First Drives

16 July 2013

TG drives 'Moby Dick' at Goodwood

It's not for the faint-hearted: we pilot the 850bhp, 378kph endurance racer up the Goodwood hill...

Ollie Marraige
Car image

"It's a very easy car to drive", says Klaus, "only four speeds and twist the key to start. Simple, yes?" Well, yes Klaus, so far, so good, the mechanics of driving this car seem perfectly straightforward. Not even a handbrake to worry about. But I know this car through reputation, I have loved it from a distance since I was a nipper - this was the car (along with the Porsche 917/30 Can-Am and, perhaps more unusually, the Alpine A442) that triggered my love of motorsport. This, of course, is Moby Dick. And I'm going to drive it. I cannot express what this means to me.

So now I'm sitting in the tiny bucket seat in a paddock at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, wearing an open face helmet that's doing nothing to hide my stupid grin, taking in a cabin of such perfection it almost rivals the cartoonishly iconic bodywork. Many dials, of which the most important one, the rev counter, isn't working. Klaus tells me not to worry, "You'll get a feel for the engine, you can be a bit brave with it. We have new tyres, and it's a hot day so traction is OK. But it's still 850 horsepowers, the diff is locked and first gear is 160kph."

At this point I ask Klaus to clarify. Something has clearly got lost in translation, as he's just told me first is good for 160kph. "Yes", comes the reply, "it's geared for the Mulsanne, not for a one-kilometer-odd hillclimb". Wow, just wow. And that's before we even touch on the 850bhp this thing developed 35 years ago.

A quick bit of history is probably required here. The Porsche 935 was basically the endurance racing version of the 911 Turbo road car. It was introduced in 1976, and this 1978 car was the ultimate incarnation. It won the Silverstone six hour race on its debut, and was heavily fancied to dominate its class at Le Mans. Unfortunately engine problems meant it finished 8th, but it had qualified third, not far behind the top class Group Six racers, the Porsche 936 and the Alpine A442 that went on to win. More to the point it had proved fastest in a straight line, topping 378kph. To the small boy in me, that top speed mattered more than winning.

This reputation, as well as that power figure, combined with the locked diff and a distinctly sticky throttle means manoeuvring Moby is not for the faint-hearted. Time to trundle down to the start. I manage to pull out of the assembly area without stalling and once the heavy clutch is out, the engine feels tractable. A couple of tentative squeezes of the throttle in first reveal no sign of a turbo. But the experience is magical, the view through the upright windscreen, the thin three-spoke Momo wheel, the guttural chatter and whine of the transmission, the hobble as the locked diff tugs as I try to turn around for the start. Of course I stall. Twice.

I don't stall when the flag drops, for which I'm profoundly grateful, but neither do I exactly set Goodwood alight with a virtuoso display of smoke, noise and drama. But frankly that would only be cool if your name was Jacky Ickx.

I leave it in first, determined to reach turbo level. Nothing. Then a faint whistle, like the distant approach of a steam train. Quite a slow steam train. More whistling, gradually becoming more insistent, getting towards boiling kettle, and then, finally, some acceleration. Not too spiky, either. Ooh, spoke too soon. The pressure build up in my back was merely considerable, but now it's like a train has just clobbered into Moby's tail. The full Star Trek.

I wimp out and go for second. Brake, first double apex right hander onto the main straight. Much understeer, even at my modest pace. Rear engined Porsches demand a very specific driving style to get the best out of them. You basically have to brake into a turn to keep weight and therefore grip on the front wheels, but there's no way I'm going to risk my first corner in Moby also being my last. So it's a gentle curve and gun it on the exit. Again, not much happens. Should have stuck in first, I think, as the whistling begins again.

But then second wakes up, and with a fearsome growl Moby once again jumps to hyperspace. This is alarming. I've never felt turbo lag or turbo power like it. Nothing, nothing comes close. The following day I'll drive Emanuele Pirro's GT3 Cup car and the new McLaren 12C Sprint. Sluggards, the pair of them. This must have been properly terrifying to race. Imagine it in the dark. Or the WET. I wimp out and grab third somewhere around the bridge. I can't exactly remember as my mind was occupied with more pressing matters.

Strong brakes and a neat gearshift mean we get around Molecomb (Goodwood's bogey corner) easily enough and as I start to feel more comfortable, the car seems to give a bit more too. Boost seems to arrive more quickly, the result being we spear towards the flint wall with real... urgency. I'm on the brakes as I turn this time. Much better turn-in and still nowhere near fast enough for the rear wheels to get upset and decide they can't cope with the lateral g - they're each well over a foot wide.

The final few corners are more open, so there's less need to brake and the turbo (it's all about the boost, I promise you) remains alert. On the run into the finish I finally hold my nerve and keep my foot in. A whole new world opens up, the turbo just keeps chomping, thrashing and pounding. This must be what rodeo riding is like. It's borderline terrifying, but it makes me whoop out loud. When Moby hits the limiter I feel I've done it - I've experienced full power in a car that means more to me than perhaps any other.

I'm elated (chiefly to have made it to the top in one piece, it must be said), and feel so alive, that I jingle with energy for the rest of the day. Don't drive your heros, people say, you'll only come away disappointed due to their flaws and shortcomings. And yeah, Moby is flawed, what with all the lag and the understeer, but there's nothing to change because it's those idiosyncracies that have helped make this unique car (and there really is only one) such a legend. Moby is the most charismatic and exciting car I've ever driven. End of.

Tags: porsche, goodwood, festival of speed, fos 13, goodwood fos, moby dick



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