Chassis Num: 917/10-002
High bid of $2,750,000 at 2012 RM Sothebys. (did not sell)
Porsche 917/10 Spyder Can-Am Racing Car
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