How would you define a great race car?

Winning races and championship titles is the most obvious place to start. But if those factors were solely the basis for my choice, the 908 probably wouldn't make the list.

For each of us, what defines great race cars tends to be a personal thing. We may be influenced by our loyalty to a marque, or maybe the championships won, as with the 917 or the GT 40. It could be based on what a car looks as with the Ferrari Testarossa with its beautiful lines and handcrafted engineering. Or consider technical innovations, as with the diesel-powered Audis.

At the top of my list would be the Porsche 908, specifically the /2 and /3. It was first and foremost a functional race car. The 908 almost seemed like a car I could build in my garage.

Illustration: Dave Story

It might have been underpowered — at least when compared to the Ferraris it competed against — but it made up for that with its simple, lightweight performance package. This straightforward form is why Porsches have always appealed to me.

My first acquaintance with the 908 came with ABC's "Wide World of Sports" on my parents' small, black-and-white TV. It was the 1970 12 Hours of Sebring, and clips of the race were part of the program that day. In the early '70s, shows like the "Wide World of Sports" were about the only way to watch races like Sebring, Daytona or Riverside, unless you could afford to go there.

I remember the excitement I felt as I watched the race play out. Peter Revson and Steve McQueen (broken foot and all) pushed Mario Andretti and his Ferrari for all it was worth. Here was this diminutive and underpowered 908 Porsche, not only challenging the big boys of Ferrari and Alfa-Romeo but also beating them.

Illustration: Dave Story

It was almost a surreal experience watching the Porsche hammer away at the leading Ferrari. I could feel myself urging the Porsche forward, hoping that this underdog could beat the top dog of Ferrari.

It was not to be. The little 908 finished second, but I was hooked. I have loved the 908 ever since. It reminded me of the classic children's story, "The Little Engine That Could."

To my mind, the 908 is a wonderful-looking automobile. The front and rear overhangs are kept minimal. The engine, which is positioned at the middle of the car for balance, is air-cooled to eliminate the weight and the plumbing of a radiator. The design is so simple, clean and even elegant.

Illustration: Dave Story

Brian Redman described the 908 as "fast, friendly, with that torquey flat-eight motor, wide tires, no downforce. It was an absolute dream to drive."

Porsche's 917 is legendary, and its pedigree proves that. Still, it is the little 908 that tugs at my heart the little car that could ... and did!

Illustration: Dave Story