Deadly Dwarf - 1977 Porsche 935/2.0 "Baby"
In 1976, the Federation Internationale l’Automobile redefined the Group 5 category for the third time. After being applied to “Special Touring Cars“, 5 liter “Sports Cars“ and 3 liter “Sports Cars“, the increasingly confusing moniker was now given to the new “Special Production Cars“ formula.
Under these regulations, manufacturers were given much more freedom in designing their racers. The only real requirement was the use of a vehicle already homologated in Groups 1-4, but otherwise the companies were given carte blanche to come up with their most extreme interpretations of the already very liberal rule book. Only the roof, bonnet, doors and rail panel were to be left stock, all other parts were eligible for modification.
For German sportscar manufacturer Porsche, the new category presented an opportunity to race their products in top level motorsport in a slightly more recognizable form. The brand had risen to prominence in the 1960’s with a succession of svelte mid-engine prototypes, culminating in the legendary record-breaking 917.
Porsche’s road cars weren’t part of the factory racing package during this time though, which left a major gap in the firm’s marketing strategy. With Group 5, that situation changed. From the Group 4 934 version of the 930 Turbo, Porsche was able to derive the extreme 935 in time for the 1976 season. After a few races, the engineers quickly realized the FIA hadn’t specified a minimum headlight height, so the 935’s stock nose was immediately flattened and complemented with lights mounted down low in the bumper.
With little in the way of opposition in the first year of the category, the 935 took its native Deutsche Automobil-Rennsport Meisterschaft by storm. By the start of the second season, the general public had grown weary of the big Porker racking up all the prizes.
Instead, Division II was brought into the spotlight thanks to intense battles between the factory teams of Zakspeed-Ford and BMW Junior. Featuring instantly recognizable small family cars with engine displacement under two liters, the lower class appealed massively to the average viewer, since the Escorts and 320i’s used looked eerily similar to the ones just down the street.
Division II’s sudden rise in popularity worried Porsche to no end, as their mission was to promote the brand through motorsport successes. Unfortunately, their Division I program was now going largely unnoticed simply for being toosuccessful, which made the races rather boring. Complaining about the state of affairs was not the Porsche way however, so the company’s best engineers were put to work building a Division II-car in record time for the televised Norisring Trophae.
As the 935 was the only car homologated for Group 5 racing, the company would have to find a way to bring it down to the correct specification. Porsche’s head designer Norbert Singer was given the arduous task of converting the 2.9L, twin turbo flat six, 630 horsepower and 970 kg (2,139 lbs) monster into something a lot less intimidating.
Singer complied with the demands by exploiting the rulebook to its fullest extent. To qualify for Division II, he needed to shave off some 235 kg (518 lbs) off the already stripped out car’s base weight. He accomplished this seemingly impossible task by cutting out and replacing everything the regulations didn’t expressly state had to be there.
Singer cleanly took off the nose and tail sections until he was left with a heavily chopped-up piece of cockpit. He then proceeded to put things back together by using bespoke aluminium subframes to secure the suspension front and rear, as well as create a brand new subframe to hold the engine. This gave him the space to utilize a new trailing arm rear suspension setup, which promised to improve handling.
In the end, the drastic diet left Porsche with essentially half a 935, which weighed an astonishing 710 kg (1565 lbs). Norbert Singer had managed to get the car light enough to enable the use of 25 kg (55 lbs) of ballast, which was immediately stuffed into the front to lessen the car’s famously rear-biased weight distribution.
With the car shrunk down to an appropriate size, engine wizard Ernst Fuhrmann embarked on his own mission impossible. Fuhrmann was tasked with compressing the Typ-935 flat six into something that would comply with Division II regulations, while keeping the character of a Porsche 935 to drive the point home that Porsche’s could do anything.
His response was as simple as it was baffling. In an effort to stay true to the car’s roots, he decided to retain one of the two Künhle Kopp & Kausch turbochargers. This presented a problem however.
Group 5 operated under a strict x1.4 equivalency formula for turbocharged engines, which meant the 2.9L flat six would have to be reduced to 1425cc to adhere to the Division II 2.0L limit. Undeterred, Fuhrmann did just that, and ended up with a savage 380 horsepower output at a mind-boggling 8200 rpm.
Affectionately dubbed “Baby“, the 935/2.0 featured an identical bodystyle to the works 935/77, except for one big difference. Instead of the iconic dual rear exhausts coming straight from the turbo’s, the single turbo 2.0 sported a single large sidepipe peering through the left-side rear quarter panel.
Owing to the comprehensive and incredibly complicated transformation, there was no time to test the Baby before its big show at the Norisring. Nevertheless, the car was given to F1-driver, double Le Mans-winner and Porsche factory star Jacky Ickx (BEL) and shipped to the streets of Nuremberg.
The event featured three distinct races. At 9:30 the top level Division I cars would start for a DRM-championship round, with Division II taking the green flag at 11:00. Then at 15:00, the categories would be combined for the coveted Norisring Trophae, a non-championship event promising generous cash prizes for podium finishers.
During qualifying the 935/2.0 was suffering form the lack of testing and development, as the Typ 915/50 5-speed gearbox was geared far too tall for the short street circuit. A quick fix was found by mounting a set of front wheels at the back, which made it far easier to get the power down. Despite this the car struggled to make the top 10, placing 12th with a time of 57.700 seconds. This was some 3.5 seconds slower than the pole-sitting Zakspeed Escort of Hans Heyer (GER).
More worryingly, Jacky Ickx had been complaining of an insufferably hot cabin, which was apparently poorly ventilated. The Belgian’s ordeal was exacerbated by a the July summer heat, making it hard for him to maintain his concentration as the searing temperatures physically wore him out at an alarming rate.
The issue easily could have been found and fixed in testing, but Porsche had no use for hindsight. Ickx would simply have to adapt, since they wouldn’t dare miss the big show. Unfortunately, Porsche’s stubbornness was punished halfway through the race, as Ickx pulled into the pits from 6th place, suffering from exhaustion. By the start of the Trophae though, the conditions were better, and Ickx sailed to a well-deserved 2nd place in Division II behind Manfred Winkelhock’s BMW.
Following the rather embarrassing debut at the Norisring, Porsche set out to do what it should have done in the first place: test. The team skipped the next round at Diepenholz’s airfield circuit to perform some much needed development work, with the first point of business improving cockpit ventilation.
In the traditional Porsche manner, small incremental changes managed to completely transform the car into a potential world-beater. Confident in the updated machine, Porsche took to Hockenheim for the DRM Hockenheim Grand Prix.
The long, astoundingly quick 6.8 kilometer Hockenheim circuit was the total polar opposite of tiny, bumpy Norisring. For the Baby though, it didn’t really seem to matter. The car proved perfectly suited for the track, as it lapped a whopping 2.8 seconds faster than Peter Hennige’s BMW 2002 Turbo with a time of 1:08.9.
Nineteen laps at full speed was all “Baby” had to survive to complete its mission, and as the green flag fell, it sped into the distance. The naturally aspirated 320i’s and Escorts were powerless to resist against the little Porker’s blinding single-lap pace, and with the 2002 Turbo’s both breaking down, the 935/2.0 cruised to an easy victory. In the process it had crushed its opposition by finishing a stunning 52 seconds ahead of BMW’s Manfred Winkelhock.
Satisfied with the dramatic victory bewildering press and fans alike, Porsche retired the car directly after the fateful race at Hockenheim. The illustrious marque had made its point. Through tremendously hard work and dedication, Porsche had shown the public it should never be ignored, and that it could win with ease in virtually every formula imaginable. That message would never be forgotten.
The Porsche 935/2.0 “Baby” was built with a singular purpose in mind: to assert Porsche’s total dominance in the world of motorsport. Sick of being ignored for being a little too good, the brand stopped at nothing to win back the attention of the general public.
With a nearly ridiculous amount of dedication and innovative design work, Porsche’s Norbert Singer and Ernst Fuhrmann worked wonders by turning the big, shouty 935 into a diminutive menace to helpless Division II competitors. After the initial teething problems had been sorted, the car displayed record-breaking pace, and further established the legacy of a record-breaking manufacturer.