The late ‘70s and early 80s were, as we all know, the highpoint for truly unhinged turbocharged race and rally cars. True, forced induction setups have become far, far more sophisticated and refined in the decades since, but in this period turbocharging was still viewed as something of a black art, a potent force which, while understood and recognised in principle, had still to be fully tamed in practice. The result? Immensely powerful competition cars with turbo lag measured in eons, most of which went onto become bedroom and garage wall icons…none more so than the bluff, flat-nosed Kremer fettled Porsche 935s.
Porsche had been an early adopter of forced induction of course, at least as far as Le Mans racing was concerned. The firm had enjoyed considerable success with a slew of force fed 911s in the mid ‘70s, while the decade that followed would become indelibly associated with the 911 Turbo road car. Perhaps the most famous instance of Porsche’s late ’70s commitment to forced induction was with the 935/78 of 1978, a highly modified 911 with elongated rear bodywork intended to reduce drag and make it less ‘jittery’ proposition when barrelling down the Mulsane straight at nearly 230mph. It was soon christened ‘Moby Dick,’ and a legend was born.
The following years were rather barren, at least by Porsche’s high standards. The rules governing endurance sports car racing were slated to be overhauled at the dawn of the decade, and eventually give rise to the immense spectacle which was Group C. The factory therefore hedged its bets and kept a low profile, offering limited customer support while beginning development off a secret project, which would eventually lead to the all conquering 956, a non-production Group C weapon that transformed Sports Car racing at a stroke.
Not that this meant those customer teams running Porches were also content to rest on their laurels, not when their was winning and potential limelight to be done and had. Enter Kremer Racing, one of the most polished of Porsche-related racing concerns. Erwin and Manfred Kremer had begun the firm in 1962 and had enjoyed considerable success in the years since, but it was their decision to partner with DP Motorsport to take the 935 to the next level which was to bring them their greatest triumph.
Kremer was already well versed in the foibles and capabilities of Porsche’s flat-six turbo and the brothers were therefore ideally placed to take its development to the next level. Their first car, the K1 of 1976, was rather restrained by the standards of what was to follow, but it still made immense power and proved to be a capable race car in its own right, as did its K2 successor, the first Kremer Porsche to feature the now infamous ‘flachbau’ front end.
Things really kicked up a gear with the Kremer K3 of 1979, though. Now complete with Moby Dick-aping bodywork and a 3.0 version (later 3.2) of Porsche’s twin turbo flat six, the K3 made an instant impression on all who saw (and heard it).
The Kremer brothers had put the car on a crash diet, shedding excess poundage through the extensive use of kevlar and carbon fibre, while also revising the forced induction setup. The clearest example of this was the replacement of Porsche’s own water-to-air charge cooler with an air-to-air unit of Kremer’s own design, one that was both lighter and more efficient.
Power never exactly an issue for 935s of any form but the K3 took things to another level, and the car could, depending on boost pressure and engine spec, make between 750 and 820bhp. It was accompanied by debilitating, driver focusing levels of turbo lag, of course, but then this was the late ‘70s – that was just par for the course. Managing the power band of a race car like the K3 required drivers with reserves of immense skill and focus, not forgetting the foresight needed to identify whereabouts to employ its brutal performance for full effect.
It wasn’t as if said drivers could call upon the services of trick transmissions and differentials in their quest to transmit all that power to the ground with a modicum of ease, not when sophisticated LSDs were still some years away. Instead, they made do with a basic four-speed manual with resolutely production origins.
The K3 made its competition debut at Zolder in 1979 driven by none other than Klaus Ludwig. The German had earned a reputation for taming ungodly powerful turbocharged race cars and was therefore the obvious choice. The firm’s faith in Ludwig was rewarded, and he won and won convincingly: the K3 took victory at a canter, and the German pairing would go onto win all but one of the races on the DRM calendar that year.
That’s impressive going by anyone’s standards, but better was to follow when the team pitched up Le Mans that same year. Le Mans isn’t merely the jewel in the endurance racing crown, it’s generally reckoned to be among the toughest single races to win by dint of its length and associated unpredictability; if something can go wrong, it’s likely that it will do so at Le Mans.
Even Porsche had struggled to make the long-tail 935 a winner at La Sarthe, ‘Moby Dick’ having trailed home in 8th twelve months previously, so what hope did a bunch of (admittedly very talented and factory backed) privateers have in their home built 911?
As it turned out, quite a lot. The 1979 running of the Le Mans 24 Hours turned out to be one of the most remarkable in the event’s long and storied history, and it concluded with the number 41 935 of Ludwig and the Whittington brothers at the top step of the podium.
Their cause was aided when the Works Porsche 936s of Jacky Ickx/Brian Redman and Bob Wolleck/Hurley Haywood both hit trouble within the first 4 hours, the former shedding time with a blown tyre and damaged engine, the latter a misfire.
The Kremer pairing still faced stiff competition from Mirage and the similar Porsche 935s of Gelo Motorsport, driven Manfred Schurti/Hans Heyer and John Fitzpatrick/Harald Grohs/Jean-Louis Lafosse. The Kremer K3 had the lead as darkness descended on the circuit, though only just, and a close battle between the trio of 935s would ebb and flow for the remainder of the damp, rain soaked night.
Then, out of nowhere in the 15th hour of the race, both Gelo cars retired through a mix of turbo and engine failure, handing the Kremer team a commanding lead. Things might well have taken a turn for the predictable had this not been Le Mans, the one race where nothing is certain until the flag drops, which is why no one was that surprised when the lead car coasted to a halt with fuel injection issues. Don Whittington managed to coax it into life once more and continued, but his once commanding lead had been slashed to just 3.
Last minute dramas couldn’t prevent a sensational win for Kremer, Ludwig and Whittington brothers though, their eventual winning margin 6 laps. Granted, the ‘gap’ between this event and the introduction of the new, formalised regulations means that there was less factory competition that year, but Kremer’s performance was remarkable nonetheless.
There would be further victories and more advanced takes on the same recipe, most notably the semi space-framed K4 of the early 1980s, but the the K3 (and the number 41 car in particular) remain some of the most interesting cars in Porsche’s motorsport cannon. It’s more than enough to mark the Kremer 935 K3 out as a true Retropower hero.