don’t really get an aural or physical sensation that you’ve awoken a potentially 800hp fire-breathing monster.

After turning on the lights and flipping the pneumatic locks shut against advisement, I was ready to embark on a 2-hour drive to the track.

Koenig C62 review top

Photo: Charleston Silverman

The C62’s gearbox has often been misunderstood in other reviews.  The car is equipped with a 1980s dog-ring engagement H-pattern 5-speed manual transmission.  Anyone who rides a motorcycle knows that you can’t shift slowly with a dog-ring transmission like you can with synchros.  Dog rings require unloading the transmission (not accelerating or decelerating) and then using a firm, assertive hand guided by mechanical sympathy to quickly shift to the next gear.  Trying to shift slowly will grind away at the dog ring ‘teeth’ and over time it will become increasingly more difficult to shift.

This transmission has a dog-leg 1st gear where 1st is all the way to the left and back, reverse is to the left and forward, 2nd and 3rd are in the middle gate, and 4th and 5th gear are in the far-right gate.  This is ideal for racing where you will never use 1st gear and it can have a strong detent to keep you out of 1st and reverse when racing.

Koenig C62 review cockpit

Photo: ThomasM

The trick for finding 1st gear or reverse is to put the transmission in 3rd gear then 2nd gear (to align the dogs), then push the lever through the detent to the left, and grab either 1st or reverse.  9 times out of 10, it’ll drop right into gear and you’re ready to go.  On that note, there is another pneumatic switch that activates the clutch assist.  I don’t think the system is working at 100% at this time since it appears to only reduce the notchy/stickiness of the clutch pedal.  When the clutch is cold, the modulation is quite easy, but like most heavy-duty performance clutches, once it gets hot, it becomes ‘grabby’ and chatters as you slip the clutch.  It’s not as bad as many aftermarket tuner/street car clutches that I’ve driven, but it is definitely there.

ON THE ROAD
Once moving, the C62 does not feel big or intimidating to drive because of the excellent forward visibility.  It’s not until you need to change lanes and check the substantial blind spots in traffic where claustrophobia and a frustration of the poorly re-located side mirrors starts to set in.  The retrofitted rearview camera is a welcome addition, especially when backing up and parking.  However, for simply driving on the street, I would take the original mirror location over the rearview camera any day.

Shifting the racing gearbox with or without the clutch is a blast.  Like any racing gearbox, assertive and deliberate inputs at higher RPM (and unloading the dog-rings) make for smoother and faster shifts compared to lugging the engine and shifting slowly which often result in jerky and clunky gear changes.  Derek Bell’s son Justin (another LeMans winning race driver) said the 962 has a “great gearbox”.  I can see his point despite the fact that the 1st and 2nd gear dog rings in this particular car were fairly beat up from improper shifting over the years.  I believe a simple refresh would transform the car.

Koenig C62 review rear2

Photo: ThomasM

The first thing that stuck out was the surprisingly compliant ride quality of the C62.  While many companies market the idea that you would actually want a “racecar for the street”, in reality, you REALLY don’t want to live with the stiffness and damping of a race car.  Having worked as a development driver for Ford and Multimatic, on modern sportscars and supercars like the Ford GT, Shelby GT500 and GT350, I didn’t expect the ride quality of a converted 962 race car to be remotely acceptable on the street.

The many bumps found on the terrible Los Angeles roads and freeways were soaked up far better than I ever thought they would be.  I would actually say the ride quality was tolerable.  Well, as tolerable as sitting on half an inch of padding glued to a carbon fiber bucket seat can be.  But hey, some people do that to their modern track cars and even daily drivers, so it’s a bit relative.  If the C62 had enough head room for a normal, thickly padded street car seat, I don’t think many would complain about the ride.

Koenig C62 review roller3

Photo: Evan Feldman

Driving out of the urban jungle of Los Angeles and going over the Grapevine and down into the central valley, as the I-5 freeway shrinks down to 2 lanes in each direction, it’s hard not to feel like you’re transported in time back to the Mulsanne Straight at LeMans in the 80’s.  The outward visibility and feel are as close as anyone can get to what it was like racing the 962 back in the day.  That is, if I could feel much at all, as my fingers slowly started to lose feeling and dexterity from the freezing cold early morning air rushing into the cockpit through the half-inch gap, which appeared at speed when the upper door pulled away from the roof.  Later, on the return drive at night, I opted to fasten the passenger side upper door to prioritize staying warm over better exit ability in an emergency.

The only thing missing was the aural experience.  The car has archaic power-sucking catalytic converters and two massive mufflers to meet German TUV noise standards.  This shamefully mutes the character and experience of the engine.  Revving the engine out to its 7,000rpm redline, it honestly does not sound much different from a naturally aspirated 964 Carrera of a similar vintage.  Pure mechanical chatter, mostly from the valvetrain, overshadows any hint of whirring of turbochargers or barking of opening wastegates that give turbocharged 930s a lot of character.

Koenig C62 review rear

Photo: Evan Feldman

Only after staying full throttle for a while to give the turbos time to slowly build boost will the sound of the blowoff valve remind you that the car is actually turbocharged.  The dominating sound when driving the C62 on the street is outright road noise.  While the ride was nice, the Noise Vibration and Harshness (NVH) would completely fail to meet any street car standard.  Thankfully I had Bluetooth ear plugs to silence the roar of wind, road, and tire noise and enjoy some music along the way.  Once I exited Lerdo Highway, I was at my destination and eager to turn some hot laps in the Koenig C62.

ON THE TRACK
The Koenig C62’s original intended home was on the race track, so this was a long overdue homecoming.  However, the reunion was far from ideal, since the car was recently equipped with new old Dunlop racing rain tires, which have deep tread that are designed to generate heat and grip in cold, low grip conditions.  On a dry track, this leads to overheating, excessive tread squirm, and vagueness that isolates the steering and every aspect of performance, and feels like you are driving on a marshmallow.

Koenig C62 review roller getting ready for track

Photo: ThomasM

On top of the tires, which was also 20mm narrower front and rear than the original tires, we also don’t know how this car has been serviced, prepared, or if it has been pushed hard in decades.  Even with racing brakes and race proven engines, if any of these systems are neglected, including fluid, oil lines, seals, gaskets, etc… it could spell catastrophe for car and driver when pushed hard.  Having said that I was ready to turn some laps.

As I left pit lane, it felt special to bring this chassis back to a race track.  As I started to pick up the pace, the tires quickly started to squirm.  The steering effort was quite high and expected for manual, non-assisted steering.  This is a physical car to drive, and balancing the car at the limit takes finesse but also outright physical strength, even for a light 2,400lb car.

Hard braking resulted in the rear tires locking up first and bogging the engine down.  Any significant amount of trail braking in this rear-heavy car with this brake bias would lead to an excessive amount of corner entry rotation and oversteer.  Needless to say, I left a little margin on the table in the brake zones.

Body roll was quite low and the mechanical chassis was very responsive to inputs, especially given how soft and good the ride quality was on the street.  It’s apparent that the aluminum chassis and flat-6 engine give the car an extremely low center of gravity.  Most of the movement and sloppiness in the car was from the soft treaded rain tires, which were really unhappy being pushed on a dry track.

There was no lack of front grip.

Koenig C62 review roller on track

Photo: Xinzhu Li

Very little steering was required to guide the car into the corner as the heavy rear end struggled to follow suit, overloaded the poor rain tires into submission and resulting in a lot of counter-steer.  Above 100mph, the massive rear wing and diffuser tried to give the rear of the car some stability, but the tread squirm from the rain tires was still the dominant factor in the car’s handling. Racing slicks are really needed to determine the actual balance of the car, and whether stiffening the front sway bar would be beneficial or not.  Despite this, the C62 was still able to consistently pull over 1G of cornering force.

The engine was a bit of a surprise.  The car is claimed in factory literature to produce 800bhp at 6,300rpm from 1.4bar (20psi) of boost.  On track, it felt like a few hundred of those ponies were missing.  Analysis of the video shows the engine making only 0.7bar (10psi) at 6,200rpm and occasionally peaking at 0.8bar (12psi) at 6,800rpm.  Reverse calculating the original quoted power figure, this equates to 567hp and 600hp respectively.  This backs up an article that listed the car at 588bhp, and the rumor that the car made 550whp on a chassis dyno.  Comparing the rate of acceleration and top speeds, the C62 just slightly out-accelerates a 700lb heavier, 513hp Porsche 991.2 GT3 RS.  So these calculations are probably close if not a little optimistic.

Koenig C62 review engine

Photo: Evan Feldman

Exiting a corner, it takes 2-3 seconds of being full throttle for the turbos to build 0.5bar (7psi) of boost and produce ~500hp.  The slow rate that the turbos spool up makes for a very smooth and progressive increase in thrust that’s quite tame and far from the Porsche 930’s “widow-maker” reputation for the turbos to kick in aggressively and being difficult to control.

Perhaps the wastegates aren’t sealing fully and could use a little TLC along with the turbos to improve response, or maybe the surge of power would be more profound with double the current boost levels where it is supposed to be.  But today, the power was quite manageable to drive, although slightly disappointing considering how much better the car would perform if its 1980s turbo technology were only better maintained.

Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT review Koenig C62 3

Koenig C62 chasing a Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT at Buttonwillow Raceway (Photo: Evan Feldman)

Taking the mushy rain tires out of the equation, I could really feel the spirit of the 962 shining in the background of the dynamics of the car when pushing it on track.  I can’t help but imagine the outright grip and feel the car would have if it just had proper racing slicks and the brake bias dialed in.  It should easily be a handful of seconds faster in the dry.  Lowering the car closer to the ride height of the 962 would further improve the downforce and feeling of the car on track.

Compared to a modern race car, like the Ford GT that I raced at LeMans in the GTE class, the C62 is far more visceral, analog, and physical to drive.  Modern GTE/GTLM race cars operate where thousandths of a second is big, and racing is perfection lap after lap.  Cars are basically setting qualifying laps for 24 hours straight.  Back in the days of GTP and Group C, the cars were not as durable as they are today and it was important to take care of the brakes, transmission, engine, and/or suspension to finish the race.  Plus, it was more physical to drive and a lot more dangerous.

Koenig C62 review roller2

Photo: Xinzhu Li

While it can easily be misconstrued, I don’t want to say that there was any less precision and consistency back in the day than there is now, but by looking at the greater variables from rowing your own gears to the level of precision of braking systems and tire technology, the performance envelope was wider and more driver-centric before than it is today.  That’s something that I really connect with and a big reason why I feel like I was born in the wrong decade to be a racecar driver.  The more fundamental and important connection between driver and machine makes me quite fond of vintage racing, and viewing older racecar drivers as far more impressive and praiseworthy than modern drivers.

CONCLUSION
After my stint on track was over, I bundled back up, locked the passenger door to try to stay a little warmer on the 2-hour drive home, and had plenty of time to reflect on the day.  It was a pretty memorable experience to put over 300 street and track miles on such a special car.  It’s unlikely I will ever get a chance to drive a GTP car on the street to the racetrack to push it to its limits; and while it was far from ideal due to the tires that were on the car, the condition of the transmission, and for running half the boost the car should have, it was an experience I will never forget.

Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT review Koenig C62

Photo: Xinzhu Li

Sources:
http://www.koenig-specials.com/history.html
http://porschecarshistory.com/das-ultimate-koenig-c62-exotic-cars-mag/
https://forums.vwvortex.com/showthread.php?4530358
https://germancarsforsaleblog.com/tuner-tuesday-1991-koenig-c62/
https://jalopnik.com/why-the-porsche-956-962-is-the-greatest-sports-racing-c-1635060254
https://www.1000sel.com/index.php/koenig-specials/porsche-962-c62
https://bringatrailer.com/2016/05/30/road-legal-group-c-prototype-1991-koenig-c62porsche-962/
https://www.racingsportscars.com/driver/results/Willy-K%c3%b6nig-D.html
http://www.supercarworld.com/cgi-bin/showgeneral.cgi?154
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zXD9FCKnHc

 


Counterpoint by Kevin Blasko

Absurdity is the name of the game when it comes to piloting the Koenig C62- the ungodly brainchild of Willy König, based on Porsche’s 962 racecar of the ‘80s and early ‘90s.  In this instance, “based on” seems to sell the C62 short, as sliding into the hilariously cramped cockpit, you’d be hard pressed to distinguish this car from an actual Le Mans racer.

With pneumatic-locking doors that you’d rather not lock for fear of becoming trapped inside the car, a transmission and shift linkage that leave even the most seasoned three-pedal purist struggling to find the gates, and a driving position akin to an astronaut aboard the space shuttle, the C62 feels foreign in essentially every aspect.

Koenig C62 review front top

Photo: ThomasM

My short time lapping the C62 around Buttonwillow did little to instill any confidence in my ability to pilot the car effectively.  More time was spent coaxing the car into gear than appreciating its approximately 500 turbocharged horses and pure, analog connection to the pavement.  I’d love to say that I grew to love the car for its countless quirks and idiosyncrasies, but the reality was, this car is just too ill-mannered to really extract any fun.

Climbing Everest.  Building the Great Pyramid.  Flying to the moon.  In life, sometimes we do things just because we can- just to prove a point.  Transforming Porsche’s 962 racer into a road-legal monster, to Willy König, probably felt like one of those honorable exploits.

Don’t get me wrong- the idea of a Le Mans racer for the road gets me just as hot and bothered as the next car enthusiast.  But, in this instance, the execution is just far too sloppy.  Stick this thing in a museum, and get me back into a car that’ll reliably go into first gear.

 


Counterpoint by Johan Koenig

Why was this car made street legal?  That’s what I couldn’t help thinking while struggling to climb into the cramped cockpit seating 1.5 people, and feeling anxious for the driver trying to get it moving from a stoplight without stalling while a much more pedestrian vehicle trudged behind like, well, a pedestrian.  It’s a novelty.  It’s impractical.  It doesn’t make any sense.

Unless, that is, you’re driving 200 mph.  At least, that’s what I imagine.  At 80 or 90 mph on the freeway with the engine howling, I caught a glimpse of what this car was built for.  I suppose I should have known just looking at it, but you don’t really understand what the car could be capable of until you actually feel the rumble near peak and hear the turbo blow-off.  And since I only felt it from the passenger seat—which was all well and good by me—I imagine it was more thrilling, and anxiety-inducing, behind the wheel.

Koenig C62 review side doors open

Photo: Charleston Silverman

Short of experiencing the car on a track or short bursts on public roads at speeds not recommended, this car is best enjoyed as art.  Stationary.  I imagine it holding court in a lair of other collector’s toys that occasionally make an appearance at a cars & coffee.  From most angles, its swooping lines and commanding width make it visually stunning.  I only quibble with those taillights—an apparent afterthought given the amount of effort Koenig undoubtedly devoted to making this 962 race car street legal.

For most rare cars, it doesn’t occur to question why it resides in someone’s personal collection.  It occurred to me here, though.  I’d wager it must be closer to car number ten in that collection than two or three.  Of course, there’s no accounting for taste.

 


The Last Word by ThomasM

It’s hard to find any actual hands on commentary about the C62 without also reading or hearing about the transmission and gearbox, and more specifically the difficulty of finding first gear.

Even I found myself sometimes having difficulty positively engaging 1st once in awhile – though I fairly consistently could find the gate for 1st, once in awhile I couldnt get it far enough back to fully engage the gear.

The secret, as Billy already points out, is to engage 2nd first, which lines up the dog rings, then back to neutral, push past the detent hard left, then back.  But not just back, but back, then *click* for final positive 1st gear engagement.

Koenig C62 review shifter knob

Photo: ThomasM

I personally found consistently finding 2nd more iffy, both up and down – the spring loading for neutral is lighter than most street gearboxes and muscle memory is the essential guide to finding neutral between gear channels – not too little or too much up or down, not too much left or right.

But once you get it, “with mechanical sympathy,” as Billy mentioned, and my Skip Barber racing license instructor taught us, it really isn’t a problem at all.

Really.

After putting on 100+ miles on the C62, I can state, without equivocation or hesitation, I have come to respect it, even enjoy it.

I started out with almost debilitating trepidation.  The difficulty, the sheer absurdity of ingress and egress, made me lol and grimace at the same time, and added to the anxiety.

Koenig C62 review rear3

Photo: Evan Feldman

Over time, I’ve learned to almost gracefully support myself with both arms and both hands and shoot myself into the seat legs and feet first, like I would load myself, feet first, into a torpedo tube in a Bond movie or Mission:Impossible franchise.

I’ve come to learn that a firm, assertive input – whether of hands on shifter, or feet on throttle, brake or clutch, but ALWAYS with mechanical sympathy – works best.  You cannot be afraid of it, or like a wild Mustang, it will sense this fear and buck you off.  But assert your mastery – again, always with respect – and your wild ride will allow you to guide it to a unique experience few other vehicles can deliver, no matter how hard they try.

A product of the 70’s and 80’s, I recall the outlaw irreverence of Koenig Specials, long before outlaw was a badge of honor and to be coveted (think Singer, Magnus Walker and Rod Emory today) – back then, tuners were much more niche, much more fringe and definitely much more “outlaw.”

I’ve always wondered, are you still outlaw when you are embraced by the mainstream?

Anyhoo…

Why does the C62 exist?

Because it can, and does.

And that’s enough for me.

Chapeau.

Koenig C62 review on the track

Photo: ThomasM

 

Next click to:

AlphaLuxe Drives Koenig C62 Porsche 962 – The Background (Part 2 of 2) 

OR

AlphaLuxe Drives Lamborghini Murcielago R-GT, GT1 Race Car

 


Author’s Biography: Billy Johnson

Billy Johnson is a (freelance) American professional race car driver who has competed in the World Endurance Championship (WEC) and 24 Hours of LeMans from 2016-2019 for Ford Chip Ganassi Racing, driving the #66 Ford GT at LeMans, and winning the 6-Hours of Spa Francorchamps.  He is the 2016 IMSA Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge GS Champion for Ford/Multimatic Motorsports driving the #15 Shelby GT350R-C Mustang with Scott Maxwell.  Billy also works as a development driver for programs including the Ford GT race car and road car, Ford GT MKII, Shelby GT500, GT350, and Mustang GT4 race car. 

Billy’s passion for cars began early in life where he read all of his dad’s car magazines cover to cover and grew an appreciation for European, Japanese, and American cars.  Over his career, Billy has raced everything from prototypes, sports cars, NASCAR, formula cars, karts, and vintage cars for marques varying from Ford, Ferrari, Porsche, Aston Martin, BMW, Acura, Mazda, and Nissan.