By 1981 at the earliest, and for sure by the 1983 season of sports car racing, it had become clear to most that the Porsche 935 was reaching the end of its useful racing life. While it had been a great car, it just could not compete with the new ground effects prototype designs from Lola, March and subsequently Porsche’s own 956/962 design. The 935 was a production based car with a lot of power and a lot of straight line speed, but no ground effect aerodynamics and with the engine weight behind the rear wheels, handling could not keep up with the prototype designs. The rules of sports car racing were also changing as the Group 5 based championship was turning to Group C, a fuel based formula.
While the factory had basically stopped building complete cars in mid-1979, several tuners continued with trying to improve the design. Kremer built two K4 models, only one of which was ever raced. John Paul had FABCAR build JLP4, a complete from the ground up design that looked somewhat like a 935, but was a radical attempt to try and get some more downforce and aerodynamics. It had some success in the 1982 season, but then was quickly eclipsed by Lola T600s and March 82/83G cars. Bob Akin also made two attempts at improving the breed. First, he commissioned Chuck Gaa at GAACO to build 935-L1. This was a Lee Dykstra design that seemed to be a cross between a Lola T600 chassis with Porsche 935 running gear. While quick in a straight line, handling proved elusive and it was shelved some time in 1983. While this car was racing in early 1983 Bob also had commissioned Dave Klym (FABCAR) in Atlanta to build 935/84. This was a full tube frame car with light weight bodywork using all Porsche 935 running gear. This car, along with the Andial 935-L Moby Dick replica, were probably the two best examples of what were the final iterations of Porsche 935 race cars.
By the 1984 season, Porsche had finally built an IMSA legal 962, based on their successful 956 prototype that had run in 1982 and 1983. While the 962 had run at Daytona, it did not finish, but the potential was there. Bruce Leven, Bob Akin and Al Holbert all ordered one, but they would not be available until later in the season. So, the 935/84, the Kremer K4, and the Andial 935-L all ran in the early races that year.
By the middle of the IMSA season, the 962 was running in full force, however they lost the championship to Randy Lanier in a March Chevrolet. This was due in part to the late arrival of the Porsche cars, but it was also due to Lanier’s team and the excellent driving that year by Lanier and the Whittingtons.
I got a call from Jim Mullen in November 1984 asking me to put together a budget to run the Daytona 24 Hours in 1985. I was to be the team manager for this one event. While he was to drive the 1985 season with Bob Akin in the Coke 962, the deal excluded the 24-hour due to prior commitments by Bob in the 962. Bob had graciously offered to ‘loan’ the 935/84 to Jim, but Jim would have to come up with the budget to run it. Jerry Woods and I put together a budget of $65,000 which, back then, was a lot of money (today that would not even cover the tyre bill). The money showed up the next day in full. I hired Gary Cummings as the chief mechanic, as he was in Atlanta where the car was. He was going to Europe to work for Walter Brun, but not until February, so had some time to help with this project. The engine and gearbox would be built in California by Jerry with some help from myself, and then shipped back to Gary in Atlanta. This would be a one-off event for the car, as for Sebring Jim would resume in the 962 with Bob Akin.
Jim had arranged sponsorship for the race from Ralph Lauren Polo. They had some stringent demands, such as the car must be silver, and all the decals had to be glow-in-the-dark blue. While Jerry worked on the engine, I took care of all the travel, hotels, bill payments, payroll, ordering decals, etc. The crew would be Gary, myself, Jerry, and several other of the old Garretson gang, such as Ron Trethan, Brian Carleton and Chris Hill among others. Drivers would be Jim, Kees Nierop and Ray McIntyre.
The car was completed without too much difficulty and we setup shop in Daytona under the Akin tent, as this was to be a ‘team car’ to the 962. We would run a 3.2-litre engine in the 935/84. The 962s in 1984/85 were running 2.8-litre engines, so while we had good speed and they had trouble passing us in a straight line, we did not have the handling of a 962, and our lap times were several seconds slower. However, Daytona was a long race, so we were optimistic about our chances over the 24-hour distance.
On Thursday at practice we had a surprise guest. No less than Ralph Lauren himself came to visit! I gather he wanted to see what he was sponsoring. He was very happy with the look of the car with its Polo horse decal, large on the doors and hood in great detail, looked stunning, especially at night. I had spent over $1500 on just having all these decals made. John Eversley’s wife did most of the work on them (he was the team manager for Bob Akin at the time). As team manager, I got to meet Ralph, and show him the car, explaining the various components. I asked him if he was going to enjoy the 24 hours, he said, “Oh no, I am on my way to a vacation in the Caribbean with my son. We are not staying for the race, we just came to see how things were going, and it looks like all is in order here.” He just wanted some pictures of the car with his son, and he then had me drive them from the pits back to the garage, but he had to sit on the front floor with his young son for the ride. After that visit he was happy, so they packed up and left for the airport, continuing on their way to the Caribbean.
Once the race got underway, the 935/84 ran flawlessly until about midnight. At that time, we were up to third overall and ahead of the Akin 962, which was causing some embarrassment in the pit. At around that time, the car failed to come around and we got a report that it was stopped up against the guardrail at the exit of the east Horseshoe corner on the Daytona Infield. We had no radios in this car, so we did not really know what the issue was. There were rules back then that mechanics could not work on the car on the circuit, only the driver could affect repairs, but we could go out and give advice. Chris Hill and I went out in a rental car, and left Jerry and Gary in the pit, in case we got it going and it got back to the pit before we could. By the time we got there, Jim Mullen was out of the car and had the rear engine lid open. He had, very smartly figured out that the engine was still running, but he had no throttle. We were lucky, because he had paid attention during the mechanics briefing prior to the race! Jim was also a smart guy, and he realised if he could get some RPM in the engine on a constant basis, he might be able to get back to the pits. When we pulled up, he was cramming his driving gloves into the 935 throttle linkage at the engine, which caused the throttle to run at about a constant 3000rpm. We got him to put the engine cover back on securely, and then he slowly started motoring back to the pits.
We sped back as well, and got there just as he was entering the pit lane. We told everyone in the garage that the throttle cable had broken, so they were ready to go when the car arrived. Luckily Gary had installed a second throttle cable as a backup as that was standard practice on the 935, because they sometimes broke. So, it was a simple matter of connecting up the cable heim joints of the backup cable to the pedal in front and to the linkage in the rear, and we soon had the car on its way again. Although we had lost several laps, by late Sunday morning we were back up to fifth place overall.
The only other issue came with about 20 minutes remaining in the race. The driver’s door started to come loose, so Jim came in as the thing was flopping open on the banking, and he was trying to drive with one hand, holding the door closed with the other. Not a good situation! As this car was a ‘one of a kind’ with specially designed and fabricated doors and no spares, we knew if the door came off at speed, it would get destroyed for sure. So, we just removed the door completely, and sent Jim out to do the last few laps without a door. That way we maintained our position and in the end, we finished fifth behind four Porsche 962s.
In reality, no Porsche 935 ever ran competitively again, so this really was…the last hurrah!
Written by: Martin Raffauf
Images by: Porsche; ISC Archives and Research Centre; Martin Raffauf & Jim Mullen