A McLaren MP4 TAG-Turbo was not a run of the mill testing sight at Porsche’s Weissach test track, so it is hardly surprising to see most of the workforce down tools for the occasion on 29 June 1983…

The race debut of a Porsche-turbo powered McLaren at Zandvoort in the hands of Niki Lauda is only two months away. On this fine, cool day John Watson put McLaren’s test hack MP4-1D TAG through its paces for the first time at Porsche’s renowned test track.

 

McLaren created a new paradigm with the debut of the carbon-fibre tubbed MP4 Ford in 1980. Whilst the cars were the best of the Ford brigade going into 1983, 550 bhp of normally aspirated Cosworth DFY V8 was no longer a match for 700 bhp plus turbo-charged Brabhams, Ferraris and Renaults. The ‘boiling tea kettle’ days of the first Renault V6 turbo-charged engines were a long time in the past.

McLaren International’s Directors pondered the available engines they may have been able to acquire or lease but design chief John Barnard rejected those as either compromised designs- the BMW-four and Renault V6 or insufficiently developed and compromised- the Hart-four.

The very focused Barnard held sway over matters technical and was determined, as Colin Chapman had been with Keith Duckworth in developing the Ford DFV, to very tightly prescribe the overall layout, dimensions, location of ancillaries and attachment points to the chassis of his new engine.

It was the era of ground effect tunnels, McLaren’s engine had to be designed in such a way that their efficiency was not compromised given how critical aerodynamics were to the overall performance of the car.

Watson in a Ford engined MP4/1C Ford DFY at Monaco in 1983, just to remind us of what McLaren’s primary contender looked like in 1983. Despite running Ford DFY’s both cars failed to qualify as a result of poor handling on the Michelins they had on Thursday and rain on Saturday…Rosberg won in a Williams FW08C Cosworth

Porsche had more turbo-charged road and race experience than any other manufacturer at the time, as a consequence they had been approached to build an F1 engine by others on a customer basis but Ron Dennis’ pitch to Porsche’s R&D Chief Engineer Helmuth Bott in the winter of 1981/2 was different in that his enquiry was to ascertain the companies preparedness to build an engine for McLaren International, who would pay for it. A novel concept in motor racing of course where nobody wants to pay for anything.

In short order John Barnard wrote a tight specification of his requirements which outlined in detail a narrow engine with a small frontal silhouette, it’s exhaust plumbing raised high each side to clear the raised underfloors.

Doug Nye wrote that his requirements to Hans Mezger of Porsche’s engine design unit included the maximum crankcase width and height, and maximum width across the cam-boxes. Pumps for oil and water had to go to the front of the engine within its crankcase silhouette. Exhaust pipes had to leave the heads horizontally, not downswept so as to leave the underfloors high on both sides.

 

Nye goes on to explain that the engine had to be a stressed member of the chassis just as the DFV and it’s successors were- Barnard wanted it to pick up similarly to the chassis. He even specified a precise crankshaft height, the same as the DFV, to offer the best design parameters for the whole car. It could have gone lower but John had concerns about potential piping and underbody problems. He had concluded that a V6 would provide the optimum blend of size and power but sought Porsche’s opinion in that regard.

Porsche R&D were an organisation notorious for the cost of their services but eventually Ron Dennis signed a contract for design of the engine and prototype build after which the design rights would be McLaren International property. The time allocated was six months which gave Dennis the period in which to embark on a journey to find a commercial partner to fund the cost of the engines themselves and their ongoing development.

Porsche modelling determined a V6 was the best approach with an 80 degree included angle between the two banks of three cylinders the optimum in terms of structural strength of the block, primary balance and room within the Vee for ancillaries.

The quoted bore and stroke of the TTE-PO1 V6 motor was 82mm x 47.3 mm for a capacity of 1499cc. The design of course included four gear driven camshafts and four valves per cylinder. Traditional Porsche suppliers Bosch and KKK provided the sparks, fuel injection and two turbo-chargers. Quoted power was initially 600 bhp with peak power produced at between 10000 to 11500 rpm, total weight ready to pop into a McLaren chassis was 330 pounds.

Dennis approached a number of potentional backers, Mansour Ojjeh’s Techniques d’Avant Garde were the successful partner- TAG Turbo Engines was duly incorporated with the production contract signed by Porsche in December 1982. By that time the prototype engine had been humming away on a Weissach dyno since the eighteenth of that month…

The prototype engine was shown for the first time at the Geneva Salon in April 1983.

McLaren used a float of 15 engines in 1984, the TAG truck and Porsche technicians would have been very busy

 

 

Nye explains at length the adversarial and on many occasions difficult relationship between customer and client which extended to the testing of the engine. Porsche wanted to run the motor in a 956 test hack whereas McLaren sought all of the testing to be done in an F1 car.

Porsche went ahead anyway, little was learned by Niki Lauda and John Watson in the 956 prototype but ‘…Lauda drove very hard, ignoring the meagre safety facilities of the undulating test track. He revelled in the new engines smoothness after the Cosworth V8’s vibration. And there was no doubting the power “Incredible, Fantastic, just like being hit from behind by a bomb” Nye quoted Lauda as saying having tested the 956. Importantly, with both drivers doing plenty of miles, engine reliability was good.

The car Watson is testing in these shots is McLaren’s original prototype carbon fibre chassis MP4/1-1 with 1982 straight sided bodywork- converted into the turbo test hack it was dubbed MP4/1D.

Initial problems centred around excess turbo-lag which had been disguised in the much heavier 956 sports prototype, and oil consumption. Porsche set to in solving both problems, with changed KKK’s and exhaust sizes the lag fixes. At Silverstone on test Lauda was delighted to be whistling along Hangar Straight at 186 mph, far quicker than he had ever gone before.

A major battle then erupted within McLaren between Lauda who wanted the car to be raced immediately, on the basis that there was no substitute for the sorts of pressures of a race weekend, and Barnard who wanted to continue testing but take the time needed to refine the design of his 1984 package.

Lauda’s car in the Zandvoort paddock

 

Lauda in MP4/1E at Zandvoort, not a bad looking car for one knocked together very quickly (unattributed)

The politically astute, wiley Lauda lobbied sponsor Marlboro and prevailed, so ‘in six weeks our blokes built two cars- well one complete runner and one 85% complete- ready for Zandvoort’ said Barnard. The new cars were allocated the tags MP4/1E-01 and 02, they were based on former chassis, MP4/1C-05 and 06.

At Zandvoort ‘Niki was unbelievably quick on the straight (in MP4/1E) but basically the Cosworth wing package download was way deficient with turbo power. We cooked the brakes in the race, a function of the turbo car going about 30 mph faster down the straight than the Cosworth’ said Barnard.

The Dutch GP was won by Rene Arnoux’ Ferrari 126 from the sister car of Patrick Tambay with Watson’s Cosworth powered McLaren in third.

Zandvoort again, photos emphasise just how much space was taken up by the turbo-chargers and related ancilliaries in these 1.5 t/c cars

 

Lauda, MP4/1E in the Kyalami pitlane, mid October 1983. Lauda Q12 and DNF electrical on lap 71 of 77 whilst poor John Watson was disqualified for passing a couple of cars on the parade lap. Piquet won the race and took the drivers title, Brabham BMW the constructors one

McLaren and Porsche were away, there were huge Bosch fuel injection problems to solve to develop their ‘Motronic MS3’ electronic injection system to meet the fuel restriction rules of 1984 but the 1984 McLaren MP4/2’s triumphed, Alain Prost took the first race win in the opening  round of the championship in Brazil- and won seven GP’s but he still lost the title by a smidge to Lauda who won five races but had greater consistency throughout the year.

Prost took the title in 1985 racing an MP4/2B to five wins, with Lauda winning another in his final year of racing. Watching him retire after a minor crash in Adelaide caused by locking brakes whilst well in the lead was a real bummer in his very last race for we Australian Lauda fans!

Hans Mezger getting the lowdown from John Watson, Weissach

Zandvoort 28 August 1983, McLaren TAG race debut…

I

‘l am telling you Ronnie, ve vill schitt on zem all next jahr! Say nuzzinc to any of zem journalists!’

Renault’s Gerard Larousse looking very thoughtful at right rear and thinking ‘holy merde’ this thing will be quicker than a Matra air to ground missile- and it was.

‘I’ll bet I am going to pay for a few more of these Turbo thingies in the next few years!’ is perhaps what Dennis is thinking above.

The first ‘in the field’ KKK change perhaps?

 

More power, gimme more! is perhaps Niki’s exhortation.

The engine itself is tiny, note the water and oil coolers in the sidepods and beefy intercooler.

Another TAG-Porsche powered MP4 1983 shot above of Lauda during the European GP weekend at Brands Hatch in September- Q13 and DNF whereas Watson was Q10 and DNF accident. Nelson Piquet won in a Brabham BT52 BMW from Alain Prost’s Renault RE40 with Nigel Mansell’s Lotus 92 Ford Cosworth the best of the normally aspirated brigade.

Credits…

‘The History of The Grand Prix Car’ Doug Nye

Getty Images- all Weissach photographs by Hoch Zwei

Tailpiece…

The Swabian Hills are alive with the sound of Vee-Six Turbo Music- Watson up in June 1983.

Ya kinda get the impression it was an important day in Porsche history as indeed it was. Ditto McLaren International…

Finito…

 

 

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