Herbert Muller and Gijs van Lennep finished 2nd overall in a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo 2.1 at the 1974 Le Mans 24 Hours
Herbert Muller and Gijs van Lennep finished 2nd overall in a Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo 2.1 at the 1974 Le Mans 24 Hours

Porsche at Le Mans – 1974 to 1981

The year 1977 brought with it one of the most gripping races in the history of the 24 Heures. Renault came with four A 442 Turbos — any one of them touted as a favourite for overall victory — as well as two works-supported “Mirage” powered by Renault turbo engines. Porsche lined up with two 936 Spyders. On Saturday evening the situation looked grim for Porsche. Engine failure in the 936 threw Jacky Ickx and Henri Pescarolo out of contention. The turbo motor in the 935 driven by Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti had also given up the ghost. After changing the injection pump in the remaining 936, Jürgen Barth and Hurley Haywood were running in 42nd place, nine laps behind the leading Renault. Ickx joined forces with the two and headed out into the night determined to attack. The Belgian stayed in the cockpit for seven and a half hours, turning one record lap after the other. Renault answered by upping the pace — and ran into technical problems. By Sunday midday, the last works-Renault retired.

The duel between Porsche and Renault has blown the competition clear out of the water. After 23 hours, the 936 led the field with a 250-kilometre gap to the second-placed contender. Then came the shock — with less than an hour to go, Haywood steered the car into the pits with piston damage. Repairs took 42 minutes. Jürgen Barth took the wheel and coaxed the 936, running on only five cylinders, over the last two laps and crossed the finish line — overall victory number four was saved. Making the triumph perfect for Porsche, a privately-run 935 of JMS Racing won the “Group 5”, with “Group 4” victory for near-standard race cars going to the 935 of Porsche Kremer.

The 935/78 “Moby Dick” in 1978 was the strongest-ever version of the 911. Built for the first time with water-cooled four-valve cylinder heads, the 3.2-litre twin-turbo driven by Rolf Stommelen and Manfred Schurti produced 750 hp (552 kW) at Le Mans, and even delivered 845 hp (622 kW) for conventional sprint races. Thanks to its massive engine output and a 60mm lowering compared to the Ur-935 as well as an aerodynamically optimised body all round, the vehicle reached 366 kmh (227 mph) in Le Mans — in this regard it matched the pace of the prototypes.

However, the “Moby Dick” was not a contender for overall honours, as the 120-litre fuel tank with a relatively high fuel consumption made many pit stops necessary. Minor maladies added up to 2 3/4 hours standing in the pits. Position eight for the high-flyer, with Bob Wollek, Jürgen Barth and Jacky Ickx ahead of Hurley Haywood, Peter Gregg and Reinhold Joest in the factory-entered 936 — also featuring water-cooled cylinder heads — crossing the finish line in second and third respectively behind the victorious Renault A 442. Class wins in the Groups IMSA GTX and 5 for privateer 935 as well as for a 911 Carrera RSR in the production-based class for GT sports cars up the three litres were compensation for Porsche narrowly missing out on overall victory.

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  1. I’m hoping someone here can fill in some blanks that escaped me over the years. As mentioned in the article, in 1974, Matra used a Porsche gearbox and it was failing. Yes, Porsche “helped” Matra in fixing the box, and thereby assured it’s win over the 2nd place Porsche . But there was more to the story that was politically swepped under the rug. It went something like this—> Either the amount of time required to fix the Matra box, or some other, related “rule” infraction … should have caused the Matra to be disqualified. Porsche knew this, but did not protest the infraction. (As the story goes)….Porsche recognized there was still some political rawness between the French and Germans, and especially that Porsche in motorsports won on French soil with a German car before, as recently as 1971. So…it was “decided” not to protest, which otherwise would have had the 2.1L 911 Turbo win…… and be counted towards Porsche “True” 17 win total at LeMans.

    Can anyone fill-in the blanks ?

  2. I cannot answer the detailed questions that you have, but I believe the political aspect and sportsmanship aspect of Porsche helping. This story is also featured on the Porsche factory website under History, so it is something that they are proud of.

    Another question for anyone: I read somewhere that the frustration with the failure of fifth gear in 1974 LeMans led the factory to specify the massive 4 speed gearbox in the 930/934/935. Fifth gear failed because it was a 915 gearbox and fifth gear was “hanging our the back” and did not tolerate 24 hours of use. My question is, can anyone verify this story, and would Porsche have won overall in 1974 if they had all five gears last the whole race in the RSR 2.1 turbo?