Zakspeed Racing: Building On The Past

For this article we’re heading back to Zakspeed Racing in Germany, pioneers of extreme reinterpretations of Ford’s finest during the 1970s such as the awesome Ford Capri Turbo. But Zakspeed’s renown stretched well past that decade and continues right up to the present day. A further connection with Ford in the shape of their sports prototype programme in the early ’80s led to a five-year independent programme in F1, followed by a return to their tin-top and endurance roots in the ’90s and beyond.

The scale of their involvement in racing over the last four decades is clearly highlighted by a fantastic diorama that snakes its way through Zakspeed’s reception: a 1/43rd scale representation of pretty much every racing car to have passed through the team’s workshop. And it’s an impressive – and long – line-up.

The team might be best known internationally for that early success, but Zakspeed have been represented in pretty much any major series you can name – Formula 1, World Sportscars, IMSA, DTM, FIA GT, VLN, ITC, Formula 3, CART, V8Star and Superleague Formula all figure – and they’ve partnered with all the big German manufacturers over the years. BMW, Porsche, Mercedes, Opel have all coming knocking on Zakspeed’s door.

Towards the end of the 2000s Zakspeed had scaled back their international programmes, but were still regularly running tuned Vipers GTS-Rs at the Nürburgring 24 Hours every year – they won in 1999, 2001 and 2002, each time with team principal Peter Zakowski on the driving roster. That the team have such a close relationship with the Nürburgring is no surprise given their location in the small town of Niederzissen, just 26km from the iconic race track.

Just like with Kremer Racing and so many other teams, Zakspeed have endured a difficult period in recent times and have been less involved in contemporary series – showing that a glorious past is unfortunately no foil for tough economic conditions.

Thankfully, as with Kremer, that glorious past does have a positive side, helping with ensuring there are plenty of people who need to enlist the team’s help. Historic racing is big business and festival appearances are always being requested, and the sheer number of cars that Zakspeed have either constructed or run as a customer programme mean that the restoration side of the business is very strong.

In fact, it’s almost too strong! It’s ironic that my love for Zakspeed was first kindled by a Tamiya model kit of a Ford Capri Turbo: the workshop was littered with cars either undergoing restoration or awaiting work, laid out like full-scale model kits. This 911 just needed sprues and it would have been perfect…

Evidence of Zakspeed’s high-level programmes can be found in every corner of the factory, and because of the quantity of cars in build/rebuild and limited space, prestigious cars can often be found in unexpected nooks. Like a complete set of beautiful carbon panels for a Porsche GT1-97?

Zakspeed were contracted by Porsche to build bodywork for the customer GT1s – this is just a part of the stock of spares they still hold.

My beloved Group 5 Capri has also undergone some modern-day material upgrades, courtesy of Zakspeed’s carbon shop.

The original formers have been used to create new sets of bodywork in carbon, giving the dual benefit of not only preserving the original, delicate panels but also offering serious weight savings.

All these cars require an awful lot of rubber to be stashed around the ship, allowing a game of match the rubber to the car. Capri BBS rims; 911 Fuchs alloys; thin F1 transport wheels…

The area by the GT1 panels also had the Manta and this frame, which looked so agricultural that I’d not paid attention to it at first. Hang on. Agricultural? Very long nose? Looks like it could be a tractor? Ah, yes, one of my favourite GT cars ever – a Viper, awaiting a rebuild!

Alongside the racing cars Zakspeed offer a complete service for rare historics – like this unmistakeable Ferrari Dino that had been stripped right back for a bare metal restoration and was in the paint shop at the time of our visit.

Originally blue, the Dino is in the process of being lovingly restored and repainted in classic Ferrari red. With their manufacturing expertise, the team tend to manufacturer the majority of replacement parts themselves, only outsourcing to external suppliers where either unavoidable or for reasons of authenticity.

Another street car in need of some TLC was this Mercedes-Benz 230S – it was bought by Peter Zakowski as a personal project car, though the condition it arrived in was rather a surprise it seems!

A kit of parts for the Merc is in storage, awaiting the magic day when work can begin. But there are all those other cars taking priority, which includes the De Tomaso Mangusta seen above – a new car for Zakspeed to learn.

But back to their current stock of racing-cars-in-gestation. Another old favourite, the original Mampe Group 5 Escort, has also been restored but was unfortunately away during our visit; this model was the nearest thing.

Talking of which, it was another of the seemingly hundreds of models that adorned every shelf at Zakspeed, along with dozens of trophies amassed over the years. A side-effect of the model collection is that the Zakspeed team have insider knowledge of the release schedules for 1/18th and 1/43rd scale models in Germany, often helping out the manufacturers with detailing for scale models of Zakspeed cars. They really do have every base covered for the racing aficionado. They even had Zakspeed-branded racing boots…

Back in the main workshop were the main projects on the go, the first of which was this Chrysler (also seen in the opening shot). It’s a Chrysler 300C SRT8, which Zakspeed self-developed to take part in the Italian Superstars series in 2009. ’90s F1 driver and 1999 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Pierluigi Martini drove a single 300C to take the Rookie crown; this is a second car which was never finished in period.

Superstars try and keep things as production-based as possible, putting in place quite a high minimum base weight to avoid too much stripping out of parts and use of composites. But when you’re starting with a tank like this, Zakspeed were basically forced to replace all the panels with carbon to have any chance of getting down to the base weight!

Several customer cars were in for work: this dayglo BMW M3 Sport Evolution ran in the bright Unitron livery in the 1992 DTM season with Danish driver Kris Nissen at the wheel. After retiring from competition, Nissen moved into management and until last year was the Motorsport Director for the Volkswagen group.

This Schnitzer M3 is also owned by the same customer. Its racing heritage stretched back to 1990, when Venezuelan former F1 driver and GP motorcycle rider Johnny Cecotto drove it in the DTM and Italian Touring Car Championship.

The M3′s providence didn’t stop there: Roberto Ravaglia also drove it in two races that year, before it finished second at Macau in the hands of Emanuelle Pirro.

But with Zakspeed you can’t help but concentrate on their period of competing at the highest levels. Yep, that decade again: the 1980s. With the Capri covered, the two major components of Zakspeed’s ’80s racing programme are shown here: the bare chassis for a Ford C1/4 Interserie car and the front end from a 1987 Zakspeed 871 Formula 1 car.

Zakspeed had taken an ex-factory C100 prototype off Ford’s hands after the company had pulled the plug on their Group C programme. They subsequently built new, stiffer tubs, improved the aero, fitted their own inline four-cylinder turbo (from the Capri in fact, though they also used a DFL V8 in the C1/8) and moved the radiators, making it into a successful car in the European Interserie championship of the mid-’80s. It was difficult to imagine the chiselled lines of the C1/4 just from the simplistic and bare aluminium honeycomb box chassis: the dull shine of the metal made it look almost organic and soft.

This car was originally driven by longtime Zakspeed associate Klaus Ludwig in Jaegermeister colours before being changed to the striped GWB-Service livery. The main deck was in the body shop being stripped back.

The 871 had been separated from its engine and shorn of extraneous wings and sidepod bodywork, leaving just the monocoque sitting on the cradle. The car had been run out at the 2012 Goodwood Festival Of Speed after the completion of its restoration.

The engine was Zakspeed’s own build: a four-cylinder, 1.5-litre unit encased in a Medieval torture chamber of turbo-charging. However, the 871 was pretty disastrous in period, with one car retiring in all but one of the races the team contested – though in that one at least Martin Brundle scored points for fifth place.

Once more, a parts bin contained all the model kit parts ready for reassembly.

The final part of the Zakspeed facility was taken up with their museum collection. Toy cars are one thing, but pale next to the real racers… And there were surprises from the off. A Volvo DTM car?

This was another innovative project kickstarted by Zakspeed: they’d built a C70 silhouette for the new rules being introduced in 2000. The trouble was that the car was just a little bit too fast in testing – the entry was denied by the DTM cabal under the auspices that Zakspeed had no direct manufacturer support. This was despite Abt being allowed in with their privateer TT…

Now, I know I’ve made use of that model kit analogy rather often, but how about this?! It’s actually a fully carbon Opel Calibra 4×4 V6 built by Zakspeed for the 1997 International Touring Car Championship. Fully slot-car!

The car ran for just 40km in a test before Opel pulled their support for the programme, one of the factors leading to the ’97 ITC season being cancelled, and the Calibra has never run since. What a machine.

Further down the line was more DTM machinery – but also some cars with an American twist. A pristine Mustang sat next to this Ford Probe, which Zakspeed developed for Ford’s IMSA GTP programme after working with them on the Capri-derived IMSA Mustang project.

The Calibra was run for Klaus Ludwig (of course) in the 1996 ITC – Zakspeed ran a second car for Uwe Altzen, with the pair finishing seventh and eighth respectively in the championship.

The Mercedes was a customer DTM car from ’94 – and just a show car under the race bodywork. The blacked-out windows were the clue, and the interior was the giveaway that underneath it was a stock road-car.

Hanging on the wall was the carbon-kevlar monocoque for the IMSA GTP Probe – one of the first sportscars to use the technology.

The final row was taken up with Zakspeed’s foray into single seaters, starting off with an F1 show car from their stillborn 1990 season and the Elf-backed Formula 3 car the team ran in ’94.

East-sponsored F1 cars from the ’87 and ’88 seasons led to Zakspeed’s first ever F1 car from the 1984 season, the angular 841 that was driven by Jonathan Palmer and Christian Danner. Zakspeed’s foray into F1 might not have been covered in glory, but there were there for five years – which more than a lot of the teams of the time.

To add to the impressive Zakspeed stable, an IMSA Mustang is due into the shop for work, a second Group 5 Escort is being restored and the team are also looking to build up a new Capri on an old chassis that was burned out in period. The past might well be the future in the short-term for Zakspeed, but don’t be surprised to see them back in a contemporary series sooner rather than later. Zakspeed versus Kremer? It would be just like the old days…
Jonathan Moore


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27 comments
WanGan
WanGan

My pants are tight...

 

WarrickLevis
WarrickLevis

Do they actually have a genuine G5 Mampe Escort there? I was under the impression that the only genuine one left lives here in New Zealand?

VecTT
VecTT

Amazing stuff. Love the Calibras, always had a sweet spot for them. Especially that fully carbon one - woah, what a beast!

Corey K
Corey K

Mein Gott.... Are they hiring? I need to learn German!

lonestranger
lonestranger

"East-sponsored F1 car"? 

 

It was sponsored by West cigarettes. I presume it was changed to the fictional "East" name to appease tobacco advertising restrictions, while keeping aspects of the original livery intact.

TylerS13
TylerS13

jaw hit the floor as soon as i saw the 300 please feature that when it's complete.

roeby
roeby

i would love to see that carbon calibra racing, such a waste just sat there.

MrZap76
MrZap76

great story! i knew about that volvo dtm back in the days. i saw then onley one picture of it. but it was still in the carbon colour

zakspeed is a great team

izzy_ortiz
izzy_ortiz

Oh man its like a candy store in there.  Pretty sure most would need at least a week overnight stay there just to look and feel the vibe there lol

 

 

 

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Sam
Sam

Now im scratching my head why chrysler hasn't entered V8 supercars with the new rules in place.

Fede
Fede

Guys, you should cover more DTM/ITC machines. Those cars are stunning.

Ben Scales
Ben Scales

that 230s! hnnggggg. This old man down the road has one exactly like that for sale. I wants it, I needs it.

JDMized
JDMized

NICE! That Chrysler 300C is super bitchin'! And the full-carbon Calibra too.

I'd love to see a full feature on both cars!

Thanks for sharing

Alex Broadbent
Alex Broadbent

Mooorrrrre please :) Love it, didn't want the article to end

paul
paul

heaven....

RodChong
RodChong moderator

 @Fede we plan to go back this year to shoot that 1997 Opel. It's pretty mad.

Ben Scales
Ben Scales

I know! Its hard to when the price is based on sentimental value rather than "actual" value :/ same goes for most of the 240sx' down here in Houston lol

greenroadster
greenroadster

 @JDMized Not really. You've got your priorities wrong man. How aino or that Viper?

Jonathan Moore
Jonathan Moore

 @JDMized Yes, I hope that we'll get back down to Zakspeed in 2013. There's a lot going on!


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