The Porsche 935
Decisive. Is there any other way to describe the success of Porsche’s legendary Group 5 silhouette racer, the 935? These Teutonic twin-turbocharged titans were the force to be reckoned with in top-flight endurance racing – both in Europe and across the pond in America.
Notches on the 935’s period competition belt include an outright 24 Hours of Le Mans victory in 1979, a staggering six Daytona 24 Hours and 12 Hours of Sebring wins apiece, and three consecutive FIA World Championships for Makes. In the Deutsche Rennsport Meisterschaft, a Porsche 935 won every single race in 1977, 1978 and 1979.
It’s telling of the ‘free-radical’ philosophy of endurance racing in the late-1970s and 1980s that plucky privateer outfits had the confidence to enhance and build their own cars with which to take on the might of the factory teams – and often win! In the Porsche world at that time, the widely renowned names of Kremer and Joest in Europe and Andial and JLP Racing in the United States best embody that David versus Goliath mentality.
In 1979, when Porsche called time on the 935, the father-and-son duo behind JLP Racing, John Paul Sr. and John Paul Jr., started building their own Porsche 935 ‘Specials’ in order to extend the model’s longevity and maintain its competitiveness against purpose-built prototypes in the fiercely popular IMSA GT Championship in the United States.
Maintain the 935’s competitiveness the Pauls most certainly did. They bolstered their remarkable driving talent with cars that were designed and built by skilled people who really knew what they were doing, utilising the newest and most exciting technology. Second overall in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a win in the 12 Hours of Sebring and victory in the Daytona 24 Hours – these standout results show what a formidable partnership the Pauls and their skunkworks’ self-built Porsches achieved.
Of the four JLP Racing Porsche 935 ‘Specials’, it’s the final car, chassis JLP-4, which was by far and away the most extreme. The brief for JLP-4 was simple: to build a car which effectively harnessed the then-dark art of aerodynamic ground effect and could therefore match the pace of the newly introduced IMSA GTP prototypes. In short, JLP Racing wanted to win the 1982 championship outright.
Two people were instrumental in realising what is today the zenith of the Porsche 935: Dave Klym, whose Georgia-based FABCAR outfit specialised in building Porsche racing cars, and Lee Dykstra, the talented engineer who’d subsequently go on to design Jaguar’s IMSA GTP prototypes.
The starting point was a bespoke central monocoque chassis, which was reinforced at the front and the rear with lightweight tubular arrangements, akin to how Porsche had built its famous 935 ‘Moby Dick’ in 1978. Standard double-wishbone suspension could be found at the front, while at the rear a complex rocker arm system was implemented to facilitate airflow around the engine as part of the wildly complicated ground-effect floor.
Ground effect was JLP-4’s party piece. Dykstra went to great lengths to perfectly synchronise the ducts, dams and tunnels beneath the surface with the slab-sided soap bar-shaped bodywork – again, a design influenced by ‘Moby Dick’ but improved in almost every way. Dykstra and FABCAR miraculously managed to gain access to the aircraft manufacturer Lockheed’s state-of-the-art wind tunnel and spent weeks perfecting the art of ground effect.
All the latest and greatest 935 parts from Porsche were then fitted: the 930/80 air-cooled twin-plug 3.2-litre flat-six, two KKK turbochargers, an advanced Kugelfischer fuel injection system, the famous ‘upside-down’ four-speed gearbox, wheels and brakes, air jacks and finally titanium axles. Power was rated at 840HP while running at 1.2 bar of boost – a pressure the car could withstand as it was designed specifically for shorter sprint races (JLP-3 had the long-distance events pretty well covered). This 935 didn’t even have lights.
Around 750,000 US dollars, 3,600 man hours and a slick Miller Beer livery later and JLP-4 was finally ready for its maiden competitive outing: the IMSA Championship round at Brainerd Raceway in Minnesota. Lo and behold, in front of a sell-out crowd which had been hotly anticipating the debut of JLP Racing’s newest weapon, John Paul Jr won the race – fending off Danny Onglais in a Lola T600 GTP prototype and John Fitzpatrick in a Kremer-built 935.
Between July of 1982 and April of 1983, JLP Racing entered JLP-4 in six further races, including the Toyota Grand Prix 100 Miles at Portland International Raceway, which it won, and the 1983 Daytona 24 Hours. While the car was predominantly piloted by John Paul Jr., in the Pabst 500 Miles at Road America the three-times 24 Hours of Le Mans winner and five-times Daytona 24 Hours victor Hurley Haywood strapped in and tamed the beast.
John Paul Jr was crowned the IMSA Camel GT Drivers’ Champion at the end of 1982, a feat he could not have accomplished without the precious two wins driving JLP-4. The celebrations would be somewhat short lived, however – both Paul Sr. and Paul Jr. were embroiled in their own respective legal battles and criminal downfalls (cigarette boats and an industrial volume of weed) and JLP Racing folded.
JLP-4 was given to Paul Sr.’s lawyer in lieu of an outstanding payment and it was subsequently displayed in the world-famous Petersen Museum in Los Angeles – the place it called home for over 15 years.
The American collector and keen historic racer Robert Tornello acquired JLP-4 in 1998 and recommissioned the car with a view to racing it in the popular HSR series. In addition to taking it to Sebring, Tornello returned JLP-4 to the history-steeped banking of the Daytona International Speedway – and on a number of occasions.
Following a further comprehensive rebuild, this Porsche 935 ‘Special’ travelled to Italy, where it’s remained ever since. During its recent tenure in Europe, JLP-4 has made appearances at the popular Vernasca Silver Flag hill-climb in Italy and, in 2014, the world-famous Goodwood Festival of Speed, where it was driven by the American-road-racing legend John Fitzpatrick. Around this time, the car was also featured in an extensive feature in Motorsport magazine. JLP-4’s current owner acquired the car in 2017, along with a wealth of technical drawings, build sheets, race programmes and even the original body moulds. There’s even a rare scale model of the car, which JLP Racing commissioned to celebrate John Paul Jr.’s title win in 1982.
Today, JLP-4 is the final, fastest and most technologically sophisticated Porsche 935 of them all – from the time when the curtain was finally dropping on one of motorsport history’s most dominant sports-racing models.
For the keen historic racer, getting to grips with this 840HP ground-effect Goliath, essentially a GTP prototype in a 935 dress, would be an exhilarating experience to say the least. And there is a host of events for which JLP-4 would be eligible, including the Masters Endurance Legends USA series, HSR Post-Historic GT, Classic Daytona 24 Hours and Classic Sebring 12 Hours. This most special of Porsche competition cars is patiently waiting for its legacy to be continued.