A Porsche unlike others (1) : the 935/78

A Porsche unlike others (1) : the 935/78

Apart from a record 16 wins, Porsche's history at Le Mans is peppered with often unexpected cars which, without winning, still made history in their own way at the 24 Hours through their originality and their performances, like the 935/78.

In 1978, the Constructors World Championship was reserved for Group 5 cars only, heavily modified road going sportscars called "silhouettes." Porsche had dominated the class for two years already with the 935, the racing version of the 911. The Stuttgart marque pushed the concept even further with the 935/78, powered by a 3.2 litre turbo engine. Its diving front nose is profiled down and the rear is stretched almost to the point of remind onlookers of a 917 LH (Langheck, or longtail) from the early 1970s. During the first practice sessions, with the car's imposing looks and immaculate livery, the nickname "Moby Dick" begins to stick, from the Herman Melville novel by the same name. As preparation for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass take the car to victory at the 6 Hours of Silverstone. At Le Mans, the car is driven by Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti, two German expert drivers of the 935, finishing eighth after various technical issues.

At these two circuits favouring quickness, the 935/78 impresses. At Silverstone,  the pole position and fastest race lap from Mass-Ickx are only about four seconds off the pace from the McLaren-Ford M26 of James Hunt, winner at the British GP at the same track the previous year! At Le Mans, "Moby Dick" had the fastest top speed on the Mulsanne Straight (before the chicanes) at 366 kph and qualified third on the grid, mixed with the Renault-Alpine and Porsche 936 prototypes battling for the overall win. All this made the 935/78 one of the most fascinating Porsches ever seen at La Sarthe.

The 82nd edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, which wil see the return of Porsche to the prototype class, will be held June 14 and 15, 2014.

Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - Translated by Rainier Ehrhardt / ACO

Photo : LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, JUNE 10 & 11, 1978, RACE. Despite its top speed, its weight of 1,054kg and bad fuel consumption kept the 935/78 from battling for the win.