porsche’s role in a record at­tempt

Achiev­ing leg­endary sta­tus thanks to its track ex­ploits, the porsche 935 has also been in­volved in stranger ac­tiv­i­ties…

Total 911 - - Next Issue - Writ­ten by Chris Ran­dall Pho­tog­ra­phy by Porsche Archive

thanks to his il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer in the top ech­e­lons of mo­tor­sport, Henri pescarolo is a name you are prob­a­bly fa­mil­iar with. Hav­ing com­peted in For­mula one dur­ing the 1970s, he went on to huge suc­cess in sports car rac­ing, start­ing the le Mans 24 Hours a record 33 times. How­ever, you might be less fa­mil­iar with the name Jean-claude rude. the two are linked thanks to an un­usual record at­tempt that took place some 40 years ago in­volv­ing a porsche 935.

Back then paced cy­cling speed records – where the rider fol­lows a ve­hi­cle adapted to pro­tect them from head­winds and pro­vide a slip­stream – weren’t a new phe­nom­e­non. in au­gust 1973 an amer­i­can doc­tor by the name of al­lan ab­bott had reached 139mph on the Bon­neville salt Flats, but five years later rude, then aged just 23, de­cided to raise that to the mag­i­cal 150mph mark. this is where pescarolo and the porsche 935 en­ter the story.

al­ready a mul­ti­ple le Mans win­ner by this time, the leg­endary driver was more than a lit­tle doubt­ful about the plan, al­though the en­thu­si­asm of rude man­aged to con­vince him. as for a suit­able car, the duo set­tled on a porsche 935 that was bor­rowed from the Mar­tini rac­ing team. the first step was to adapt the 935, adding a light­weight struc­ture over the rear deck that would min­imise the wind re­sis­tance ex­pe­ri­enced by the rider. also added was a roller that at­tached to the rear valance via struts, the pur­pose of which was twofold: firstly, it pro­vided a con­tact point for rude, help­ing him to ‘stick’ to the rear of the porsche. se­condly, the de­sign meant any un­in­tended con­tact with the car wouldn’t cause in­sta­bil­ity of the bike. the mod­i­fi­ca­tions were com­pleted with an air dam at the rear of the race car to limit the ef­fects of air­flow be­neath it.

the at­tempt took place on 23 au­gust 1978 on Volk­swa­gen’s test track at Ehra-lessien near Wolfs­burg. ac­cord­ing to re­ports at the time the pair were fol­lowed by Jür­gen Barth and a cam­era­man in a 911 targa to cap­ture the record at­tempt for pos­ter­ity.

Ul­ti­mately, the es­capade would be a fail­ure. as rude ap­proached around 110mph the rear tyre of his bike burst and left the rim, be­com­ing en­tan­gled with the wheel and the frame, and only a mir­a­cle al­lowed him to come to a halt with­out in­jury. sadly he would be killed in an ac­ci­dent a year or so later, so this very spe­cial 935 was never called into ac­tion again. De­spite ef­forts to trace the car in­volved, few de­tails ex­ist – even within porsche’s own ar­chives – and there ap­pears to be no record of what hap­pened to it af­ter­wards. the 911 and its 935 rac­ing cousin may have set plenty of records, but it seems that this was never des­tined to be one of them.

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