Image credits: © Porsche.

1970 Porsche 917

Porsche built the 917 with one underlying goal: to win its first overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans.

Starting in July 1968 twenty-five 917s were conceived, designed and built in only ten months to meet the FIA production minimum. Those first 25 examples incorporated remarkable technology: Porsche's first 12-cylinder engine, an aluminum tube space frame chassis, myriad components from titanium, magnesium and exotic alloys, even suspension springs made from titanium wire. Over the next three years the Porsche 917 was to become a symbol of modern road racing technology, an effect far greater than would be expected from only the 37 examples built.

From the beginning, Porsche spent great efforts developing bodies with low aerodynamic drag for the Mulsanne Straight. They succeeded admirably, but on the track the slippery shape proved to be seriously unstable. At a late ‘69 test session which included the first prototype Can-Am 917, they realized the Can-Am car's chunky high downforce design solved the 917's stability problems and thenceforth ran two versions of the 917, the 917K (kurzheck, or short tail) and 917L (langheck). The latter were used in racing only at Le Mans. Only five 917Ls, of which this is one, were built, specifically to achieve Porsche's ultimate goal, overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans.

917-043 was supplied to Martini Racing for the 1970 Le Mans classic and began a tradition of exotic livery for certain Porsche team cars. Porsche's new styling chief, Tony Lapine, gave the Martini 917 elaborate whorls and swoops of light green on a violet background, and earned it the instant nickname 'The Hippie Car' from the team and media. Drivers Gerard Larousse and Willi Kauhsen performed perfectly in their supporting role to the factory cars, finishing second to Porsche's first overall Le Mans winner, Hans Hermann and Dickie Atwood in the Porsche-Salzburg 917K. That Larousse and Kauhsen were playing the tortoise role to the hares of the factory cars and the Ferrari 512s is witnessed by their also winning the Index of Thermal Efficiency, averaging 9.1 miles per gallon against the winners' 7.4 mpg. It also attests to the low-drag efficiency of the langheck body. In 1971, 917-043, still with the proven 4.9 litre engine instead of the more powerful 5.0 litre twelve used in shorter races, was assigned to the Gulf-Porsche team for Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver. -043 had revised bodywork owing much to French designer Charles Deutsch (famous for his Deutsch-Bonnet race cars) with a shorter nose, semi-enclosed rear wheels (now 17' wide to better handle the 917's power and the chassis' 36-64 weight distribution) and a full-width rear wing between the fins. -043 led the race for 8 hours, setting the fastest lap at 3' 18.4' (151.854 mph), before falling back in the twelfth hour and retiring two hours later when oil lines added to both their 917Ls by J.W. failed. The third J.W. entry, a 917K, finished second to the winning 917K of Martini Racing, driven by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep. Porsche had accomplished not only its goal of overall victory, it had established overall dominance.

1971 was the last year for the 5-litre sports car regulations in international racing. However the Porsche 917's reputation continued to grow with the Can-Am version, particularly Roger Penske's 917/30 driven by Mark Donohue and George Follmer which obliterated its competition in 1972 and 1973. Like the other endurance racing 917Ls, 917-043 was 'retired'; its history was re-established only months ago.

It came about like this. In 1975 Vasek Polak, with his unique connections, bought this car from the factory, the only complete 917L ever sold by Porsche. It was sold as chassis 917-044, reportedly the car crashed by Kurt Ahrens in pre-Le Mans tests at the VW test track in 1970 and never subsequently raced. However, in the process of a complete rebuild after purchase from the Polak foundation by the present owner the aluminum tube chassis showed clear evidence of a long racing history … but absolutely no sign of any crash damage. By process of elimination it has been deduced and verified by independent experts' examination that this is 917-043, the famous psychedelic 'Hippie Car' of 1970. That this confusion arose is not surprising; Porsche frequently swapped chassis numbers to satisfy the needs of customs documentation and race entries, making a clear and unbroken chassis history more the exception than the rule.

Presented in its famous psychedelic violet and light green 1970 Le Mans livery and correct 1970-style body, 917-043 as offered is race ready with fresh 5.0 litre engine producing 630 hp. Its origin has been endorsed by independent examination. The recent preparation was done under the supervision of Carl Thompson, Vasek Polak's long time crew chief, by Porsche-trained technicians who built and prepared 917s during their racing careers and thus is both correct and to the highest, typically Porsche and Polak, standards. 917-043 is the only undamaged langheck chassis in private hands, with a sterling Le Mans history and is instantly recognizable in its hippie livery as well as race-ready and superbly presented in all respects, a unique opportunity to purchase a unique and historic example of the most famous of all racing Porsches.

Source - Christies
When the 908 almost won Le Mans in 1969, Porsche sensed this all-important victory was well within grasp. Wasting no time, Porsche decided to build a car to Group 5 specifications. In 1969 work began on the 917. While the chassis and bodywork were similar to the preceding 908, the new flat 12-cylinder engine was a significant departure despite being clearly based on the earlier six- and eight-cylinder engines.

As with the 908, the 917 was initially built as both long- and short-tail coupes. Once the problems with aerodynamic stability had been resolved, the 917 proven a winner. For all automobile manufacturers, racing's most prestigious prize was a victory at Le Mans. The 917 captured that prize in 1970, the first of Porsche's numerous overall wins at endurance racing's most famous circuit.

While the coupes dominated endurance racing in 1970-71, open versions of the 917 were built for the Canadian-American Series. The 917/10K won the 1972 Can-Am championship and, together with the 917/30KL, won every round of the 1973 Can-Am, wining the championship and effectively killing the series.

This 917 was originally a short-tail coupe raced by the factory-supported Gulf-Wyer team, winning at Imola and Zeltweg in 1970. Following an accident, the car was rebodied as a spyder and raced in the European Interserie. The car has received a complete factory restoration.

[I]ATLANTA – March 9, 2009 – Forty years ago, on March 13, 1969 at the Geneva International Motor Show, today's Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche unveiled a car that would exceed its creator's wildest dreams, and develop into one of the most iconic race cars of all time: The Porsche 917.

Project 917 began in June 1968 in response to an edict from the international motor sports authority, known as the Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA). They had announced a class for 'homologated sports cars' with up to a five-liter engine capacity and a minimum weight of 800 kilograms (1760 pounds).

Under the supervision of Porsche family member and gifted engineer Ferdinand Piëch, the FIA-stipulated minimum 25 units of the new race car were to be completed by April 1969 so that the 917 could race during the 1969 international season. Initially, Porsche had built six cars and had 'all the bits and pieces to build 19 more for the homologation,' according to Rico Steinemann, Porsche's Racing Manager at the time, 'the FIA then decided, no!' All 25 cars would have to be built. As all of the racing department's resources were being utilized, the workers to build the cars would have to come from elsewhere.

'We put together apprentices, messenger boys, bookkeepers, office people and secretaries,' remembered Steinemann years later. 'Just enough people, taught just enough to put together 25 cars!'

The original 25 'Secretary Cars,' as they came to be called, passed the FIA inspection with flying colors, despite the fact they would barely run on the street, let alone a race track. After the inspection, all but two of the cars were completely disassembled and rebuilt by the factory's race team mechanics.
The engine of the 917 was also unique. While the 917 retained Porsche's traditional horizontally opposed, air-cooled 'boxer-style' engine configuration, the 4.5 liter, 520 HP 12-cylinder engine was bigger than any engine Porsche had built until that time.
The frame, designed more for durability than lightweight was constructed of TIG-welded aluminum tubing (later switched to magnesium), while the fiberglass re-enforced resin bodywork weighed in at a total of 93 pounds.
The 917 shape underwent constant evolution, with Porsche engineers developing different body configurations to best meet the demands of the varied circuits on the World Championship calendar. In the late 60's and early 70's, the World Championship of Makes visited four different continents, all sporting many different styles of racetrack. The so-called short-tail, or 'Kurzheck' bodywork was designed for high downforce tracks, such as Watkins Glen and Brands Hatch, while the original 'Langheck' long-tail bodywork was further developed to optimize straight-line speed and stability on the long, ultra-high-speed tracks like Le Mans, with its 3.5 mile long Mulsanne Straight. The ultimate development of the 917 came with the open 917 Spyders, which later dominated both the CanAm and Interseries circuits.
Success was not immediate for the 917. After initially dropping out of its first three races due to technical problems, the 917 success story, as we know it, began in August 1969 at a 1,000-kilometer race at the Österreichring with a victory by Jo Siffert and Kurt Ahrens.

Despite Piëch's desire that Porsche 'to be the best. Everywhere.' the delays and lack of development time prevented the 917 from winning the championship in 1969. But by the end of the 1970 race season, Porsche demonstrated the superiority of the 917 and the 908/03 models by taking the World Championship of Makes by winning nine of ten possible victories.

This series of victories began with the Daytona 24 Hours and continued at Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, the Targa Florio, Watkins Glen 6-Hour and at the Österreichring. However, the season's high point was the long-desired overall win at the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, a trophy that Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood brought home to Zuffenhausen on June 14, 1970. The number 23, 917K short-tail model, painted in the red and white colors of Porsche Salzburg, successfully fought off the combined factory efforts of Ferrari, Matra and Lola while battling horrible weather conditions during the race.

The 1971 season was once again dominated by the 917, as Porsche defended their World Championship of Makes crown by winning eight out of the ten races on the schedule. And, for the second year running, a Porsche 917 was victorious at the Le Mans 24-Hour race – this time with Gijs van Lennep and Dr. Helmut Marko driving, who set world records with an average speed of 222 km/h (137.6 mph) and a total of 5,335 kilometers (3,107.7 miles) driven, records that still stand today. The 917 long-tail coupe also set another record in 1971: Car number 21 turned in the highest speed ever recorded on the Mulsanne Straight of 387 kilometers per hour (240 mph).

The 1971 race also marked the debut of one of the most fabled iterations of the 917. A cross between the short-tail and the long-tail models produced the 917/20. The car was distinguished by its wide cross section and its striking pink color. Although the car, nicknamed 'The Pink Pig', dropped out halfway through the race, its unusual paint scheme made it one of the most famous Porsche models ever, joining the 1970's 'Hippie Car' as a Porsche Racing classic.
When the European FIA regulation for '5-liter sports cars' expired at the end of the 1971 season, Porsche decided to enter the Sports Car Club of America's Canadian American Challenge Cup (CanAm). There had been exploratory efforts in the CanAm as early as 1969, but this was the first championship-level effort from PAG. Tony Dean, driving his own independently entered 908/2 took a surprise rain-soaked win at the Road Atlanta CanAm in 1970.

After many months of testing and development in Weissach done in conjunction with Penske Racing's legendary driver and engineer, Mark Donohue, the 917/10 made its CanAm debut in June of 1972. Now turbocharged, the 12-cylinder boxer engine pumped out an incredible 1,000 horsepower but an early season testing accident caused Donohue to sit out most of the season. His replacement, George Follmer went on to dominate the series and won victories at Road Atlanta, Mid Ohio, Elkhart Lake, Laguna Seca and Riverside, thus clinching the 1972 CanAm championship and virtually chasing the formerly invincible Team McLaren from the series.

For an encore, Porsche and Penske went to work on its 1973 challenger, the 917/30. In what turned into the ultimate development of the 917 platform, and with the engine, producing 1,200 horsepower it was the class of the field at every race. The superiority of the car, driven by Mark Donohue, was so obvious that the CanAm series regulations were changed at season's end in order to prohibit the 917/30 from competing in 1974. The 917/30 did live on in the Interserie series in Europe, where Herbert Mueller won the championship in 1974 and 1975. Also in 1975, at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, Donohue set the World Closed Course Speed Record driving the Penske 917/30 at an average speed of 221.120 mph.

As is typical of Porsche, the technologies developed during the racing career of the 917 were successfully transferred to its road cars; one of the most obvious examples is the original 911 Turbo, and why Porsche is synonymous with performance, efficiency and engineering excellence.

The reputation of the 917 is legendary. When 50 international motor sports experts from the famous British trade magazine 'Motor Sport' were asked to name the 'greatest racing car in history' they cited the Porsche 917. Overall, Porsche built 65 units of the 917: 44 sports cars as short-tail and long-tail coupés, two PA Spyders as well as 19 sports cars as CanAm and Interseries Spyders with up to 1,400 HP turbo engines.

Today, seven of the most important 917 models – among them the Le Mans-winning cars from 1970 and 1971 and the 917/30 CanAm Spyder – are currently on exhibit in the new Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen. Most of the other 917s are in the hands of proud collectors around the world, and have been seen – and heard – at the most prestigious vintage events, including Goodwood, Amelia Island, Monterey Historics, and Porsche's three Rennsport Reunions in the U.S. in 2001, 2004 and 2007. Porsche Motorsport North America, the racing arm of Porsche in the U.S., services, restores, rebuilds and maintains many of these 917s for collectors at its shop in Santa Ana, California.

Source - Porsche

Vehicle Profiles

Kurzheck Coupe

Chassis Num: 917.023

On March 13, 1969 at the Geneva International Motor Show, Dr. Ing. h.c. F. Porsche unveiled a car that would exceed its creator's wildest dreams and turn out to be one of the most iconic race cars of all time: The Porsche 917.....[continue reading]


Chassis Num: 917-004

The Porsche 917 is one of the fastest production car ever made. The factory-backed 917s included the Gulf-sponsored JWA team led by LeMans veteran John Wyer. Under his direction, engineer John Horsmann solved a stability problem by cutting off the re....[continue reading]

Long Tail Coupé

Chassis Num: 917-015

In 1967 the Commission Sportive International, the independent competition arm of the FIA, decided to change the regulations for Group 6 prototypes competing for the International Championship of Makes. In prior years the engine capacity was unlimite....[continue reading]


Chassis Num: 917.031

The 917K's success are world renowned, and many consider it as the greatest racing car of all time. The factory Porsche 917K's have won the prestigious 24-hour of LeMans, the 12-hour of Sebring, and the Daytona 24-hour sports-car championship races a....[continue reading]


Chassis Num: 917-043
Engine Num: 015

This remarkable racer is in startling contrast to the small 4-cylinder sports car that Dr. Ferdinand Porsche began producing in 1950. A very sophisticated racing machine designed for the highest levels of competition, it has a horizontally opposed 12....[continue reading]

Long Tail Coupé

Chassis Num: 917.042

This Porsche 917/LH (Lang Heck) long tail was built specifically for Le Mans. It was entered by the Salzburg team driven by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens Jr. and set on the pole with an average speed of 242 kph. Vic and Kurt battled with the Gulf 917K o....[continue reading]

Long Tail Coupé

Chassis Num: 917-019

This Porsche 917K has a flat-twelve air-cooled engine mounted amidships, twin-overhead camshafts and fuel injection. The car is displayed in late 1971 configuration and is quite conservative given the raiment provided other 917s during the two champi....[continue reading]

Long Tail Coupé

Chassis Num: 917-024
Engine Num: 917-021

This Porsche 917, chassis number 024, was built in 1969 and re-numbered during its racing life as 002, 005, and 006. In February of 1970, the chassis was wrecked and scrapped. When Porsche needed a shorttail for LeMans pre-training in April of 1970, ....[continue reading]

Kurzheck Coupe
Chassis #: 917.023 
Chassis #: 917-004 
Long Tail Coupé
Chassis #: 917-015 
Chassis #: 917.031 
Chassis #: 917-043 
Long Tail Coupé
Chassis #: 917.042 
Long Tail Coupé
Chassis #: 917-019 
Long Tail Coupé
Chassis #: 917-024 


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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