It is 40 years since Porsche’s 935 – the road-going 911’s ultimate racing evolution – made its competition debut. We spoke to some of those who helped forge its enduring reputation | Writer Simon Arron
From conception its road-car roots were obvious, a familiar sculpture cloaked with bolt-on extras typical of many 1970s racing cars. But it didn’t remain that way for long. Notionally derived from the standard 911, Porsche’s 935 soon became a sleeker, more dramatic alternative – linchpin of the company’s World Championship for Makes challenge.
It was a winner in its first season, 1976, and scored its final major victory in 1984, at Sebring. Between times it notched up countless outright and class wins, a couple of world titles, a raft of IMSA honours and one outright
Le Mans success. We spoke to a number of prominent drivers about 935 memories and their thoughts are gathered on the following pages. First, though, we approached the car’s architect Norbert Singer.
“The 935 is perhaps a little bit forgotten in Porsche’s sports car racing history,” Singer says. “It was important for us because it was competing in the World Championship of Makes, so it was really representing the name of Porsche.
“The Group 5 regulations of the time created a nice playground for an engineer because of the freedom allowed. If you looked at the rules, they suggested you had to have a car that looked like the road version with wider fenders and tyres. We started very conservatively for 1976. But if you really read the regulations closely, you could do a lot more. That’s what we did step by step and is how we ended up with the ‘Moby Dick’ car in 1978.
“We knew these ‘special production’ rules were coming, which is why we developed the 911 Carrera RS Turbo in 1974 and ran it in the prototype class that season. The new class was delayed until 1976, so we stopped racing at the end of the year and concentrated on development of the first 935.
“We won the championship in the first season, but it was a big battle with BMW. There was a clarification in the rules and we were told that the spoiler from the road car had to be fitted to the racer. Our intercooler was mounted on top of the engine and we had to go from an air-air to an air-water intercooler, and develop it in just a few weeks. That gave us some problems in the middle of the season, which meant we had to win at Watkins Glen to have a chance of the championship in the last race at Dijon.
“Perhaps my favourite memory was the development of the small-capacity ‘baby’ 935 for the German DRM championship. We were competing in the over 2-litre capacity class and, more often than not in 1977, we were racing alone. Ford and BMW were racing in the under 2-litre class and they started saying in the German newspapers that Porsche should come and join them, because that was where the real racing was going on.
“Dr Ernst Fuhrmann, our boss at Porsche, made the decision that we should do a small 1.4-litre turbo that would put us in the 2-litre class and the press department suggested that we should do the Norisring event. The engine didn’t rev very well because we didn’t have time to do the mapping properly, but the car was light. The limit was 735kg and we were down at 715, but because we didn’t want our competitors to know that we ballasted it by pouring molten lead into the longitudinal support frames. It’s still like that in the museum today.
“Norisring was a disaster, but a few weeks later at Hockenheim Jacky Ickx dominated the class and finished second overall. It was a race of nearly 45 minutes and we were nearly 60sec ahead of the second-placed BMW. So Dr Fuhrmann came up and said, ‘Now we have shown them, we stop’.”
That was a domestic success, but the bottom line is that Singer had taken what was essentially a 12-year-old road car and overseen its conversion into a world-beater.
Jochen Mass Serial race winner in Porsche 935s, still active today
“I had one of my most intense Daytona experiences in a Porsche 935. It’s not too stressful a circuit – the banking is demanding, but it’s not like doing a night shift at Le Mans. I did Le Mans Classic with AC/DC’s Brian Johnson last year and it was hilarious: he had never been to Le Mans, never raced a Porsche and certainly hadn’t driven one in the rain – and on top of that it was dark. He went out, took a terribly long time to come back and then returned
to the pits swearing about everything, very funny.
“Daytona is a little more accommodating for people with less experience, but still a challenge. In 1977 I crashed a 935 at about 350kph, when a right-rear tyre blew on the banking, which was pretty exciting. I spun and the car then came down to the apron, which broke the oil cooler. The right door flew off while I was spinning, too, because the car was flexing. I pitted and the team quickly changed the radiator. There was a bit of bodywork damage at the rear, because of the exploding tyre, but it wasn’t too bad.
“I drove at night without the door and slowly recovered lost time. The circuit wasn’t as brightly lit as it is now, though. Back then there was just one great big lamp at the right-hander after the dog-leg. It was pretty strong and gave you some sort of vision.
“When I came around on one lap, though, I was completely on my own and sensed something black shoot past me on the right. It gave me such a start and I thought, ‘Damn, what was that?’ It turned out to be my own shadow…
“The team eventually found a replacement door and called me in. I continued and by early morning Jacky Ickx and I were back up to second. I took over for another stint and found the tyres were vibrating quite badly, so I pitted again for a fresh set… which turned out to be staggered, with the left rear taller than the right. That meant the car had a tendency to turn right, which was not so hot on the banking. I had to steer left all the time and by the second lap I was feeling so frustrated that I was contemplating coming back in. Then the front right blew and I went off at 350-odd kph once again.
“As I was sliding along the wall I saw some small light bulbs and thought, ‘Great, on top of everything else I’m going to be electrocuted.’ Lots of stupid little things go through your mind at times like that. It marked the end of our race.”
Brian Redman Versatile legend who continues to compete at the age of 78
“I raced 935s quite a lot from 1978-1980, for Dick Barbour. They weren’t particularly easy to drive, but the balance was OK once you got them on the limit. They were incredible devices based more or less on a production car. In 1978 I was doing one of my first races for Dick and he told me never to touch the boost, to leave it at 1.2 bar. I couldn’t understand why I was always qualifying seventh or eighth, so went up to Rolf Stommelen and asked if he touched the boost in qualifying. He stared at me and said, ‘Brian,
I turn it as far as it will go…’
In 1980 we had a new Kremer 935 K3 for Le Mans. It was delivered straight to Le Mans for Dick, John Fitzpatrick and I. John put it on pole, but then they changed the rules and said pole would be based on the average time for all three drivers. That put us second. It was a wet, miserable race, but we were leading when the car lapsed onto five cylinders. We eventually finished fifth overall and won the IMSA class, but at about six in the morning I handed over to Dick. I was cold and wet, but stayed in the pits for a lap to check everything was OK. Dick came straight back in and I could see his hand waving through the mist, so dashed around to see what he wanted. He said, ‘Brian, you guys are paid to drive in conditions like this. Get back in.’
“John and I won the Mosport Six Hours in one of Dick’s cars, so I did quite a lot in them. In 1981 my main programme was supposed to be the Lola GTP car, but that wasn’t ready until March so in the meantime I drove a 935 with Bobby Rahal and Bob Garretson at Daytona. I qualified 16th and Bobby rushed up, saying, ‘Brian, let me have a go, I can get it higher than that.’ I replied, ‘Bobby, leave it.’ During the night I saw him and asked how we were doing. When he said we were leading, I started to remind him that he wasn’t supposed to be passing people but he cut in to tell me he hadn’t!
“In June 1977 I had a Can-Am accident at Mosport Park, when I broke my neck, shoulder and ribs, split my breastbone and stopped breathing. The ambulance then blew a tyre on the way to hospital and I was declared dead. By autumn I was walking again and started to run a little bit and rang Jo Hoppen, head of VW-Porsche-Audi motor sport in America, to see whether he could find me a car for Sebring. I needed to find out whether I could still drive – and indeed whether I still wanted to. I was after a second-tier drive – but something decent. He put me in the second Dick Barbour 935 with Charles Mendez, a local SCCA racer, and Bob Garretson. On the surface we looked a pretty hopeless team, but we won. We had no trouble and just kept plugging around and around.”
Bobby Rahal Shared Daytona-winning 935 with Redman & Garretson in ’81
“Our 935 was a twin turbo whereas earlier cars were singles. I’d previously driven a single-turbo 935 at Mid-Ohio and the throttle lag was pretty bad. The twin got rid of that problem and Daytona was a perfect circuit for the car in many ways, because the 935 went like a bat out of hell on the straights. That year was very competitive, with Danny Ongais and the Interscope team. They had two cars, the Whittington brothers had two, Gianpiero Moretti was there with the Momo car and there were about 15 935s in all. I’d
just come back from Europe, where I’d been trying to prove my credentials in F3 and F2, and was sharing with the great Brian Redman and Bob Garretson, both good friends. I wanted to qualify, of course, but they wouldn’t let me. I was unhappy about that and Brian qualified 16th – last of the 935s. Then I wanted to start the race, but they wouldn’t let me do that, either. They were trying everything they could to dampen my enthusiasm. Before the start Brian told me we’d be setting a conservative pace, taking things easy, making sure we got through to the morning and then worry about where we were. The 935s ahead all took off like scalded cats and one by one started blowing up. At about midnight I got out of the car, handed over to Bob and wandered back to try to sleep in the rental car – we didn’t have motorhomes at that time. As I was walking along Brian was coming from the other direction and asked how we were doing. I said, ‘We’re leading.’ He started yelling at me, ‘I told you not to race…’ I replied, ‘I haven’t passed anybody – they all fell out.’ That was pretty much the case. We won by eight or nine laps. We lost an exhaust header at about 3am, but the mechanics changed it in about 14 minutes, which was an amazing performance given that it was red hot. That apart we had a trouble-free run and it was the biggest victory of my career to that point. I’ve loved going back to Daytona ever since.”
Derek Bell Comprehensive CV includes 935 wins at Mid-Ohio and Riverside
“Every time I see a 935 I look at it in awe – it was just so wild. Of all the cars I raced I felt it was the one that could beat me if I didn’t get hold of it, so every time I got in it I’d talk to it, you know, ‘Right, it’s you or me, one of us has to win this battle.’ I knew what it could do if I let it. The 935 was the only car I ever talked to like that, you just had to grab it by that big gearlever and take charge.
At a corner like, say, Becketts at Silverstone, you’d turn in on full boost and it would understeer in and then you’d get massive oversteer on the way out, so it was really important to get the lines right. It was a shatteringly powerful car, I mean you had 750 horsepower in what was basically a 911, so it was fairly crude, and the 911 never handled that well. I’m still in awe of the car and I will always remember winning the Lumbermans 500 at Mid-Ohio with Rolf Stommelen. It was a dream drive and Rolf was the best 935 racer ever.
“You’re seeing some of the cars out again now and I would love to do a historic race in one.”
David Hobbs Relative 935 latecomer who scored a clutch of IMSA victories
“It was an extremely effective weapon, the 935, and the most powerful car I’d ever raced at the time – tons of torque, very exciting to drive. I thought it might be a handful. I was never a fan of the 911, the weight distribution never seemed right to me, but the 935 really surprised me because it didn’t have any big vices. It had tons of grunt, yes, but it handled really well, no big oversteer dramas, and very sturdy.
“Looking back I’d put it in my top five cars I raced over the years. John Fitzpatrick and I won a lot of IMSA races in the 935, we always had a great crew and ours always seemed to be the best prepared, had the best tweaks.
“We raced the ‘whale tail’ car at Le Mans and touched about 225mph on the Mulsanne. I thought we might beat the new 956, but none of them broke so we were fourth behind three of them and easily won our class. So yeah, that 935 was a very pleasant surprise. It wasn’t a great-looking car, you felt you were stuck up in the air a bit, but it was extremely effective.”
Jürgen Barth Racer, rally driver, associated with Porsche for many years
“One year I remember finishing the Monte Carlo Rally and then driving straight from there to Frankfurt, flying to Orlando and then heading to Daytona to practice and race a 935. It’s a challenge going from snowy rally roads, with speeds of 60-100kph, to the Daytona banking at 300-plus in a 935. It took about five laps to adjust and go flat out.
“The previous 934 was even harder to drive, because it was pretty much a standard road car, with 650bhp and 14-inch wheels.”
Richard Dean Sharing 935 JLP-3 in historic events, with owner Zak Brown
“I’ve done quite a bit of testing in one of the LMP3 Ligiers we’ll be running next year and it’s as though it was all built around you. The paddle shifts are perfectly positioned, the view is perfect, everything works as it should… and then you get into the 935.
“It’s completely the opposite, a road car they’ve turned into a massively powerful racer. It tries to fight you all the time, but I love it. Trying to imagine how they drove it for 24 hours in period, though… It was a different world.”
John Fitzpatrick Entered and raced 935s; used one to win the 1980 IMSA title
“I probably did more miles in 935s than anybody, with the possible exception of Bob Wollek. It was an absolutely great car and a massive step up from the 934, with an extra 150bhp or so and huge wheels. Initially the works cars had twin turbos while privateers had only singles, which weren’t as nice to drive – a real all or nothing job with massive turbo lag. The twin turbos improved things massively and by the time I last raced one, in 1983, they were absolutely lovely, with hardly
any lag at all.
“When I ran my own team I bought one of Kremer’s tube-frame K4s and reckon that was probably the quickest of all 935s. We could get about 900bhp out of it at 1.7 bar in the sprint races – and also ran it like that in one or two longer events.
“The 1982 Brands Hatch 1000Kms sticks in my mind, because Porsche and Lancia were fighting hard over the world championship and we turned up with our IMSA-spec 935. It absolutely bucketed down and track conditions were awful, but we won our class in third overall and beat some of the Group C cars.
“I scooped the IMSA title for Dick Barbour in 1980 and won lots of races, including Sebring.
I was sharing with Dick and it was no secret that he wasn’t quite as quick as the leading guys. I ended up driving for about nine of the 12 hours and we won by a lap, but I was absolutely knackered.
“It was a sensational car to drive at the ’Ring, which has to be everybody’s favourite circuit and is certainly mine. It would get airborne in one direction, then land and take off in the other. It was a real handful, but very rewarding. I won the 1000Kms with a 935 in 1979, but the following year they added a special class so that Reinhold Joest could run his old Porsche 908. That finished first on the road, but we were second and won the world championship event. As far as I’m concerned, I won the race twice on the trot.”
Desiré Wilson World Sportscar Championship race winner who loved the 935
“I took to the 935 like a duck to water because I’ve always loved cars with lots of horsepower. The first I drove was a Kremer K3, at Brands in 1981. It was a handful, but I relished all that power. The throttle controlled the whole car.
If you got it right you could get on the throttle and slide it out of the corners with a bit of opposite lock, and I just loved that. At Daytona it was so fast, approaching 200mph, and you didn’t have power steering so you had to hang on around the banking. You chose the line and then you were committed – it seemed insane at first but you got used to it. Looking back, we were pretty brave, I mean the car was a bit crude with the fuel tank at the front – you didn’t want to hit anything. It was very hot in the 935, the heat was unbelievable, and very noisy, so you needed your ear plugs. When I shared with Edgar Dören he broke one of the windows to get some cooling. I race a Porsche GT3 these days and it’s better than the 935, but it just doesn’t have all that power…”
Six of the best
Chassis 935/77-005 – Martini car taken to several world championship victories in 1977. Ickx/Mass won at Silverstone, the Nürburgring, Watkins Glen and Brands Hatch.
Chassis 009 00015 – The only 935 to win Le Mans outright, courtesy of Klaus Ludwig and Bill/Don Whittington in 1979. Also won that season’s Watkins Glen 6 Hours.
935/2 ‘Baby’ – Built for the 2.0 class of Germany’s DRM series, to underline Porsche’s versatility. It dominated its second race – at Hockenheim, in Jacky Ickx’s hands – and didn’t race again.
Chassis 000 00023 – Sachs-backed car that won the IMSA class at Le Mans in 1980… and that year’s IMSA title, with John Fitzpatrick.
Chassis 930 890 0018 – Brumos car in which Peter Gregg scored nine wins en route to dominating the IMSA series in 1978.
JLP-4 – Successor to the car featured in our photographs and most radical of the John Paul specials. Featured full ground-effect venturi.
Key outright victories
Le Mans, Sebring, Riverside, Daytona, Monza – and that’s just scratching the surface
Mugello 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Vallelunga 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Watkins Glen 6 Hours Rolf Stommelen/Manfred Schurti
Dijon 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Mugello 6 Hours Rolf Stommelen/Manfred Schurti
Silverstone 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Nürburgring 1000Kms Tim Schenken/Rolf Stommelen/Toine Hezemans
Watkins Glen 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Brands Hatch 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Hockenheim 6 Hours Bob Wollek/John Fitzpatrick
Daytona 24 Hours Rolf Stommelen/Toine Hezemans/Peter Gregg
Sebring 12 Hours Brian Redman/Bob Garretson/Charles Mendez
Silverstone 6 Hours Jacky Ickx/Jochen Mass
Nürburgring 1000Kms Klaus Ludwig/Hans Heyer/Toine Hezemans
Misano 6 Hours Bob Wollek/Henri Pescarolo
Watkins Glen 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Toine Hezemans/Peter Gregg
Vallelunga 6 Hours Bob Wollek/Henri Pescarolo
Daytona 24 Hours Danny Ongais/Hurley Haywood/Ted Field
Sebring 12 Hours Bob Akin/Rob McFarlin/Roy Woods
Mugello 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Bob Wollek/Manfred Schurti
Riverside 6 Hours Don Whittington/Bill Whittington
Silverstone 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Hans Heyer/Bob Wollek
Nürburgring 1000Kms John Fitzpatrick/Bob Wollek/Manfred Schurti
Le Mans 24 Hours Klaus Ludwig/Don Whittington/Bill Whittington
Watkins Glen 6 Hours Klaus Ludwig/Don Whittington/Bill Whittington
Daytona 24 Hours Reinhold Joest/Rolf Stommelen/Volkert Merl
Sebring 12 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Dick Barbour
Riverside 5 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Dick Barbour
Mosport 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Brian Redman
Road America 500 John Paul/John Paul Jr
Dijon 1000Kms Jürgen Barth/Henri Pescarolo
Daytona 24 Hours Bobby Rahal/Brian Redman/Bob Garretson
Sebring 12 Hours Hurley Haywood/Al Holbert/Bruce Leven
Riverside 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/Jim Busby
Monza 1000Kms Edgar Dören/Jürgen Lässig/Gerhard Holup
Silverstone 6 Hours Walter Röhrl//Harald Grohs/Dieter Schornstein
Mosport 6 Hours Rolf Stommelen/Harald Grohs
Daytona 24 Hours Rolf Stommelen/John Paul/John Paul Jr
Sebring 12 Hours John Paul/John Paul Jr
Charlotte 500 John Paul/John Paul Jr
Mosport 6 Hours John Paul/John Paul Jr
Road America 500 John Fitzpatrick/David Hobbs
Mid-Ohio 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/David Hobbs
Daytona 24 Hours Bob Wollek/AJ Foyt/Preston Henn/Claude Ballot-Lena
Riverside 6 Hours John Fitzpatrick/David Hobbs/Derek Bell
Sebring 12 Hours Hans Heyer/Stefan Johanssson/Mauricio DeNarvaez
Additional reporting by Rob Widdows and Gary Watkins