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 first and by now only overall win of a rear-engined race car was achieved in 1979 by Klaus Ludwig with Don and Bill Whittington in a 935 K3 of Kremer Racing, which also marked the first overall victory for a Porsche customer squad in Le Mans. A 935 run by Dick Barbour Racing claimed second place and the sister-car of the overall winner on third place round off a perfect weekend for Porsche customers. However, “lady luck” was not on the side of the works 936. Pole-setters Bob Wollek and Hurley Haywood were forced into retirement on Sunday morning with engine failure. Gremlins also plagued Jacky Ickx, Brian Redman and Jürgen Barth in the second works vehicle which had turned the fastest race lap. After a puncture at 240 km/h, Redman managed to limp back to the pits where repairs took over an hour. During the night, Jacky Ickx thrashed out top times only to have his charge halted when a belt rips on the injection pump — with the replacement belt not holding up either. One of the pit crew delivered a replacement out on the track — which effectively contravenes the rules — and resulted in disqualification of the resolute trio.

With Porsche support, Reinhold Joest brought a “908/80” to Le Mans in 1980, which featured a 936 chassis from the previous year. It was powered by a factory-bought 2.1-litre turbo engine. The Porsche led a Rondeau, when again, in a repeat of the previous year, the injection pump belt broke. The lead was lost, but Ickx mounted another of his legendary charges up the order. He recaptured first place, only to have fifth gear let him down on Sunday morning. After a 25-minute repair job, the 908/80 headed back out and swept across the line in second place behind the winning Rondeau. Class victories went to the 935 K3 of Dick Barbour Racing and Vegla Racing’s 935. Making its debut for the factory, the 924 Carrera GT — a particularly sporty version of the transaxle-924 — was the first water-cooled, front-engined Porsche to lap the circuit. The top place of these racers scored an impressive sixth overall. Thierry Perrier and Roger Carmillet were flagged off in 16th in their privately-run, ethanol-fuelled 911 SC.

In 1981 Porsche initially only planned to test run a 944 prototype. Until the new CEO, Peter W. Schutz, decided to chase another outright victory. The race department fetched the 1977 and 1978-winning 936 Spyder out of the museum. The rules now allowed the fitting of a large-capacity turbo engine, and the race department opted for the 2.65-litre twin turbo of the Indy race vehicle. For Le Mans, the six-cylinder motor provided around 620 hp (456 kW), and for assurance, Porsche combined this power unit with the robust four-speed gearbox of the Can-Am 917. Two 936/81 Spyders were campaigned by the factory against strong opposition from Lancia, Ferrari, Peugeot, Rondeau and many private 935.

Pole-sitters Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell took control of the race right from the get-go and snatched victory 14 laps ahead of the second-placed Rondeau. This win marked the beginning of a string of seven consecutive victories — a feat no other manufacturer had managed by now. The second 936 Spyder helmed by Jochen Mass, Hurley Haywood and Vern Schuppan turned the quickest race lap, only to be handicapped by technical gremlins. They finally saw the flag in twelfth position. Vern Schuppan, however, was celebrated by the team — out on the track he removed the turbocharger from the engine, converted the car into a “normally-aspirated” one and made it to the finish line. Walter Röhrl and Jürgen Barth finished seventh overall in the 924 Carrera. The vehicle was, in fact, the prototype of the coming 944. Its 2.5-litre, four-cylinder turbo was the first Porsche engine to feature a fully electronic fuel injection by Bosch for racing. It passed its last endurance test with flying colours, won its class and a special accolade for spending the shortest amount of time in the pits.

[Source: Porsche AG]

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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?