The Ex-Steve O’Rourke, Tiff Needell, Nick Faure, Le Mans 24 Hour Leading 1984 EMKA-Aston Martin Group C

Many of you will remember Steve O’Rourke’s warm smile, charismatic personality and rich enthusiasm for motor racing. Reputedly dismissed from one of his early jobs after being caught racing the company car at Brands Hatch, it was clear to everyone who met him that he was deeply passionate about motor racing and in particular Le Mans. The success of his career managing super band Pink Floyd allowed him to fulfil this passion, one he shared with close friend and drummer of Pink Floyd, Nick Mason. Amongst other racing achievements, Steve competed at Le Mans six times, finishing an impressive 12th overall on his first attempt driving his own Ferrari 512 BBLM and 4th overall in a McLaren GTR in 1998. In 1980 he flew to London halfway through the race to oversee a Pink Floyd concert, before returning to see the 512BBLM to the finish.

With success aplenty in his career, Steve O’Rourke stepped up his motorsport commitment in 1981 with the formation of his own team, dubbed EMKA Racing. The name taking its lineage from O’Rourke’s management company, EMKA Productions, which was named after his two daughters, Emma and Katherine. After campaigning a BMW M1 for a couple of seasons the team had their sights set higher and through discussions between Steve O’Rourke and Michael Cane Racing, the EMKA-Aston Martin project was born.

Designer Len Bailey, of GT40 fame, was recruited to undertake the design of the project, while Maurice Gomm’s factory built the aluminium monocoque and Protoco Mouldings made the outer body panels. The 5,340cc Aston Martin V8 engine was race modified by Tickford, who revised the design, shed around 50lbs of weight, while improving power delivery and reliability. O’Rourke recruited the driving services of Tiff Needell and Jeff Allam as co drivers to himself and the EMKA – Aston Martin made its debut at the 1983 Silverstone 1000kms, designated C83/1 and painted red showing sponsorship from Virgin.

At Le Mans with the revised driver line up of O’Rourke, Tiff Needell and Nick Faure the EMKA struggled against the Turbo Porsches for speed but completed the race all the same gaining it the Motor Trophy for the first British car home. It’s time however was yet to come.

The EMKA team sat out the 1984 season and set about re-developing the car, and that they certainly did. Richard Owen, who’s CV included the Shrike and Aquila race cars, as well as stints at BRM, TWR and Williams, was drafted in to redesign the car. Amongst other details a new rear wing section and suspension redesign were undertaken and by the time the car re appeared in 1985, it had evolved so much to what you see today that it was redesignated the C84/1.

C84/1 made its debut at Silverstone for the 1000Km where O’Rourke, Tiff Needell and Bob Evans qualified 15th, but failed to finish.

When the team returned to Le Mans in 1985, where O’Rourke and Needell were rejoined by Nick Faure, the difference was clear for all to see. In qualifying Tiff went 9 seconds faster than the car had gone in 1983, good enough for 13th, ahead of three Group C Porsches and both of Bob Tullius’s IMSA Jaguar XJR-5s. It was the fastest naturally aspirated car on the grid.

Tiff started the race and in his words ‘the thing just flew down the straight’. By the time of the first fuel stop the EMKA lay 3rd overall. Some clever pit strategy led to a shortened fuel stop and by the end of the first hour the EMKA secured its place in history and officially led Le Mans. Briefly loosing the spot to David Hobbs in the Porsche 956, before it to had to refuel, the EMKA went on to lead the race, on merit, for the next four laps before having to itself refuel.

After suffering clutch problems on Sunday morning and a fuel leak just an hour before the finish, they went on to finish 11th overall behind the Group C Porsches and Works Lancia, an impressive feat for a car conceived on a budget of £150,000 and using a naturally aspirated road derived engine.

From Le Mans the team moved on to Spa on the 1st of September for the 1000Km. With O’Rourke and Needell sharing the driving with James Weaver, they qualified 17th but had to retire from the race with fuel pressure problems.

The cars last race with the team was Brands Hatch for the 1000Km. This time with a driver line up of O’Rourke, Needell and Mark Galvin, the car was liveried with Tickford highlighted in red. Qualifying 10th they again sadly had to retire with a drive belt failure.

1985 was the last time the EMKA team entered Le Mans in a car designed and built in house, but Steve did return two more times, in 1992 with a Porsche 911 GT2 and to take 4th place overall in 1998 with a McLaren F1 GTR. From Steve’s ownership, the EMKA-Aston Martin passed to John Dennehy who continued to race the car from the mid 1990’s up until he sold it to well know Group C collectors Jim and Penny Graham in 2002. They raced the car in Group C for four to five years before it was purchased by the previous owner Rudolph Ernst in 2011.

Rudolph Ernst commissioned a complete nut and bolt restoration by Michael Hibberd Motor Engineers. The car was stripped back to a bare tub, which was completely rebuilt and fitted with a new steel roll cage by Peter Denty. All of the ancillary components were fully restored, and crack tested. Two new fuel tanks were supplied by Advance Fuel Systems. The engine was then completely rebuilt by Aston Engineering and the gearbox by PDS. A new body was manufactured, utilising the original doors and with the original body kept aside for posterity. Two new sets of wheels were commissioned and two old sets also come with the car. After many hours of work and effort MC 02-84C was proudly presented back to the racing world by Andrew Hibberd, his Father Michael at the Goodwood 73rd Members Meeting. As you can see from our short film this fabulous piece of Le Mans and racing history is very much back to its former glory.

Shortly after this the car was purchased by the next custodian in 2016, who has since participated in several prestigious events, including multiple Le Mans Classic races and appearances at various Goodwood events, such as the Festival of Speed and Members Meeting. Its racing history and capability of reaching speeds of 190mph make it a valuable addition to any racing individual looking to participate in Group C events or future Le Mans Classics. This car represents a unique opportunity to continue its rich racing legacy, with the added benefit of having already proven its worth on the track, as the last Aston Martin powered car ever to lead Le Mans and arguably one of the fastest naturally aspirated Group C car of its time.