Thank Frankel it's Friday: The 935 is the most intimidating car in the world

27th September 2018
andrew_frankel_headshot.jpg Andrew Frankel

It is safe to say I did not see that coming. There I was in front of the telly last night, wondering why I felt slightly ashamed to find the clearly preposterous Bodyguard nevertheless quite compelling, when my telephone started to ping. And then ping some more. Porsche had pulled the wraps off a new 935, a £750,000, 77-off, GT2 RS-based homage to the most fearsome racing car in its 70 year history. And while one respondent was unkind enough to dismiss it as ‘retro nonsense’ I absolutely loved it.


As I have said before, I don’t believe as some others do that the recreations made by the likes of JLR and Aston Martin are somehow wrong, and if the enormous profits they return help improve road cars that mere mortals can afford, that strikes me as a good thing. But you can’t deny that Porsche’s approach – different to, but not entirely unlike that taken by Ferrari’s Icona project – is a little more imaginative. Dotted around the car are little cap doffs to Porsche’s racing history, such as end plates from its most recent 919 LMP1 race car, side mirrors from the current 911 RSR and titanium exhausts based on those from a 1968 908.

But the whole look of the car is designed to evoke memories of one car alone: the 935/78, better known to you and me as Moby Dick.

The name came from the eponymous Herman Melville novel and the alleged visual similarity of his great white whale to the vast, flowing expanses of bodywork boasted by the Porsche. Just one was made and given that it directed 845bhp through the rear wheels of this rear-engined brute, perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. And once, at Goodwood six years ago, I got to drive it.

I’ve never sat in anything more intimidating, at least in the realm of race cars loosely based on road going product. True, by the time the team was finished with it there wasn’t much 911 left in Moby Dick – only its central structure and engine block as the rules required – but derived from the 911 it undoubtedly was. There was, of course, that extraordinary bodywork that most readily captured the eye, but the biggest change was probably that engine, which retained an air-cooled block, but gained water-cooled, twin camshaft, four-valve-per-cylinder heads. This was the basic engine configuration that would go on to make the 956 and 962 prototypes the most successful sports racing cars in history.

As the bodywork suggests, the car was only designed for Le Mans, but as a little amuse bouche, the team entered the Silverstone Six Hours with Jacky Ickx and Jochen Mass doing the driving. If I tell you it not only claimed pole, fastest lap and won the race, but was seven laps clear of the second placed 935 at the end and 16 laps clear of the rest of the field, you have some idea of the potential it contained.

At Le Mans it outqualified both the Renault-Alpine prototype that would win the race, and the two Porsche 936 prototypes that came second and third – this with a machine based on a road car. But although it finished the race, it was held back to seventh position at the flag, partly thanks to minor mechanical issues but mainly because it had to stop, wait for it, almost 40 times for fuel. On the straight it was timed at 227mph and that year nothing went faster.

What do I remember of my one drive up the Goodwood hill? Mainly being very scared. A heavy but progressive clutch. Wondering how you get four gears to cover a speed range from 0-227mph. A rubbish start, dribbling off the line. Then titanic shove, yelping slicks, a slow gearchange, and more insane thrust. Most particularly I remember it taking about half a second for the car to stop accelerating after I’d taken my foot off the throttle. And the twitch at Molecomb. That was enough, enough to tell me that on this day and on this course, this was more than I could safely handle. So I toddled up to the top, only giving it full beans when the car was clearly straight after the last turn. And I’m sure it still crossed the line faster than any other car I’ve driven up the hill.

And that was it. There wasn’t really time to enjoy it so it became one of those experiences you savour after the fact, and it was none the worse for that. I just hope Porsche allows a few hacks to have a crack at the new 935 to see if the new Moby Dick has what it takes to honour the old in deed as well as word.

  • Porsche

  • 935

  • Moby Dick

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