In motor racing, the performance margin that separates the winners from the losers is often so small that it is mere determination that helps a driver to cross the line first. But that determination must come from confidence on the part of the driver and a belief in the race car, which may all sound very philosophical, but both of these factors can be very strong weapons in determining a team’s overall success. Kremer Racing earned such a reputation for taking the challenge to the big players, but this was a hard-won reputation built up over many years.
But for Erwin and Manfred Kremer in 1962, winning races wasn’t even on their radar in the beginning, as it was the realisation of another dream which first set them on their road to success. The Cologne-born brothers began their journey in a workshop which they built on a rented piece of land on the western side of the city, where they specialised in the repair and service of Porsche sports cars together with friend and partner, Hermann Bürvenich.
All in their early twenties, these three men, with pastimes and hobbies that could not have been more different, were united by one burning passion, sports cars. Erwin the sports car fanatic, Manfred the billiards enthusiast and Hermann the keen gardener, all shared a love of sports car racing.
It wasn’t long before things were going swimmingly well in the workshop and in 1964, elder brother, Erwin, tried his hand at a bit of motor racing. Piloting a Porsche 356 B, Erwin was soon bitten by the racing bug and by 1968, Kremer Racing began to take their participation in the sport much more seriously, dominating the battle for the European Touring Car Championship in a Porsche 911. Erwin Kremer claimed his first big title in that year with an overall win in the 24-Hours of Spa and, in the process, helping Porsche to win the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Clearly, racing came naturally to Erwin Kremer and in 1970 the company purchased a red 911 ST in bits from the factory, enabling the Kremer mechanics to build the car just the way Erwin wanted it. This car, their first real big-time racing project, was fitted with a slightly larger 2.3-litre version of the standard production engine. The rear wheels were Minilites rather than the regular Fuchs alloys, as the latter could not be obtained in the required width for the racing 911.
In their first outing at Le Mans in 1970, they were entered under the team name of Ecurie Luxembourg. Far from being overawed by the importance of the event, Erwin Kremer and partner Nicolas Koob brought their car home in a very credible seventh place overall, and first in the GT Class (2000-2500cc). All right, so there were only seven classified finishers out of 51 starters that year, but the Kremer car had made it to the chequered flag in their first outing in the 24-hour race. For the Kremer Racing team this result represented an exceptional achievement considering their limited experience in the big league and a very meagre racing budget.
The same car, with a new colour scheme for the 1971 season, was driven by Erwin Kremer, Nicolas Koob and Günter Huber at Le Mans. At the end of that season, Erwin Kremer could claim the European Touring Car Championship bringing to an end a successful year on the track.
The daunting and arduous Liège-Sofia-Liège Rally, an 84-hour marathon event, was run over three days and four nights, and took place on public roads. This proved to be increasingly dangerous and so the event was moved to the confines of the Nürburgring race track. Now known as the Marathon de la Route, the event which still lasted 84-hours, was popular with manufacturers as they used it for testing cars and components, but drivers were known to crash through sheer exhaustion behind the wheel.
Not an event for the faint-hearted, and with the factory’s 1-2-3 blitzkrieg of 1970 still fresh in his mind, Erwin Kremer entered a Porsche 914-6 in the 1971 event. Finished to ‘GT specifications’, the Kremer Racing 914-6 featured wider wheel arches to accommodate bigger rubber while the car was both lightened and stiffened. With brother Erwin taking the lion’s share of wheel duty, the Kremer team finished a credible fourth overall and first in class in this epic 84-hour endurance race around the legendary ‘Ring.
1971 was an important year for Kremer Racing, as Erwin Kremer was awarded the coveted factory-sponsored Porsche Cup by Ferry Porsche, which carried prize money of DM50,000. To put this achievement into context, professional driver Leo Kinnunen was placed second, followed by Günter Huber, Claude Haldi and Paul Keller while Jo Siffert qualified posthumously for his efforts in the Can-Am series.
1972 was a year in waiting, as the 911 was performing at its limit with the basic boxer engine but it would still be another year before the legendary 2.7-litre Carrera engine arrived. However, success in the 2.5-litre 911 ST was down to Kremer’s specially tuned engines with modified pistons, camshafts, and the carefully prepared gearbox and chassis.
With the arrival of the legendary Carrera RS 2.7 road car in 1973, Porsche racing teams were given an even more formidable weapon with which to take on the competition. For racing, the 2687cc production engine was boosted to 2.8-litre (developing 300bhp) in the Carrera RSR, which Erwin Kremer, Clemens Schickentanz and Paul Keller used at Le Mans that year. They finished a very credible eighth overall, the first time that the 911 had worn its now famous ‘ducktail’ in international competition.
The introduction of the Carrera RS 2.7 in 1973 brought with it a period of rather adventurous body colouring and lettering. The now famous ‘Carrera’ lettering splashed along the bottom of the doors was adapted by Kremer Racing to read ‘Kremer’, thereby borrowing this valuable bit of recognisable marketing from the manufacturer. This proved to be a cost-effective way of maximising the factory’s PR spend for their own good, but following Kremer’s success on the track, the Stuttgart manufacturer wasn’t complaining.
For the Norisring leg of the 1975 GT Championships, an altogether different driver was behind the wheel of the Vaillant Kremer RSR. In a display of early promotional marketing in GT racing, the promotional blow-up Vaillant bunny was in the driver’s seat of the #4 Kremer RSR in the paddock for all passers-by to see – a rather tentative, if cheap ‘n cheerful marketing step forward for the German heating supplier. The Vaillant car was joined by two other Kremer 911s, the Wally’s Jeans RSR and the Jägermeister RSR. These three Kremer RSR racers formed a formidable trio, and dominated much of the European GT scene in the mid-70s.
But the winds of change were to blow through Cologne in 1975, and for the first time, Erwin Kremer elected to sit out as a driver at that year’s Le Mans 24-Hour, even though he was down as a reserve driver just in case he was needed. This opened the door for Carlos Bolanos, Alberto Contreras and Billy Sprowls to bring the Kremer Carrera RSR home in ninth place in the classic French endurance race that year.
The Kremer brothers decided at this point that it would be prudent to concentrate their efforts on running their Porsche workshop back in Cologne, rather than participating centre stage as they had done for many years. Erwin stepped back from active racing as a driver, opting to manage the race team operations instead, while Manfred continued to build race engines and partner Hermann Bürvenich stuck to chassis and suspension development. This change of focus also allowed the Kremer racing organisation to experiment and develop new racing ideas for the growing company.
With new class rules in the pipeline for 1976, Porsche decided to replace the enormously successful 3.0-litre RSR with a pair of new race cars to satisfy the forthcoming regulations. Aimed at Porsche’s customers, their Group 4 Grand Touring car class contender, the 934, was based on the 911 Turbo road car of 1975. In its first year, however, the Porsche 935 Group 5 racer was intended only for the factory team and was a more highly developed and potent machine than its Group 4 sibling.
Understandably, several of the privateer teams were initially unhappy not to get their hands on the 935, but Kremer did manage to produce a 935 of their own for the 1976 season. Called the 935 K1 by the team, Kremer built the car including the engine and intercooler, without using any factory parts. It must be remembered that it was only eight years prior (1968) that Kremer decided to take motor racing more seriously, so the team had taken some mighty big steps up the ladder of experience in a relatively short period of time.
Complying with the 3.0-litre capacity limit, the single turbo 935 produced 650bhp in 1976 (by comparison, the 3-litre RSR developed 330bhp in 1974) as claimed by the factory, which ensured plenty of GO, while the 917 brakes made sure it was able to stop effectively from its dizzying 200mph top speed.
Throughout the team’s rise to prominence and in the years that followed, there was only one ‘engineer’ at Kremer Racing, the rest were mechanics who worked with passion, putting their heart and soul into the cars they prepared. The Porsche factory never liked to admit when they incorporated some Kremer improvements in their own cars, but the boys at Kremer Racing knew when the factory had done so, making them even more proud of their work.
Only two 935 K2s were built by Kremer in 1977. No specific ‘K’ car was introduced for the 1978 season by Kremer, and so the team ran the Vaillant sponsored twin turbo 935 supplied straight from the factory. The standard 935 featured a twin turbo air-cooled engine (the 935 engines were completely air-cooled with the exception of Moby Dick in 1978) and water-cooled intercoolers.
Everybody remembers the ‘Moby Dick’ 935/78, the factory’s most powerful 911 to date. A car that promised much but in reality, it delivered little in the way of results (only a single win at Silverstone in 1978), the 935/78 was quite simply the most powerful GT racing car ever made, delivering 845bhp from its 3.2-litre boxer engine. The factory stopped developing the 935 at the end of that year but continued to supply parts to private teams to build and modify their own cars, thereby extending the competition life of the 935 in the hands of privateer teams. No other production-based sports car had been more successful, but the 935’s proudest hour was yet to come.
It is safe to say that Kremer Racing’s biggest moment came at 16h00 on 10 June 1979, when the Cologne team achieved what few ever dream of achieving. Victory in the most prestigious endurance race of them all, the 24-Hours of Le Mans, is usually reserved for the big-budget factory teams who could afford an army of mechanics and support crew, but the #41 Kremer Racing K3 crossed the line that year a full seven laps ahead of the second placed car, another Porsche 935.
Kremer’s ‘Numero Reserve’ 935 K3, driven by German Klaus Ludwig and the American duo, brothers Bill and Don Whittington represented Porsche’s only victory in a privately entered car. Having led the race from midnight on Saturday, the winning 935 followed strict team orders by not trying to out-run themselves, circulating as smoothly and consistently as possible. The second placed 935 with actor Paul Newman as one of its drivers, was followed home in third place by Kremer’s second entry, another 935 K3 driven by Francois Servanin/Francois Trisconi/Laurent Ferrier. For Kremer Racing, this was their tenth appearance at Le Mans, and the team could hardly have wished for a better result on their 10th anniversary.
There is little doubt that the success of the Kremer 935 K3, with its lightweight fibreglass body (lengthened and widened) and lowered chassis, resulted in a flood of orders for K3s from other privateer teams around the world. The 1970s was a wild time of big wings and wide wheels, and the K3 certainly benefited from some revolutionary aerodynamic high down-force body mods that helped to funnel air through to the rear wings, while modified twin KKK turbos further boosted power.
The 935 K3 featured an air-cooled 3.2-litre engine with an air-cooled intercooler system, and with a compression ratio of 7.2:1. One of the main improvements of the K3 design was to get rid of the water intercooler system which was problematic, the secret to giving steady performance was instead an intercooler cooled by air. With the turbo boost cranked up to 1.7 bar, the engine developed a whopping 800bhp at 8000rpm. Even with the boost turned down to 1.4 bar, the engine developed 740bhp at 7800rpm giving the K3 a top speed in excess of 200mph.
Altogether thirteen K3s were constructed by Kremer Racing with some cars seeing action from 1980 right through to 1985. Kremer Racing was like a ‘mini factory’ supplying both fully race ready cars and also doing a healthy trade in K3 body kits for customers around the world. Although most K3s ran with a 3.2-litre engine, some were fitted with 3.0-litre units where permitted by the class rules.
Kremer Racing 935 K3 chassis list:
|1||ex-Vaillant (Plankenhorn)||Howard Meister||USA||930 890 0013|
|2||ex-Minolta (Winter)||Charles Ivy||GB||930 890 0022|
|3||Whittington Le Mans||Whittington||USA||009 0015|
|4||Mambo Mampe (Ludwig)||Team Willeme||Belg||009 0002|
|5||Weralit Team (Edgar Dören)||Germany||009 0003|
|6||Barbour (Fitzpatrick)||Dick Barbour||USA||000 009|
|7||Ongais (Danny Ongais)||Interscope||USA||000 010|
|8||Jägermeister (Fitzpatrick)||Jägermeister-Kremer||Germany||000 011|
|9||Porsche Kremer (Winter)||Porsche Kremer BP||Germany||000 013|
|10||Field (Field)||Interscope||USA||000 017|
|11||Barbour (Barbour)||Dick Barbour||USA||000 023|
|12||Porsche Kremer||Kremer Racing||Germany||000 027|
|13||Walter Wolf||Walter Wolf||Germany||(road registered)|
Source: Kremer Racing archives.
Painted in team colours and sporting his distinctive Wolf F1 Racing logo, the Walter Wolf 935 is the only road going K3 in existence, being a special one-off order by this Austro-Canadian self-made millionaire. Having made his money in oil exploration, Wolf turned his attentions briefly to Formula 1, running the Wolf F1 team in the mid-70s with such illustrious drivers as James Hunt and Jody Scheckter. In order to be road registered, Wolf’s K3 had to have its chassis number changed. It was also equipped with a stereo and other interior comforts to make it at least look like it was meant for the road.
Kremer Racing’s 935 K4 took up where the K3 left off, but the older model still provided the team with numerous trips to victory lane. Although the K4 was even more potent than its predecessor thanks to bigger turbos, intercooler and oil pump, the K3 was seen as a bullet-proof racer and it still ran in most of the big races. Only two 935 K4s were built by Kremer Racing, the right-hand drive Jägermeister car and a similar left hand drive car.
Significantly though, the K4’s rear body differed from the K3 quite substantially in that the body was constructed over a tubular frame. The entire rear section was built over the existing rear window so that the team could open the complete rear section of the car as one piece. This gave the pit crew an advantage at races with much improved access to the engine, gearbox and wheels and other vital parts.
The dominant vehicle in endurance races of the World Championship for Makes, the Porsche 935, was the leading light in Porsche’s success from 1976 through 1981. It may seem odd then that Porsche decided in 1978 to discontinue any further development of the 935. However, with hindsight it was an extremely shrewd move as their product was so good, and, left in the very capable hands of a small group of professional privateer teams, they would continue to reap the benefits of global exposure without the cost of participating themselves. To this end, teams such as Kremer Racing acted as the race laboratory for the engineers back in Stuttgart who applied the lessons learned from such competent professionals in the field.
Referring to their motor sport successes, Achim Stroth, Team Manager at Kremer Racing said, “Ninety to ninety five percent is preparation, and five percent is improvisation. But if you are no good at the five percent, you can forget the ninety five percent because you won’t get the results.”
Throughout 1981, race teams continued to enter the 935 K3 in major events on both sides of the Atlantic, which speaks volumes for the thorough development that Kremer Racing undertook when preparing their cars. However, three of Kremer’s most memorable victories must have undoubtedly included victory in the 1979 Le Mans 24-Hours and winning both the 24-Hours of Daytona and the 12-Hours of Sebring in 1980, where in fact, 935 K3s took the first five places.
There can be little question about the impact that Kremer Racing made on the world of GT racing up until 1980. In Part II, we will explore Kremer’s developments and achievements of this noteworthy privateer team as from 1981 onwards.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto