1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

This is the most extensive ever road test of the fire-breathing Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR. Octane puts Dickie Meaden behind the wheel of a road-legal, race-bred unicorn.

Photography Aston Parrott

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1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

More people have walked on the moon than driven a Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR in anger. For a brief time the world’s fastest and most expensive car – a snip at $1.5-1.9m according to authority Karl Ludvigsen – this remarkable Porsche-powered machine rose to prominence in the early ’90s. Outlandish looks, otherworldly performance and exotic construction ensured it stole headlines and captured imaginations, yet the project collapsed with just a handful of cars built.

‘The CR exudes a sense of stability and grip far beyond any roadgoing supercar of its day’

In the three decades since its troubled existence and premature end, the Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR has attained cult status. Shrouded in mystery and denied the chance to deliver on its abundant promise, the story reads like a bestselling novel: the bold dream of Australian former Porsche factory driver and 1983 Le Mans 24 Hours winner Vern Schuppan, shattered by the double whammy of a global recession and less-than-scrupulous financiers.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

As for the eponymous supercar? Well, of the handful made at the High Wycombe premises of Vern Schuppan Ltd (VSL), one was destroyed in a fire and the rest promptly disappeared into collections. Art Sports, upon whose 20-car order the project was built, took just three, providing Schuppan with letters of credit of $300k for each.

‘The flames. Your reward for getting the turbos hot and the combustion chambers gulping gas’

This much has been known for decades if you cared to dig deep enough. Yet the most enduring mystery of all has always been whether the 962 CR was actually any good. Step forward Simon Kidston – classic car broker, noted collector and inveterate petrolhead – who acquired this example back in 2022. Like every other Schuppan-Porsche it had covered single-digit mileage, but unlike every other it finally found the hands of a custodian who was determined it should be driven properly for a meaningful distance, on road and track.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

Kidston being in the business of selling cars means generating attention is in his interests, but he is also an automotive storyteller. No wonder the opportunity to tell this untold tale proved irresistible. His idea was to shoot a short film about the car – search YouTube for The Flaming Unicorn – showing it in action and shifting the narrative from oft-repeated tawdry tittle-tattle to the real nitty-gritty. Namely, how it drives.

To do so, Kidston needed a driver with plenty of supercar experience. And some wheel time in a 956 or 962. Thanks to Porsche specialist Lee Maxted-Page, my name came into the frame. Being a generous sort, I magnanimously agreed to make myself available. And so unfolded two of the more memorable days of my life.

Having lain dormant for years, the CR was entrusted by Kidston for sympathetic recommissioning to Maxted-Page and his renowned team of Porsche experts. After a complete nose-to-tail mechanical fettling and sympathetic sprucingup of the interior and engine bay, it was ready to be put to the test. Uniquely, and rather weirdly, what you’re about to read is the first meaningful test drive of the 962 CR since Alain de Cadenet drove this very car in period while filming his brilliant Victory by Design TV series.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

‘You don’t just get into the CR like a normal supercar, you finagle your way in like you would a racing car’

Once Maxted-Page’s crew were happy the CR was ready to rock ’n’ roll, it was loaded into a trailer and towed to North Wales. Destination: the spectacular coastal Ty Croes circuit on the island of Anglesey. Once there we’d spend a day driving it as fast as we dared before heading out onto the epic roads of Snowdonia the following day, to see how it copes with some of the best driving roads in Britain.

The first time you see a CR in the carbon is a moment you don’t forget. It’s one thing to pore over images online, quite another to see it edge its way out of a trailer and sit before you on the tarmac. Lower than a limbo bar and wider than a mile, it has massive presence yet is smaller than you imagine. It exudes a sense of stability and grip far beyond any roadgoing supercar of its day.

The broad track, long wheelbase and almost total absence of front and rear overhangs are unusual but, with time to let your eyes explore and interpret the CR’s shape, you come to appreciate that its design is impressively considered. That’s no surprise given that it was penned and shaped in clay by Mike Simcoe – now GM’s Senior Vice President of Global Design. Still, it is perhaps an overlooked aspect of the CR that Schuppan had undertaken to build a ‘proper’ roadgoing supercar and not some rudimentary, roughly converted racer.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

The CR’s bodywork and chassis structure are made from carbonfibre; the development of the tub and tooling and production of the first five tubs were handled by Advanced Composite Technology before production was handed over to Reynard. Commonplace now, but almost unheard of in the early 1990s, such exotic construction made the Schuppan a truly cutting-edge machine.

Tom Walkinshaw’s JaguarSport enterprise beat everyone to the punch with the first all-carbon road car when the Jaguar XJR-15 appeared in 1990, but both the Schuppan 962CR and McLaren F1 were hot on its heels. Of that trio there are clear parallels between the Schuppan and Jaguar, with both relying heavily upon proven hardware from Group C race programmes.

There’s no small irony in the fact that the McLaren – famously never conceived to race – would go on to become the last true road car to win Le Mans outright. It was also built in the largest numbers: a total of 106 cars (of which 64 were street cars) versus 50 Jaguars, 16 of which were built to populate the grid of a high-profile, high prizemoney one-make race series.

Schuppan’s project was also predicated on a run of 50 cars, all of which were destined for Japan. Shortly after the first production car was delivered the stock market crashed. Furious back-pedalling from Schuppan’s Japanese backers saw that number dwindle. First to 20, then a barely viable ten before finally deciding to take only three. Schuppan attempted to hold them to the 20-car contract, but they doubled-down and refused to pay for the second and third cars, which had not only been built but were in the hold of a British Airways 747 en route to Tokyo.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

With lawyers fighting while the cars were in the air, by the time they landed at Narita airport Schuppan’s backers had been prevented from taking possession of them, but they were impounded for months. Schuppan finally managed to repatriate CR04 – this very car – and sell it to a US buyer, who elected to keep it in the UK and never use it. By that point things were so bad that the embattled Aussie had no choice other than to throw everything he had left into fighting his case in the High Court. When he subsequently lost that, he lost everything and filed for bankruptcy. It was a brutal end to a bruising chapter.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

THAT WAS THEN. Thankfully things got better for Schuppan. They also got better for CR04, which would be revived from a lifetime of dormancy when Kidston became its owner, the culmination of that quest being his film and this article.

You don’t just get into the CR like a normal supercar, you finagle your way in like you would a racing car. The only difference is that you don’t step straight onto the nicely upholstered seat, instead attempting to thread your left foot over the sill and between the seat squab and steering wheel, which is removable (should you remember).

Once you’ve found purchase you can brace yourself on the roof and then the sidepod, hooking your right leg up-over-in as you do so before slithering down into the fixed-back seat. It’s heavily reclined – think dentist’s chair without the cold sweat and smell of mouthwash – but once you’re in you can’t help but channel your inner Derek Bell. Or, indeed, Vern Schuppan.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

The structure of the 962 CR might be bespoke, but you can’t escape the powertrain’s origins. Nor should you want to, for successive iterations of this legendary turbocharged flat-six powered countless 956s and 962s to glory in the world’s greatest endurance races. Indeed, it was Schuppan’s racing experience (and success!) that led him and his original backers to believe a street car equipped with this bulletproof Porsche hardware would be more than a match for anything on the road.

Chassis 04 is fitted with a 3.2-litre air-cooled 962 motor, its distinctive horizontal fan sat atop the low-slung engine. Conservatively rated at 600-650bhp, it is mated to the same five-speed H-pattern manual transmission also used in 962 racing cars. Famously, Porsche’s competition gearboxes featured synchromesh, so while the shift lacked the brutal speed of a dog-box it was easy to operate and far less prone to mis-shifts. Drivers loved it.

The action has some meat to it, likewise the clutch’s, but once you familiarise yourself with the right-handed dogleg gate (pull towards you and back) it really is a cinch to use. The engine’s tractability helps massively. Yes, its manners have been moderated a little by the fitment and expert mapping of a modern MOTEC management system, but past experience of a full-house Rothmans 962 tells me that, while these motors are ferocious when stoked, they are remarkably easy-going at walking pace. Noise levels are elevated by road car standards, but far from raucous. You certainly don’t need hearing protection as you do in a road-registered F1 GTR, or indeed an Aston Martin Valkyrie.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

Anglesey is a happy hunting ground for me thanks to countless laps driven for Performance Car and evo magazines, but in all my time coming here (just shy of 30 years!) I’ve never pointed anything quite like this CR down the pit-lane. It takes a few laps to settle into the Schuppan-Porsche’s signals. The steering is weighty by modern standards but easily manageable, and not so physical as a 962 race car’s. It’s direct but nicely intuitive, the lack of assistance giving you plenty of feel and avoiding the ultra-sharp response of some contemporary supercars, which can feel like a bundle of fast-twitch energy.

In contrast the 962 CR is a slow-burn experience, its speed and intensity building with your confidence to push further into the throttle travel and lean harder on the prodigious grip levels. Fittingly the tyres are Pirelli PZeros of the sort you’d have found on supercars of the day.

They’re not as aggressive as today’s hypercar rubber, but the Schuppan-Porsche’s lack of mass (just over a tonne wringing wet), rigid carbon structure, broad track and long wheelbase give it a brilliant blend of agility and stability.

The engine and gearbox are an epic combination. Stuttgart horses always feel that bit fitter, so while 650bhp might seem unremarkable in the context of 2000bhp EV hypercars, the lightweight CR is a monster when its flat-six is fully lit.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

There’s a fierce top-end rush, but it’s the huge swell of torque that’s endlessly impressive, not least because it fires the CR out of Anglesey’s tighter corners a gear higher than you think would be possible.

The brakes are equally monumental, the fabulously firm pedal having just enough give for you to feel how hard you’re working them, but with an underlying resilience that fills you with confidence. With pedals placed nicely for heel-and-toe blip shifts, the 962 CR is the perfect way to dust-off hardlearned driving techniques dulled by the march of technology. By the end of our lapping sessions I’m completely smitten, seduced by the speed and in awe of its competence and capabilities. A McLaren F1 is an experience all its own – one that now transcends regular assessment – but in terms of the way it stops, steers and goes the CR is a far more driveable and exploitable car. Which is just as well, for the roads of Snowdonia await.

Of course, it would have to rain. This is North Wales, after all. Of all the cars in which to be splashing your way onto the mountainous mainland, the Schuppan-Porsche would not be first choice. As Kidston succinctly points out, the only driver aid is air-conditioning. No power steering. No servo-assisted brakes. No ABS. No paddleshift gearbox and absolutely no traction control. Safe operation of the 962 CR is entirely down to me.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

As someone for whom the blights of Lane Assist, Emergency Brake Assist and Don’t Forget To Breathe Assist are ruinous to the driving experience of new machinery, the Schuppan is – weirdly – the most relaxing car I’ve driven in a very long time. It’s just you, the car and the road. All played out to an unmistakable soundtrack that could be a long-lost echo from Le Mans or Daytona.

Negotiating small Welsh villages has my tongue poking out slightly, but visibility is fine and the car itself is eminently placeable, so you can thread your way through traffic with pleasing ease. I would honestly never tire of stalking the streets in the CR. The double-takes and incredulous gawps are priceless. They certainly back-up the sense that you’re doing something wholly illicit, though its stealthy hue diffuses the situation just enough to be sure bystanders don’t feel you’re being provocative.

Another surprise is the ride quality, which has unexpected pliancy to take the sting out of the underlying firmness. Given how well the CR tackled Ty Croes, it’s impressive that it manages to deal so tolerably with the lumpy streets. It certainly bodes well for the rollicking roads that twist and tumble in the shadow of Mount Snowdon.

Nuance is not something you’d expect from a car with the heart of a Group C racer, but this Schuppan has real breadth of ability. The elastic nature of the engine and the easy-shifting gearbox are key to this, but still the way you can hold a higher gear and s-q-u-e-e-z-e into the zone of meaningful boost is delicious. Deceptive, too. When a car like this begins to get on top of third or fourth gear it’s time to back-off.

Ah yes. The flames. Your reward for getting the turbos hot and the combustion chambers gulping gasoline (regular forecourt Super Unleaded, in case you were wondering) is the most amazing son et lumière display from the exhausts whenever you lift-off the throttle. It’s a childish party trick, but one this child never gets bored of playing. Especially as you see the large tongues of flame dance and leap in the excellent rear-view mirror, or rather video screen, as there’s no rear window.

The wonder of this car is the pleasure it brings at all speeds. It’s monumentally rapid, sensational when you steel yourself to uncork it, and the experience is completely absorbing whether you’re stroking along at low revs in a high gear or pinned into the seat by unbridled turbo boost. You savour every moment, because it is that rarest of machines: one that makes you feel as if you are its most vital component.

1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

For too long the Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR has been tagged as a great automotive misadventure. Having had the unique opportunity to drive a perfect one, precisely as it was intended on road and track, I’m in no doubt that it should be considered one of the finest machines to emerge in a truly momentous decade for the world’s fastest supercars.

I’ve never met Vern Schuppan, but what I know of him and the tortured tale of the 962 CR suggests it was one of the worst periods of his life. It’s a travesty that such a laudable effort and such a fabulous car should have been tainted by such a toxic chain of events.

I’m sure there have been many times Schuppan wished he’d never put his name to this ill-fated project. For what it’s worth I think he should be proud of the car, for it stands comparison with the very best. Redemption has rarely been longer coming or more richly deserved.

THANKS TO Kidston SA, kidston.com.

Below It’s a wrap! Simon Kidston (thumbs up) flanked by Octane’s Richard Meaden (to Simon’s left) and team after testing the 962 CR on the epic mountain roads of North Wales.

TECHNICAL DATA 1992 Schuppan-Porsche 962 CR

  • Engine 3294cc mid-mounted air-cooled flat-six, DOHC per bank, twin-turbocharged, electronic fuel injection and engine management
  • Max Power 600bhp @ 7000rpm
  • Max Torque 479.4lb ft @ 6800rpm
  • Transmission Five-speed manual transaxle, rear-wheel drive
  • Steering Unassisted rack-and-pinion
  • Suspension Front and rear: double wishbones, coil springs, telescopic dampers, anti-roll bar
  • Brakes Unassisted vented discs
  • Weight 1050kg
  • Top speed 230mph
  • Acceleration 0-60mph 3.5sec

Clockwise, from right Iconic fan-topped flat-six dominates aerial view of 962’s Group C superstructure; no rear window, just a hungry air intake; turn up the wick here; a sight to gladden the heart of any keen driver.

Clockwise, from below Not a sight you’re likely to see in your rear-view mirror any time soon; interior is properly habitable but the only driver aid is air-con; 962 CR is entertaining and absorbing at any speed.

Left Meaden and the 962 CR in what might be described as their natural environment, on-track in Anglesey – only it turns out that both are just as talented on nearby roads.

Clockwise, from top left Encouraging words for Octane’s man from Simon Kidston; rare shot of speedo and rev-counter at rest; smoothly resolved carbon bodywork was super-exotic for its time.

Editor's comment
The lengths we’ll go to
More often than we would probably like to admit, amazing stories fall into Octane’s lap and a tentative email with a picture attachment sets in motion a chain of events that ends with you reading about a very special car. Every one of those easy wins, however, is counterbalanced by something that takes a lot more time, effort and, inevitably, money to put together. And in 28 years in this game I cannot remember a more fraught process than our collective quest to get a Schuppan 962 CR into Octane. The reason for wanting to is obvious – great car, great story, plus the compulsion finally, and for the first time, properly to tell the world how this remarkable Le Mans car for the road measures up to its billing.
The reasons we had to go the extra mile were myriad, but with a pool of fewer than ten cars to choose from it was never going to be easy. The first car we lined up was actually the one we ended up featuring, but when under a previous ownership. Photographing it and writing about it were fine, but driving it, we were told, was a strict no-no. Now, I don’t want to come across as all prissy here but, though we were extremely grateful for the offer, we reckoned we were probably only going to feature a Schuppan once and not to drive the thing on a public road would leave the biggest – to my mind, the essential – question, unanswered. It would be to deny the car’s raison d’etre.
Next up was the final car, tracked down in the USA. An excellent example as it turns out, but such was our fanaticism by then that the fact it was built as a prototype and later converted was enough for us to discount it. With hindsight, we were being overly pedantic. Then came the freshly restored winner of the 2023 London Concours. We chased, followed, harangued, a date was set to drive it between its concours victory and its shipping to the US – then it rained on the day and it wasn’t allowed out to play. After that the trail went cold. I had just about given up when Simon Kidston, not noted for letting any car stand idle regardless of its rarity, value or mileage, wondered aloud to racer-writer Dickie Meaden whether Octane would be interested in giving that very first car we set out to drive a proper seeing-to (on track as well as dream roads) in Wales. Unsurprisingly, we were. So what you see in Octane this month may look like other stories on the surface, but it is actually the product of more than five years of work and at least three times the investment of a normal article (shhh, don’t tell the bosses). Because you are worth it.
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