After several decades spent buying and selling cars, Ron Thomas has curated one of the greatest Porsche collections in the country.
There is a certain level of passion and attention to detail in his collection as he has obtained as much history and memorabilia about each relic as possible. His collection of Porsche race cars may surprise even the most hardcore Stuttgart fanatic, though. In addition to 911 sports cars and prototype racers, Thomas has an established collection of open-wheel track stars. A Porsche Formula 1 car, two Porsche IndyCars—including one I immediately recognized from the last time I saw it trackside in 1989—as well as a few other surprises fill Thomas’ basement, wing-to-wing.
The Ohio native’s personal collection, mostly stored below his home just north of Columbus, could be an amazing car museum in its own right. He could charge admission. The open-wheel cars sit in a small corner of his collection. Thomas personally raced many of these single seaters, and many of the regional and national Formula Continental trophies on display were won by the man.
“I decided to create a space where each class of open-wheel racer was displayed, from Volkswagen-powered Formula Vee’s all the way up to IndyCar and Formula 1.” said Ron. “I try to match each car with race programs, paintings, model cars, and as much race history as possible.”
His collection is an example of the open-wheel ladder system, and it includes Formula Ford (typically the first step on the ladder), Formula Vee (uses VW Beetle components), Formula Continental, F2000, Formula Atlantic, IndyCar (or CART), and Formula 1 cars.
As a Porsche collector, Ron Thomas wanted to find as many of the marques’ open-wheel examples as possible. Unfortunately, despite their rich history and decades of dominance in sports cars, there just isn’t much in the way of success for Porsche in this style racing. The brand only has one Formula 1 victory from back in 1962. Though, they provided engines for the McLarens that won world championships from 1984 to 1986. (More on that later.)
Still, Thomas acquired some of Porsche’s greatest hits in the grand prix realm. While most people have never seen or heard of a Porsche open-wheel racer, we were able to find three, all under one roof.
1989 No. 8 Quaker State March 89P-Porsche Indy V8
After Porsche won its sixth 24 Hours of Le Mans in a row, in 1986, the firm decided it was time for a new challenge. At that time, Porsche had never won an IndyCar race.
From 1988 to 1990 they entered an car with the most powerful engine in the IndyCar (then-CART) series. A 720 horsepower 2.65L turbo V-8 sat behind the driver.
One of these high-powered Porsches lives in Thomas’ basement, and its bright green Quaker State livery immediately brought back memories. I remember seeing this car at my first-ever race, the 1989 IndyCar race at Mid-Ohio. I was 9 years old, and my father took me. That was the day I became a lifelong motorsports fan.
Beyond the personal impact, history was made that day at Mid-Ohio. Teo Fabi, piloting the #8, won that day, marking Porsche’s first and only (!) IndyCar win.
Despite having more power than the Ilmore Chevys and Cosworth-Fords that comprised the field, Porsche wasn’t able to overcome an uncompetitive chassis. The group struggled to find decent handling while coping with the death of the head of its North America’s Motorsports Division. Porsche also had to fight an uphill battle against some questionable rules that impacted its cars. After just over two seasons (44 total races), Porsche pulled the plug on its IndyCar program in 1990.
Porsche never returned to the American open wheel series, leaving this the only Porsche to ever win an IndyCar race. The green rocket was quite a sight to see in-person, over 30 years after I first laid eyes on it at Mid-Ohio. Unrestored, the museum piece still has chips in the paint and the original (read: hard as a hockey puck) Goodyear Eagle Racing Radial 15” tires.
Don’t take “unrestored” to mean unloved, though. Thomas was able to save this part of Porsche history after purchasing it directly from the Porsche Museum in Germany, and the car can still start and run as it sits. Thomas has spent a great deal of time and effort to surround this car with as much original memorabilia and records as possible. He even commissioned Bill Patterson to make a painting of the car—one of his favorite pieces of memorabilia—and displays it proudly next to the Quaker State team uniform.
There are also original media kits, team banners, posters, and even Teo Fabi’s actual raced helmet. Its keeper has done an amazing job preserving this significant piece of Porsche motorsport history.
Back in the day, as Fabi crosses the finish line, announcer Paul Page shouted. “Porsche has done it! At Mid-Ohio they have scored their first victory in Indycar! The crowd is loving it, they recognize the significance of this moment.” Pretty epic call, even if we didn’t understand how significant that win would be at the time.
Of course, that is day and a car that I will never forget.
1991 Porsche Footwork FA11C
Throughout the mid-1980s, Porsche supplied engines for McLaren. Those motors were never badged as Porsche; instead they were labeled as “TAG”, and helped McLaren win three drivers’ and two constructors’ championships. By 1987, TAG was gone and Porsche vanished completely from the F1 scene.
By the early-1990s, however, Porsche wanted back in. They returned in 1991 using a 3.5-liter V-12. Unfortunately, the car was overweight and underpowered compared to the competition. Porsche lasted just six races before the Footwork Arrows team withdrew from their partnership, claiming that the German manufacturer had fallen far short of their contractual obligations. They never finished a race.
This #9 car was driven by Michele Alboreto at the Monaco, Canadian, and Mexican Gran Prix. “This Porsche Formula 1 car is the only one left in the world with the original V-12 motor,” says Thomas. “I was able to get this directly from the Porsche Museum. I’m still waiting for the gearbox to arrive, but once that happens, this piece of history will be able to drive.” I’m pretty sure people throughout Columbus will be able to tell when he fires up that V-12.
1980 TSM Interscope Porsche Type 940
Porsche understood the value of what a stellar Indy 500 performance could do for its brand in the states, so the group reached an agreement with Interscope Racing to enter into the 1980 Indianapolis 500. Unfortunately, it was a bad time to be a new team. IndyCar was struggling while the open-wheel governing body (USAC) and the teams (CART) were at odds.
Even so, Porsche built a car that met all the rules and went testing.
The results were more than impressive with their reported speeds scaring a lot of the traditional team owners. A.J. Foyt eventually asked USAC for a rule change that would severely limit the turbo power of the Porsche and threatened to quit the series if USAC didn’t agree. The Porsche team and its driver Danny Ongais were ready to qualify for the 500 and expected to compete for the pole when, just one month before the race, USAC gave in to Foyt and changed the rules.
Despite all the time and money invested in their IndyCar plan, Porsche took the only course of action available and shut down the program. In addition to the car, Thomas has collected a lot of the rare marketing materials created to promote the Indy 500 debut that never happened.
“This is one of only three cars that Porsche ever built,” says Thomas. “I was able to get this on Bring A Trailer without a powerplant and I plan to add a correct motor so it can run it in the future.”
The rest of Thomas extensive Porsche car collection has proved to be helpful for his business as owner of AASE Sales, an online Porsche parts store. When someone calls with a question about a particular part, his team can literally look at one of more than forty personal Porsches to find the answer. They feature over 17,000 parts on their website, most of which are new-old stock. The site offers everything from Porsche posters to vintage restoration parts for the marque’s models.
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We would love to feature more stories in future newsletters. You never know, your car may have left a lasting impact, like Ron Thomas’ Porsche IndyCar did for me.