Some of the most powerful, impressive and, by extension, most frightening racing cars ever to be built would be the fire-breathing Can-Am cars of the 1970s. But in the case of Porsche's Can-Am offering, it was just a mere extension of the same monster that would be birthed to provide Porsche its first overall victory at Le Mans.
When the FIA relaxed the regulations for Group 4 five-liter sports cars, the door would be opened to Porsche to develop one of the most coveted, most desirable race cars ever to be built. However, when the factory debuted its first example of the 917, most of the factory test drivers would be scared for their lives. And who could blame them when the car reportedly wandered all over the track when travelling at speeds greater than 200mph. Not exactly a desirable handling characteristic.
The Porsche factory would supply the cars and the support, but the teams were often left to their own devices. This would end up being a good thing as John Wyer would take over the 917 program from the factory and would redesign the rear end on the car, which would eliminate the handling problems almost immediately. With driver confidence restored behind the might of the 5.0-liter flat 12-cylinder engine, the revised 917K would go on to win the World Championship in 1970 and 1971 and would give Porsche their first overall victory at Le Mans.
Porsche wouldn't just focus on Le Mans. A great deal of Porsche's commercial success would come through cars sales in the United States. This would be a stage that just could not be ignored, and Porsche had the car capable of competing in the mighty Can-Am series in North America. The move made sense. After dominating the 1970 and 1971 Sports Car Endurance Racing Championship, the FIA would introduce regulations aimed against the mighty 917. The FIA would hit right where it hurt the most—in the car's performance. Regulations would stipulate a return to 3.0-liter engines. Therefore, the only series that would allow just about every imaginable technology and speeds rivaling some production aircraft was Can-Am.
The first purpose-built Porsche 917 would make its appearance late in the 1971 season. This model would have a number of changes from the 917 that had streaked down the Mulsanne. Of course, the first noticeable change would be the spyder bodywork that would grace the chassis. In addition to the bodywork changes, a larger fuel tank would have to be fitted to ensure it could complete the 200 mile races without refueling. Dubbed the 917/10, the new Porsche built for Can-Am racing would boast of some of the latest exotic materials making many of the components lighter than the coupe version of the 917.
One of those early 917/10s is chassis 917/10-002 and it would be offered at the 2012 RM Auctions event held in Monterey, California. Looking mean and resplendent in its red and silver STP livery, 002 would be completed in July of 1971 and would be piloted by the famed Jo Siffert.
Very little in the way of testing was accomplished with the car before it would make its way to its first race. In fact, the car would complete just 24 laps before it would be packed up and shipped to Watkins Glen for its first race. The whole thing was put together rather quickly with the car taking just four weeks to be built in Zuffenhausen.
Just one day before practice at Watkins Glen, Siffert would complete a deal with STP. When the car arrived in Watkins Glen it arrived in a standard white livery. Overnight the car would be painted its special fluorescent red with the STP logo.
Like most other 917/10 owners, Siffert would find the power of the Porsche to be lacking compared to the McLarens of Revson and Hulme. Still, Siffert would battle throughout the 200 mile race and would finish a very strong 3rd, despite being two laps down by the end. Over the next two races, Siffert would manage to bring the car home in 2nd place and would look strong driving a brand new car. These couple of 2nd place results would then be followed up with more top five results in the remaining rounds of the season. Unfortunately, the car would no longer be developed under Siffert's guidance as he would pass away in a Formula One accident that October.
Without a driver, the 917/10-002 would be sold to Willi Kauhsen of Aachen, Germany. Kauhsen had known Siffert quite well and was an independent test driver for Porsche. Chassis 002 would return to the factory and would be adapted for the European Interserie, this was the European version of Can-Am.
As with Siffert in North America, 002 would prove to be strong competitor in Europe with Kauhsen at the wheel. Often the pair would be battling for victories. With the help of an updated turbocharged engine, Kauhsen would go on to take seven podium finishes out of nine races and would finish the 1972 season in second place.
In September of 1972, while at the infamous Nurburgring, Kauhsen would suffer a blown tire and the car would be heavily damaged as a result of the accident that ensued. Kauhsen would escape, but not without suffering from some burns. The car would be too damaged to race again, but Kauhsen would not part with the broken car. Instead, the car would be packed away for a quarter of century.
In 1998, the broken 917/10 would emerge and would undergo a complete restoration. Amazingly, it would be rebuilt by the very same people that had been in charge of the 917 program during the early 1970s. Porsche would actually oversee the whole of the project. In fact, Mr. Klaus Bishof, the current head of the Porsche Rolling Museum, would state in a letter, 'I was involved during the entire restoration and witnessed a professional finish which is true to the original.'
Taken from original drawings and jigs, the period-correct engine and gearbox would be rebuilt. The entire body would be rebuilt. And when it was finished it would be finished in the colors that certainly should have adorned the car, those of Siffert's STP livery.
After more than 25 years, Kauhsen would take to the wheel of 917/10-002 once again. He would drive the car in a number of demonstrations, including such events as Goodwood. The car would even return to the scene of its undoing and would take part in the Oldtimer GP at Nurburgring.
In 2006, just its fifth owner would take possession of the car. Its current owner has not allowed this very special and eye-catching car to sit idle. In fact, the car has taken part in a few historic demonstrations and remains maintained by specialists.
One of the famed 917s, this particular example occupies a very special place in Porsche's extensive sports car history. From being owned and driven by the great Swiss driver Jo Siffert to its having been reborn in the very same iconic colors after a terrible accident, 002 is certainly a priceless time capsule still full of brawn and beauty.
Heading into auction, 917/10-002, complete with its 5.0-liter, flat 12-cylinder engine was estimated to draw between $2,900,000 and $3,500,000.
Sources: 'Lot No. 251: 1971 Porsche 917/10 Spyder Can-Am Racing Car', (http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarID=r197). RM Auctions. http://www.rmauctions.com/FeatureCars.cfm?SaleCode=MO12&CarID=r197. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
'1973 Porsche 917/10 News, Pictures and Information', (http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z8848/Porsche-917/10.aspx). Conceptcarz.com: From Concept to Production. http://www.conceptcarz.com/vehicle/z8848/Porsche-917/10.aspx. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
'Porsche 917/10', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/5250/Porsche-917-10.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/5250/Porsche-917-10.html. Retrieved 10 August 2012.
'Can-Am Watkins Glen 1971', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Watkins_Glen-1971-07-25c.html). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/photo/Watkins_Glen-1971-07-25c.html. Retrieved 10 August 2012.By Jeremy McMullen
The Porsche 917 was unveiled in 1969 at the Geneva Auto Show. By May, twenty-five examples had been constructed and satisfied FIA homologation requirements for Group 4 Sport Car racing. On the racing circuit, success was not immediate. Its powerful 4.5-liter V12 engine made handling difficult. It was driven at LeMans in 1969 and nearly won the race.
The first overall victory for the 917 would come in August of 1969. A short-tail coupe claimed victory at Zeltweg, Austria. At the close of the season, the 917 project was passed to John Wyer's JW racing team. The team changed the bodywork to mimic the Lola T70 coupe. This did much to rectify and eliminate the vehicles handling shortcomings. The 917 would go on to win the 1970 and 1971 World Championship. Rules changes for 1972 made the 917 obsolete.
In its racing career, the 917s won 15 of the 24 World Championship races they entered, 11 of them were won by the Gulf-Wyer cars.
This 1971 Porsche 917 Spyder was offered for sale at the 2007 RM Auctions held in Amelia Island, Florida. The car was estimated to sell for $850,000 - $1,000,000. It is powered by a 5.4-liter flat 12-cylinder, air-cooled engine. It has a five-speed gearbox in unit with the transaxle and a multi-tubular space frame chassis. The body is constructed of fiberglass reinforced plastic.
This racer was delivered in May of 1970 as a coupe to the AAW Racing Team. It was entered into 13 races which included the Watkins Glen 6 Hours, Nurburgring 1000 kms, Spa, and LeMans. Its principal driver was Gijs van Lennep with co-drivers being David Piper or Gerard Larrousse.
At the close of the 1970 season, the car was returned to the factory. The factory supplied the AAW team with Spyder parts and mechanical upgrades such as the 5.4-liter engine.
The car competed in all seven races of the 1971 European Interserie by Leo Kinnunen, winning the championship. It was raced on occasion during the 1972 and 1973 season. It was later restored and sold to the Harrah Automobile Collection. It was acquired in 1987 by Robert Hendrickson who kept it for several years. The next owner was Bob Rapp. Under Rapp's care, the car was treated to an extensive mechanical restoration which brought it back to near-original condition.
The car left the auction unsold. By Daniel Vaughan | Nov 2012
In July of 1968 Porsche began designing and building a new prototype for the Sport category. The FIA changed the regulations of the Sport category to allow vehicles with 5-liter engines, up from the prior 3-liter capacity. Instead of 50 examples, only 25 examples needed to be produced to satisfy homologation rules. With the 917, Porsche had high hopes for capturing an overall victory at the grueling 24 Hour of LeMans. Porsche had seen success with its 904, 907 and 908 race cars. These cars had done very well on the race track though some were plagued with mechanical difficulties and other growing pains which may have held them from realizing their true potential. Porsche had not captured any overall wins at LeMans just victories within their classes.
The Porsche 917 was designed and built in 10 months and was powered by the Type 912 flat 12 engine of various different displacement. Throughout its life span it would be outfitted with a 4.5, 4.9, 5 and 5.4 liter engines. The front suspension was independent by unequal control arms with coil springs over tubular shocks. The rear was also independent by unequal control arms and radius rods with coil springs over tubular shocks. There were disc brakes place on all four corners and featured a Porsche 5-speed manual gearbox and an aluminum tube space frame chassis. All 917's were right-hand drive. There were various body configurations including the long-tail and short-tail.
On March 12, 1969 the Porsche 917 was displayed to the public at the Geneva Auto Show. It had been painted white with the front of vehicle painted green.
Inspectors came to the Porsche factory to verify that the 25 necessary vehicles had been built. Unfortunately only three had been assembled. There were nearly 20 other examples in the process of being assembled and parts for the remaining available, however, Porsche was denied the homologation. Near the end of April all 25 examples were assembled and on display for the inspection team. It was finally cleared for racing in the Sport category.
Chassis 010 was sold to David Piper, 007 went to Gesipa Racing Team, 021 to Aarnio A. Wilhuri who had Shell Sponsorship, 018 to Alex Soler and 025 to Dominique Marin of Zitro Racing. In 1970, atleast 20 other examples of the 917 were manufactured.
As with most prototype vehicles, the 917 suffered from growing pains. The aerodynamics created low drag rather than down force and made the vehicle unstable at speeds.
In 1970 an partnership was reached with John Wyer and the Gulf Team. Wyer had won the LeMans in the past driving the Ford GT40 with sponshorship through Gulf Racing. Porsche extended an offer to Wyer that if he could keep his Gulf Racing sponsorship, Porsche would provide 3 cars per race plus its two best factory racers, Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. It was John Horsmann, an engineer for John Wyer, which suggested that low drag be sacrificed in place of downforce. A tail was conceived and placed on the rear of the 917 Short tail. This greatly increased the stability of the vehicle at speeds. The vehicle was then dubbed the 917 K, representing Kutz or short-tail. The side exhausts were removed and the front of the vehicle was modified. Another low-drag version of the 917 was created specifically for Le Mans. The 917 LH, meaning langen and German for long, was given a Long Tail body. When compared with the 1969 version, was much safer and more stable.
During the 1970 LeMans, two 917L's were entered with seven 917K's. There were two engine sizes used, the 4.5 and the 4.9 liter. Chassis number 004, the number 20 Porsche 917K, was driven by Siffert and Redman and used the new 4.9-liter engine. It had qualified in 3rd but was retired after 156 laps due to a blown engine. Chassis 021, number 18 using a 4.5-liter engine, was entered by David Piper and Gijs van Lennep and qualified 11th. After 112 laps, Piper suffered a tire puncture and crashed the car. Number 21 driven by Rodriguez and Kinnunen, suffered a broken connecting rod. At 8:30 am an inlet valve broke and KG Salzburg lost its best car, the number 25 driven by Elford/Ahrens. Chassis number 026, the number 22 4.9-liter Porsche 917K, was a JWA Gulf vehicle driven by the motorcycle champion Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs. The vehicle had qualified 10th and after only three hours was running in third place. Unfortunately, an Alfa Romeo T33/3 driven by Carlo Facetti spun and hit a wall and Hailwood was unable to evade the accident. KG Salzburg chassis number 023 driven by Hermann/Attwood, a 917K using a 4.5-liter engine, captured first place and Marini 4.9 Porsche 917LH chassis number 043 captured second, and five laps down from the first place car. Chassis 043 was driven by Gerard Larousse and Willi Kausen.
KG Salzburg retired from competition after the season.
For the 1971 season and in preparation for the LeMans race, Porsche performed testing and studies to make the 917L more stable. Three 917L's were entered. The factory backed number 22, the Martini International Racing Team, and two John Wyer Gulf Racing 917s. The Gulf cars were numbered 17 and 18 with the #18 vehicle capturing the fastest time during qualification. The Martini Racing team won the 24 Hours Race of LeMans with Austrian Dr. Helmut Marko and Dutch Guijs van Lennep as the drivers.
During the 1971 season, Porsche had won 8 of the 11 rounds of the Manufacturer World Championship.
At the end of the 1971 season the Porsche 917 and Ferrari 512 had proven their abilities and supremacy that the FIA added new regulations that made them ineligible to race in world championships.
The 917/10 was similar to 917 but purposely built for Group 7 of American CanAm racing. It used even more lightweight materials and a larger fuel tank. The larger tank allowed the vehicle to complete a 200 mile race without needing to refuel. During its first season of racing, it was not as successful as hoped. The 12-cylinder engine was not powerful enough to compete for first place. So the 917 was fitted with turbochargers. With the turbochargers and 950 horsepower, the driver needed to be very cautious due to the sudden power increases produced by the turbochargers.
During the 1972 season Mark Donohue and George Follmer drove the Porsche's in competition. Donohue was faster but due to an accident was unable to complete the season. Follmer was left to capture the championship, which he did.
In 1973, the 917/30 was outfitted with twin-turbochargers and a 5.4 liter, 12-cylinder engine. It was capable of produced between 1100 and 1500 horsepower. It could go from zero to sixty in 2.1 seconds and had a top speed of 238 mph. The 917/30 was only available for Team Penske's driver Mark Donohue. It dominated and demolished the Can-Am series with Mark Donohue winning the championship.
In 1974 it was banned from racing in the CanAm series because the CanAm series had begun to lose its fan base since there was no competition.
The Porsche 917, a fantastic car, could be beaten and this was proven. The records that it set were broken by smaller, lightweight prototypes such as Ferrari and Alfa Romeo in the years that followed. When the 917's won, it was because they were the fastest at the time or the faster vehicles had suffered DNF's. It was the 917/10, 917/20 and 917/30 that truly dominated the racing circuit and were unbeatable. Many of the records that were established still exist today. With over a thousand horsepower, backed by a company that had years of racing experience, and driven by some of the greatest drivers at the time, the vehicles were dominate.
The Porsche 917 played a staring role in the Steve McQueen movie, 'Le Mans'. By Daniel Vaughan | Oct 2006
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