“You can’t make a racehorse out of a pig. But if you work hard enough at it you can make a mighty fast pig” Bob Akin
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Along the eastern shore of the Hudson River, less than fifty kilometers from New York City lie the historic villages of Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow, originally a Dutch settlement. You may well have heard of the area before – it was made famous by Washington Irving’s gothic short story, published in 1820, and even more so by Tim Burton’s 1999 movie starring Johnny Depp.
Fiction aside, Sleepy Hollow has had its fair share of real life famous residents. Names like Carnegie, Chrysler, and Rockfeller have called this place home.
So too did the powerful Akin family, a lesser known but equally fascinating lot. Though their story originates and blossoms through the industrial sector, one of its number made his name behind the wheel of racing cars.
The Akin Family, The Hudson Wire Company & An Introduction To Racing
Bob Akin was born in 1936 and raised right here in Sleepy Hollow. At the turn of the 20th century, Bob’s grandfather Robert had co-founded the Hudson Wire Company, which over the next century would grow to dominate the global aircraft and aerospace wiring market. Simply put, young Bob didn’t have to worry much about money.
By no means was he spoiled though. He joined the family company after his studies, and served as President from 1974 until 1995. But like many people who are raised in comfort, Bob sought discomfort, risk, and thrill in other pursuits. He found his own particular adrenaline fix through speed. Initially, he developed a penchant for powerboats and dragsters, then pivoted to road racing by the end of the 50s.
In those few short years however, Akin made quite the impression. He got his SCCA national racing license in 1959 and, aided by family money, hired the legendary racer John Fitch as his coach. He learned fast under Fitch’s tutelage, and in his third ever race at Bridgehampton, he drove an Alfa Veloce Spyder to victory.
It was a short-lived love affair at first thought. By 1961, an ambition to grow the Hudson Wire Company took over, and racing was put on the shelf.
Akin’s Return To The Track: Sebring, Le Mans & The Porsche 935
By the early 1970s, The Hudson Wire Company, now led by Bob Akin, was generating enormous amounts of wealth. For all his success in industry however, there was a dormant thirst for adrenaline within him. In 1973, a racing driver Sam Posey, a personal friend of Bob’s, invited him to drive his Mercedes-Benz 300SL at the annual Vintage Sports Car Club of America event at Lime Rock.
Akin’s love for the track was reignited there and then, the very next month racing at classic car events in a Lotus 11, then a Cooper Monaco. Vintage races wouldn’t prove to be quite enough for Bob however.
Photo: Bob Akin Photo: Hal Crocker
Looking to step up his level of competition, Akin bought a Porsche RSR in 1978, taking to the track in the 12 Hours of Sebring, with a test run at Daytona for good measure beforehand.
Now hooked on racing completely, Akin grew more and more hungry to improve. In his view however, the standard Porsche just didn’t quite fit the bill.
Step forward, the 1982 Porsche 935 L1. Porsche was no longer building the 935 nor customizing them for racing, so Akin recruited his own team to take his 935 to the next level.
“Bob Akin knew if he wanted to win, he would have to come up with something totally radical for the 1982 season. Akin commissioned Chuck Gaa of Gaaco to design and build a "Super GTP 935". To improve aerodynamics and increase the straight-line speed of the new car a Lola T600 GTP nose was used. A new purpose built monocoque bonded aluminum chassis was constructed combining the best of the new GTP technology with the proven power and reliability of the Porsche 935 mechanicals.
According to the rules, the windshield and roof section of a standard Porsche 930 still had to be used. To improve airflow even further the entire roof structure was tilted to put the windshield at a better angle.
Due to its complexity and unique design, the car was delivered late after the season had already begun. It made its first appearance at Lime Rock in May, which served as a test for Le Mans.
At the 24 Hours of Le Mans in June the car’s design came into its own and showed tremendous straight-line speed down the famous Mulsanne Straight. Unfortunately Akin and co-drivers David Cowart and Kemper Miller only lasted two hours before a malfunction with the reserve gas tank sidelined the car.
While misfortune was experienced on the track, the unique 935 L1 at least gave the racing world a glimpse of its immense capabilities.
Over the course of the next year, the team continued developing the car, returning to the US for the IMSA campaign. Akin and co-driver Hurley Haywards took fourth place at Mid-Ohio, then seventh at Road Atlanta, this time with Akin and Derek Bell, before seeing out its racing days at the Pocono 500 in late 1982.
While Akin continued to race, to a fair degree of success, his one-of-a-kind 935 was retired. It took pride of place in Akin’s workshop and barely moved until 1999 – 27 years later.
It was bought by French-Canadian restorer Jacques Rivard, of Rivard Compétition fame. Rivard fully restored the vehicle, with its engine and transmission rebuilt by G&S Autworks. According to Canepa, it’s known today as one of the greatest 935 vintage racers in the world – competing in the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.
Bob Akin: A Glowing Career And A Bitter End
How we wish we could say that Akin saw out his later years in peace and good health.
But it’s the things we love the most that can truly damage us. The motor racing world knows this as well, if not better, than any else.
Though Akin retired the 935, he was still hungry for honors at Le Mans and Sebring. Joining Burn Motorsport in 1984, he finished fourth at Le Mans in a Warsteiner Porsche 956B, then drove to victory at Sebring in 1986 in a Porsche 962, overcoming multiple wheel losses during the race. So the story goes, teammate Jo Gartner crossed the finish line on three wheels.
Seven years later, in 2002, Akin met his end after a racetrack crash in a 1988 Nissan GTP ZX-Turbo, which he was test driving ahead of the Walter Mitty Challenge for historic cars at Road Atlanta. The ZX-Turbo took out a barrier and crashed into the trees beyond, bursting into flame after impact.
Photo: Phil Stott Motorsport
Akin was rescued from the wreckage and rushed to a nearby hospital by helicopter with a broken neck, leg, shoulder, and arm, as well as severe burns. He passed away just a few days later.
The Akin Legacy
Fortunately, Bob Akin’s memory is kept alive to this very day by the Bob Akin Memorial Sports Award which was established by the Road Racing Drivers Club (RRDC) in 2003. The award is exclusively reserved for drivers, both amateur and professional, who can couple “speed with style”, just as Akin did so well. Its recipients include Sam Posey and John Fitch, as well as Rob Dyson.
As well as the Memorial Sports Award in his name, the racing world can take some comfort from the fact that his unique Porsche lives on, and is as good as new.
Actually, it’s better than that.
About The 1982 Porsche 935 Bon Akin L1
Specifications from Canepa.com:
STOCK NUMBER: 2796
ENGINE: FLAT 6 TURBO
TRANSMISSION: 4 SPEED MANUAL
EXTERIOR COLOR: RED
INTERIOR COLOR: BLACK
INTERIOR SURFACE: CLOTH
ENGINE SIZE: 3.2 liter
POWER RATING: 800+ horsepower
BODY MATERIAL: Bonded Aluminum Monocoque with Fiberglass Body
WEIGHT: 2324 lbs (1054,149 Kg)
SUSPENSION: Coil-over MacPherson strut - front, coil-over trailing arm - rear
TIRES: 23.5 x 10.5 - 16 front, 27 x 14 - 16 rear
DIMENSIONS: 78" wide, 190.5" long
5/31/82 Coca-Cola 400 Lime Rock 23rd Bob Akin #5
6/20/82 24 Hours of Le Mans DNF Akin, Cowart, Miller #76
8/22/82 Road America 500 miles 33rd Akin, Bell #5
9/5/82 Mid-Ohio 6 Hours 4th Akin, Haywood #5
9/12/82 Road Atlanta 500 km 7th Akin, Bell #5
9/26/82 Pocono 500 miles 39th Akin, Bell #5
Photo courtesy of Canepa
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