Mansour Ojjeh 1952-2021

Mansour Ojjeh 1952-2021

Mansour Ojjeh, who has died aged 68, was a central figure in Porsche’s rousing return to F1 in the mid 1980s. Total 911 looks back on the partnership.

Mansour Ojjeh had a French mother and was largely educated in France, finishing his studies in the US with a degree in business administration. His Syrian-born father, Akkram, who had made a fortune brokering deals between the Saudi and foreign governments, set up Techniques d’Avant Garde, TAG, in Geneva in 1975 in order to diversify from public sector contracts such as defence and armaments. He installed Mansour as director and it was clear that one of the missions of TAG was public relations, to present the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (then a mysterious oil-rich state) in a more open, positive light. It was through TAG that Mansour was introduced to F1: he agreed to sponsor the Williams F1 team – Frank’s cars would carry advertising for Saudia, the national airline.

Ojjeh became quite fascinated by the sport and was receptive to an approach from Ron Dennis of McLaren in 1982. Rather than sponsorship, Dennis was seeking a financial partner: at that time, F1 was moving from naturally aspirated engines to turbocharging. Dennis had negotiated supply of an entirely new engine from Porsche, but had not resolved how to fund it. The $5 million which TAG advanced paid for the conception and development by Porsche of the renowned 1.5 Turbo F1 engine, which dominated the 1984 and 1985 seasons, bringing Niki Lauda his third world championship and Alain Prost his first. In all the TAG Turbo won 25 GPs over four seasons, the fruit of the relationship between Porsche’s chief engineer for the project, Hans Mezger, and Ron Dennis, seen now as one of the most successful partnerships ever in F1.

It was a deal made possible by the beneficent presence of Mansour Ojjeh, who took a close interest in proceedings but had the good taste not to interfere, and why should he when he was having so much fun anyway. Smiling and personable, Mansour would be no sleeping partner and was a frequent visitor to Weissach where his infectious enthusiasm was much appreciated. Naturally he could not resist the 911 Turbo and after some arm twisting had a reluctant Rolf Sprenger’s Sonderwünsch department build him a roadgoing 935. This proved quite a challenging brief as Ojjeh wanted a fully fitted, leather upholstered cockpit including a bespoke wooden dashboard, yet otherwise the specifications and bodywork of the racing version including its suspension and extraordinarily wide 345 section rear tyres.

Sprenger later recalled how Porsche went about making this unique 911: “I put it to Peter Schutz that we could take a 930 shell off the line, build it into as much of a 935 as we could and obtain single vehicle homologation. That was the theory, Schutz approved and in practice it worked: we got it licensed and then Ojjeh was able to drive back to Paris in it.”

The only significant compromise was the 3.3 Turbo engine, tuned to 380PS rather than the 700+ horsepower of the racer which would have been completely undriveable on the road. It was never clear whether German type approval extended to France though this did not stop Mansour driving it, but ultimately the Ojjeh 935 seems to have had a very quiet life, spending most of its time in a basement garage in Paris with the occasional run down to the Côte d’Azur or to the mountains in the skiing season. Indeed, Sprenger recalled on one occasion having to rescue the 935 from a hotel car park in the Alps: “It had hydraulically adjustable suspension which in the extreme cold would not lift the car, so Ojjeh couldn’t get up the ramp out of the carpark.”

The TAG Turbo contract ran out in 1987 and McLaren switched to other motive power, though Mansour Ojjeh remained closely associated with F1 and was a member of the board of McLaren until he fell ill in 2013, when his place was taken by his son Sultan. Although his unique 935 was sold in the early 1990s (and periodically resurfaces at auctions) TAG would continue to retain its connections with Porsche for some years, supplying specialist components such as the engine management system used in preference to the Bosch unit on the racing 993 GT2. Total 911 sends its condolences to the Ojjeh family.

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