Premiere: 1978 June, Le Mans / Engine: 2.1-litre flat-6, bi-turbo / Gearbox: 5-speed / Achievements: 1978 2nd Place at Le Mans
For the 1978 Le Mans, Porsche created two new 936/78. The first one was built using chassis 936-001, which had already served for the 936/76 and 936/77. The second car was built on a new chassis and numbered 936-003. Because of the new water-cooled 24-valve engine, the 936/78 came with huge NACA ducts on the sides for the radiators and a new rear end with hanging spoiler.
The 936/78 #5 (936-003) of Jacky Ickx, Jochen Mass and Henri Pescarolo that won the qualification of the 1978 Le Mans, had to retire because of an accident on Sunday. Ickx joined the #6 car of Jürgen Barth and Bob Wollek. Renault Alpine won, the surviving 936/78 (936-001) finished second and third place was taken with a 936/77 (936-002). As the 936/78 cars (936-001 and -003) were made only for Le Mans, they were put under covers after the race.
For 1979 Le Mans, Porsche made a sponsorship contract with David Thieme’s company called Essex Overseas Petroleum. The name of the company is rather little known because it was shut down a few years later when Thieme was arrested. A month before Le Mans, one of the Essex-sponsored cars (936-001) was used at the 1979 Silverstone 6 hour race, but was badly crashed. Miraculously, the car was repaired for Le Mans.
Like at Silverstone, bad luck struck also at Le Mans. The 936 #12 (936-003) driven by Brian Redman got a puncture at the speed of around 150 mph/240 km/h. The tyre exploded into pieces ripping off left rear bodywork and bending the radiator that is located in front of the left rear wheel. The car looked really bad, but Redman managed to drive to the pits without the left rear tyre. The car was fixed up as much as possible and sent back to the track. Then another problem stroke – the belt of the fuel injection pump ripped. A replacement belt was in the car and Ickx managed to install it, but it ripped again soon. A mechanic delivered a new belt to the track, but that was the violation of rules and the car was disqualified. Pole-setting 936 #14 (936-001) of Bob Wollek and Hurley Haywood was also forced into retirement when the engine failed on Sunday morning. Despite the #14 Porsche taking the pole position and the #12 Porsche setting the fastest race lap, no honours for the 936 at Le Mans in 1979.
In 1980, the Porsche factory team raced at Le Mans only with the 924 Carrera GTR cars, but they were back in top class for 1981 with the 936. Because of the new 2.65-litre engines the cars were now called 936/81 (chassis 936-001 and -003). The 2.65-litre engine was originally developed for the 1980 Interscope indy formula car and pumped out in the region of nine hundred horsepower. Porsche withdraw from formula racing in USA before the first race as their engine was considered too powerful and Porsche was not interested in lowering the boost pressure. It was lowered, though, for the endurance racing when the 2.65-litre engine was installed in the Le Mans car. The power was decreased by around thirty percent, now with just above six hundred horsepower. Instead of the 5-speed gearbox, a stronger 4-speed unit was used together with the 2.65-litre engine.