Dick Barbour went to Le Mans as an entrant for the first time in 1978. He entered two Porsche 935s at the classic French Enduro. He had started racing in IMSA in 1977 after having bought one of the original ten Porsche 934.5 models offered by the factory for IMSA racing in 1977. He ran some of the IMSA races with mixed success in 1977. Towards the end of the season, he and Bob Garretson made an agreement for the 1978 season, where Garretson Enterprises, an independent Porsche repair shop in Mountain View, California, would prepare Dick’s car(s) in 1978. They had already made a name for themselves in 1977 by preparing Walt Maas’ IMSA GTU championship winning Porsche 914/6. They had entered eleven races and won eight of them, and finished second, third and fourth in the others, winning the championship over the factory Datsun 240Z of Sam Posey run by Bob Sharp. They had also prepared the winning car at the famous Pikes Peak hill climb (Colorado USA) in 1976, a Porsche powered buggy driven by Rick Mears.
Dick was looking to expand in 1978, and he had ordered a new 935/78 (77A) for Daytona. His old 934.5 from 1977 would need some work and investment to update it to a 935. With Johnnie Rutherford and Manfred Schurti as co-drivers he had finished second overall at Daytona with the new car, after being delayed by a blown tyre in the Daytona banking which lost a lot of time for repairs. For Sebring, two cars were entered, and although Dick’s main car faltered when a shock broke and punctured an oil line, the second car driven by Bob Garretson, Brian Redman and Charles Mendez (the race promoter), won the race. That car was immediately sold to John Paul after Sebring.
After Sebring, when I joined with the team, we started preparing for two more US races, Talladega and Laguna Seca, and then subsequently Le Mans. The car that had finished second at Daytona, #930 890 0033, also ran at Talladega where it finished third with Dick and Johnnie Rutherford driving. For Laguna Seca we entered two cars, one for Dick, who finished sixth and one for Bob Bondurant (which was the updated 934.5) who was 17th. Then came the big push to get everything ready for Le Mans because back then the transport was usually by boat, so a long lead time was required.
Although I was working with the team quite a bit by then, I was not going to the races (except for Laguna and Sears Point), as the traveling schedule had already been determined for the year when I joined. I helped to get everything prepared and loaded, and then wished the team well. Steve “Yogi” Behr from New York (an IMSA racer from time to time) came and drove one of the trucks back to New York for us to get it to the ship, as there were no other people available to make the drive.
Dick had ordered a brand-new car from the factory for the race. Gary Evans, the team manager, had gone over to Germany to order it earlier in the year, a twin turbo 935, chassis #930 890 0024. Gary and Jerry Woods went to the factory to take delivery before the race, but it was delivered to the track at Le Mans by Porsche with the rest of their cars. It would run as #90, and would be driven by Dick, Brian Redman, and John Paul Sr. We had prepared the second car in California, a single turbo model, #930 890 0033, and this would be driven by Bob Garretson, Bob Akin and Steve Earle.
The majority of the team arrived the weekend before and setup in the Le Mans paddock. Several of the team stopped on the way and watched the Spanish Grand Prix at Jarama. At the Madrid airport, they ran into none other than Bill France Sr. of NASCAR, who gave them directions to the circuit. Ron Trethan, Greg Elliff, Brian Carleton and Alan Brooking watched Mario Andretti win the grand prix in a Lotus 79. Many years later, in a twist of fate, Greg Elliff would restore the same Lotus 79 for Duncan Dayton. At the race, they ran into Bill Broderick (the UNION Oil hat swap guy in victory lane!) who was always in NASCAR victory lane. At the Madrid airport after the race, all the F1 drivers arrived from the track via helicopter, and here the Barbour crew had a beer with Jody Scheckter while waiting for the plane to France. By the time that they got to the team hotel in Pontvallain, France, it was very late and the place was already shut down as everyone had gone to bed. They slept on the sidewalk in front of the hotel and were awoken early by the street sweepers. I guess that is what happens when you travel from Mountain View California to Pontvallain in France for the first time! Pontvallain was just not setup for late arrivals.
The Le Mans circuit back then was very different from today. The Mulsanne had no chicanes, and the pits were old, and quite decrepit, and the signal pits were at the far end of the circuit, many miles away at the Mulsanne corner. Radios back then were problematic, and in any case the American radios did not work too well in France at all, and were technically illegal to use, as you were supposed to have a French license to use any radios. Communications to the signal pits was via old crank-up phones on the wall in the pit boxes. You had to get your timing right and be sure to call the signal pits about when the car came past the pits, so that they could get ready in time. Paddock and team working conditions, were basic at best and much of the paddock was not even paved, and as newcomers, the team got a prime grass corner at the back of the paddock. The hotel was small, and was located in the town of Pontvallain which was well to the south of Le Mans, about an hour’s drive away.
The #90 car, the new 935, was delivered by Porsche along with the rest of their cars. The car as delivered still needed some work to become IMSA legal because the rules for Group 5 and IMSA were slightly different. IMSA rules required windshield retaining tabs, rear window straps, and a driver’s window net. The new front air dams that had been built back in California were then fitted. These had been built by Jeff Lateer, and contained all the headlights in the airdam, thereby alleviating the need for the night hood mounted extra lights (lessening the drag on the Mulsanne). The drilled brake rotors on the car as delivered from the factory were removed and replaced with longer lasting solid rotors.
Both cars were entered in the IMSA class, along with a bunch of Ferrari 512BB, a few RSRs, one BMW CSL, and Brad Frisselle’s Monza. There were Group 6 prototypes from Porsche (936), from Renault, as well as Mirage and these were the cars to beat for overall victory. There were also quite a few Group 5 935s and Group 4 934s as well as 2-litre sports cars. All the 935s ran the 3.0-litre engine, some were twin turbo and some single, except for the 935/78 from the factory which ran a 3.2 engine with water-cooled heads. All the Group 5 935 weighed less than the IMSA version, as we had to run at the IMSA minimum weights as required for that class. Both our cars qualified without difficulty. Redman got the pole in IMSA class with a 3:52.6, Dick Barbour did a 3:56.6, and John Paul a 4:02.0. Bob Garretson qualified the #91 at 4:05, Bob Akin at 4:09 and Steve Earle at 4:13. Rolf Stommelen set a blistering time in the 935/78 of 3:30.9 to be third overall behind Ickx in the 936/78 at 3:27.6, and Depallier in the Renault at 3:28.4. The battle for the IMSA class would come down to our two cars, and most likely the Ferraris of Charles Pozzi and NART. Dick, having finished second at Daytona, was in an advantageous position to win the Daytona-Le Mans trophy for 1978 which was awarded to the driver/team who did the best in the two races combined. Since the Brumos (Peter Gregg) team which had won Daytona, was not running at Le Mans, Dick just had to finish well up and he would get that trophy. But that was a secondary goal to winning the IMSA class.
The race started well enough. The strategy was to drive conservatively, finish, and win the class. Starting in the early stages, the #90 led the class and ran like clockwork, but the #91 car had a few issues. They had some troubles changing brake pads, and a crash by Steve Earle required new front fenders and air dam. Around 03h50 am on Sunday, #91 had an issue with the exhaust system, and although 14 minutes were lost, the car was still running. At 04h55 am Sunday, Bob Garretson went off the road at the Mulsanne kink, vaulted end over end on the side of the track to the left. He doesn’t really remember what happened, and although he was dazed, he walked away from the crash. About the only thing he recalls, is that the door was so smashed that he had to crawl out through the windscreen area, as the windshield was gone completely. The car was pretty much destroyed! Brian Redman stopped at the site in the #90 car and checked to see if Bob was okay, then pitted to give a report to the rest of the team. Several of the crew went out to the crash site once it became daylight, and found Bob’s glasses in the dirt by the car.
By the time that we got the car back to the shop in California, about all that was salvageable were a few gauges from the dashboard, some of the engine parts, and some of the gearbox parts. Most of the suspension, bodywork, chassis, roll cage etc., was all trash.
The #90 car ran trouble free, just making normal pit stops for fuel, tyres and changing of brake pads. The only real issue occurred at one point when Team Manager Gary Evans went looking for Brian Redman to get him ready for the next pit stop. He was getting worried when he didn’t find him in any of the driver caravans, which were all full of sponsors and others who weren’t supposed to be in there. Eventually he was found sleeping in the canvas tyre slings in the truck – disaster averted.
Since John Paul was driving with us, he brought his main mechanic, Graham Everett along. He and Greg Elliff changed the brake pads, and they did it well. According to Le Mans records, not one stop for this car was longer than two minutes. Even the Porsche Factory guys on the 936, which was next door were impressed, as the #90 car was changing brake pads quicker than they could. For most of the race we were locked in a battle with the Group 5 leader, which was the Kremer car of our IMSA buddies, Jim Busby, Rick Knoop and Chris Cord. But in the end, we finished fifth overall and won IMSA class, and they came in sixth overall and were winners of the Group 5 class.
The Porsche factory at Werk 1, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, had certainly done an outstanding job building #930 890 0024. Not one issue, and a class winner, first time out. The drivers did an excellent job and avoided any on track issues, and the pit work was exemplary.
Dick Barbour had accomplished both goals, winning the IMSA class, and winning the Daytona-Le Mans trophy for 1978. He was hooked, and would return in 1979.
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto, Terry Zaccone, Sharon Trethan, Jerry Woods