Sold for $4,400,000 at 2012 Gooding & Company. Sold for $3,000,000 at 2016 Gooding & Company. Perfection in a race car is something that is greatly sought by each and every designer. But rarely does one find the 'perfect race car'. However, in 1973 Roger Penske provided Mark Donohue exactly that. As far as Donohue was concerned, the Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder was the perfect blend of power and handling, performance and agility. But it would also be considered the car that killed the Can-Am series all together.
The lineage of the Porsche 917 stretches all the way back to prior 1970. The design would go on to great success and fame in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and other sportscar endurance races. However, after 1971, the coupe 917 would no longer be allowed to race in the World Championship. It was obvious there was still a lot of life in the Porsche's legs but it needed to find a place it could really run. And while the car that had been a part of the Group 7 category for a number of years would be able to take part in the European Interserie it would be in North America where it really could run the most wild and free.
Inaugurated in 1966, the Canadian American Challenge Cup would start out as a series for the Group 7 sportscars but would feature unrestrictive engine capacity and fewer technical regulations. Just about anything would go in Can-Am racing and it would help to give birth to greater aerodynamics testing and engine options.
Although the European Interserie would also run similar Group 7 cars the Can-Am cars were considered the best and most powerful in the world with engine power delivering upwards of 900 to 1000 hp. Proving that it wasn't always about the racing, the sound of the engines and the outright speed and performance of the cars would make the series highly popular with spectators and drivers alike.
Around the beginning of the '70s, the McLarens were the dominant figures in the series. Porsche had a number of entries in the series at the time, mostly small teams with a limited budget. As a result, when compared to the power of the McLarens, the Porsche 908s and adapted 917s would struggle to keep pace.
Porsche, looking for a place to roam free, would look to the Can-Am series. The factory would take its 917 but would build a specific version for the series called the 917/10. The Can-Am series was unlimited and in building the new car Porsche would look to metals and alloys that were very limiting because of their price but were certain to produce the kind of results the factory was looking for.
While boasting of a 5-liter, flat-12 cylinder engine, the 917/10 would still be underpowered when compared to the rest of the competition, including McLaren and Lola. Porsche needed more power but was in something of a conundrum as exactly how to find it. There were options, including a 16-cylinder engine, but they all seemed to be heading in the opposite direction from where Porsche wanted it to go. A bigger engine or the addition of a supercharger meant more weight and a likely unequal distribution in the weight of the car. Porsche knew which way it wanted to go but could it make it work.
Twin turbocharging was the direction Porsche wanted to go. The question was whether or not it would work or not. Turbocharging was still rather new at the time. But what was known was that there were some performance limitations on the technology.
To be effective, engine speeds needed to remain quite high for the power to be available. This meant the slow corners would bring about a kick in the pants like none other. This brought about the other problem. Even without turbocharging the engine in the 917/10 was producing a tremendous amount of power, it just wasn't enough. However, with the power the engine already had in spades, when the turbo kicked in during acceleration, the forces acting on the car would require a driver of incredible skill just to keep from killing himself, let alone turn the incredible performance into a victory at the circuit. And the problem with the lag didn't just happen once every lap. Therefore, the driver would not have to have the talent to control the car, but also, the endurance to do it for 200 miles.
Roger Penske's team would have a couple of those special drivers. Mark Donohue and George Follmer were both willing to take to the wheel of the 1,000 hp car. And while Donohue would be considered the more talented of the two drivers, an early season injury would see Follmer take on the driving duties.
The power and the aerodynamics of the car would make it almost matter not at all who the driver of the car actually was. George Follmer would use the power and handling of the 917/10 to great effect and would finally break Bruce McLaren Motor Racing's five year hold on the Can-Am Series championship.
But Porsche wasn't done. Roger Penske's team had taken six victories out of nine races. It wasn't like the racing had been tight. But Porsche's, Donohue's and Penske's desire to dominate would dictate there was more the factory needed to do. And when they all finished, the collaborators would produce what Donohue considered to be the 'perfect race car'.
It would all start with increased engine power. Easily pushing 1,100 hp in race trim, the new car, called the 917/30, would have power in abundance. It would be greatly whispered the actual horsepower rating of the engine pushed in excess of 1,500 hp in qualifying trim.
In order to take advantage of the incredible horsepower, the plexi-glass body would be redesigned with even greater aerodynamic efficiency. The car would be shorter providing less drag. And in order to keep the power headed in the right direction, the wheelbase of the car would be lengthened and the width increased.
The result would be truly incredible when in the hands of Donohue. While the first two races would be won by competitors, the final six rounds of the championship would be won by Donohue in dominant fashion. And by the end of the season, Donohue would take the championship having more than double the points of his closest rival, which happened to be George Follmer driving for Rinzler Motorracing Royal Crown.
An absolutely remarkable achievement, the Porsche 917/30 would not struggle to break 200 mph and would actually be capable of reaching speeds in excess of 240 mph. Having an acceleration rate that allowed the car to go from zero to 60 mph in under 2 seconds and zero to 200 in a little more than 10 seconds, there was little left for Can-Am to try and achieve because it would begin to travel into the realm too dangerous and ultimately unachievable with a human pilot. So in many ways, Porsche 917/30 would rightfully deserve the reputation of being the car that killed Can-Am.
Such performance is nearly unheard of today unless one happened to have a few million lying around. For at the 2012 Gooding and Company auction held at Amelia Island in Florida, one such Porsche 917/30 would come up for auction.
Chassis 917/30-004 never actually raced. The car was being produced for the 1974 season. However, with Penske's and Porsche's withdrawal from the series the car had been built with no place to go and race. Finished in an all-white livery, the car would be sold to Australian Porsche importer Alan Hamilton. While with Hamilton the car would mainly sit as a display but would show up a various events throughout the country.
In the early 1990s, the car would head back to Europe, specifically Porsche. During its time back with Porsche the car would be finished in the same 1973 Sunoco livery that adorned chassis 917/30-002. The car would then make an appearance at the Nurburgring in 1992 taking part in the Old Timer Grand Prix. At that time, the car would be sold and would be shipped to the United States but not before the car was given a rebuilt engine using the last remaining 5.4-liter block. This rebuilt engine, in a dyno test, would prove capable of still producing an incredible 1,200 hp. Featuring the rebuilt engine, the Bosch mechanical fuel injection, the twin KKK Turbochargers, the 4-speed manual gearbox and the fully independent double wishbone suspension, this chassis would go on to prove what it never got the chance to do in its former life. An obvious performer that never found its way to the stage, chassis 917/30-004 would go on to power its way to the 1998 Monterey Historics victory.
In 2001, the car would be purchased by Matt Drendel and would remain with him until his death in 2010. Driven by Roger Penske himself in the Rennsport Reunion, this Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder truly represents the pinnacle of the Can-Am series. And even without a racing heritage, this particular chassis is still something truly special. For this, the car would be estimated to earn between $3,250,000 and $4,000,000 at this year's auction. However, this important piece of Can-Am and car performance history would do much better. When it was all said and done, the car would bring in $4,400,000.
Sources: 'Lot No. 57: 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder', (http://www.goodingco.com/car/1973-porsche-91730-can-am-spyder). Gooding and Company. http://www.goodingco.com/car/1973-porsche-91730-can-am-spyder. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
'Porsche 917/30', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/422/Porsche-917-30.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/422/Porsche-917-30.html. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
'Porsche 917/10', (http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/420/Porsche-917-10K.html). Ultimatecarpage.com: Powered by Knowledge, Driven by Passion. http://www.ultimatecarpage.com/car/420/Porsche-917-10K.html. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Porsche 917', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 March 2012, 03:17 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Porsche_917&oldid=480085125 accessed 13 March 2012
'Porsche 917/30, 'The Perfect Race Car,' to be Auctioned at Amelia Island', (http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2012/02/17/porsche-91730-the-perfect-race-car-to-be-auctioned-at-amelia-island/). Hemmings Blog: The World's Largest Collector-Car Marketplace. http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2012/02/17/porsche-91730-the-perfect-race-car-to-be-auctioned-at-amelia-island/. Retrieved 13 March 2012.
Wikipedia contributors, 'Can-Am', Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 22 February 2012, 16:59 UTC, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Can-Am&oldid=478274166 accessed 13 March 2012By Jeremy McMullen
This is one of six examples built of perhaps the most powerful and outrageous sports cars ever. The ultimate evolution of Porsche's fabled 917 series, these cars produced as much as 1500 horsepower from their flat 12-cylinder twin turbocharged engine in qualifying trim. Mark Donohue drove a 917/30 to the Can Am championship in 1973, and the cars were so dominant that they effectively killed the series. This is one of the cars that were being prepped for the cancelled 1974 season. It has raced in various prestigious vintage events including at the Monterey Historics.
This is one of four 917/30s built by Porsche at Weissach. It is fitted with an estimated 1100 horsepower, 5,000cc DOHC air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection and twin KKK turbochargers coupled to a four-speed manual gearbox. It also features four-wheel independent suspension with coil spring and shock absorbers and four-wheel ventilated disc brakes.
Porsche dominated the CanAm racing series with Mark Donohue winning every race entered in chassis #002 and #003. This was a potential replacement chassis for the 1974 season. Porsche withdrew from CanAm competition in 1973 when new SCCA rules limited fuel consumption. This chassis was never raced. It is presented in the Sunoco livery as raced by the Penske Team.
The 917-30 was the ultimate evolution of the 917, with a 5.4 liter 1200 HP 12-cylinder engine. Prepared by Penske Racing and driven by Mark Donohue it dominated the 1973 Can-Am series. This car is serial number 004 which was to be Mark's brand new car for the 1974 season. After the 917/30 was legislated out of the series, Porsche sold the car to Australian Porsche importer Alan Hamilton, and then later took 917/30-004 back as partial payment on a loan they had given him. At the 1998 Monterey Historics, 917/30-004 was driven to victory in the Can-Am group by Porsche's own Olaf Lang. It was also driven by Roger Penske at the 2001 Rennsport Reunion. It was a concours class winner at the second Porsche Rennsport Reunion in 2004.
Chassis 917/30.004 - One of two cars Porsche AG completed after the competitive era, this one for Alan Hamilton, the Australian Porsche distributor.
In modern times, the Porsche 917/30 is still considered to be one of Porsche's greatest racing cars. It was designed for only one driver, Mark Donohue. Helmut Flegl gave it a long wheelbase and spyder configuration, including the addition of the rear body from the 240 mph 917LH long tail endurance coupes that ran at Le Mans. Donohue suffered problems with the first two races of 1973, but after that he remained unchallenged, winning the remainder of the races to claim Porsche's second straight Can Am crown. After being so dominant, the SCCA reduced its fuel capacity to the point that the car was unable to be competitive.
The car had a dry weight of 1680 lbs and could produce up to 1500 horsepower. It was easy to see the advantage of this vehicle.
After the 1974 season, the car was purchased from Porsche by the Australian Porsche importer Alan Hamelton. It was later re-purchased by Porsche, painted in Sunoco colors, and displayed in their museum until David Morse purchased the car in 1994. It was given a full restoration and then purchased by Matthew Drendel.
Currently, the car remains active in vintage racing and was even driven by Roger Penske at the 2001 Porsche Rennsport Reunion. It currently resides in the Drendel collection, along with many other Porsche racing cars including the 2.1 Martini 'baby' Turbo, 934, 935, 959 Sport, 962, 968 Turbo RS, 911 GT1, and 911 GT2 Evolution.
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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