Porsche 917, the lethal weapon!

The Porsche 917 was, without a doubt, the most important racing car ever produced by Zuffenhausen. While today the 917 may seem simplistic, at the time it achieved a level of performance that few, if any, of its rivals could ever achieve.


Moreover, its success extended not only to traditional endurance racing, but also to the CAN-AM championship in North America.


There are countless articles about this mythical car, both in terms of its technical specifications and its racing record.


Prestigious drivers such as Mark Donohue and Jo Siffert, among others, have achieved numerous racing successes, helping to forge the legend of the 917.


The development


The origin of the Porsche 917 is closely linked to the strong personality of one family member, namely Ferdinand Piëch (nephew of Ferry Porsche). Piëch wanted at all costs, due to his oversized ego, to leave a trace in the brand’s history. His goal was to offer "his" brand the first victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, all categories overall.


The development of the 917 began in 1969 and was first built in 25 units (mandatory for its homologation) in only 9 months!


The development costs were so exorbitant that they swallowed up almost the entire competition budget, and even the future of the entire brand would have been in peril if the 917 had not been successful. Moreover, Piëch simply "forgot" to inform his uncle, Ferry Porsche!


The phase of homologation by the FIA was moreover rather epic, it had to be carried out in several times, because some of the first 25 cars were not complete! We can clearly see the determination and the pressure that Piëch imposed on his teams in order to be able to participate in the 1970 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans with the 917.


At that time, Porsche's policy was to use a race car only once before selling it to a customer and replacing it with a new one. As a result, the factory produced more than 30 to 40 race cars per year, which meant that in Piech's eyes, building a batch of 25 cars was not too expensive a task.




The car was far from being perfect from the start, but it progressed fast. The 917 was equipped with various V12 engines ranging from 4.5 to 5.4 liters, developing from 580 hp to 1'100 hp which was at that time simply the most powerful racing engine ever built. Stratospheric!


The major problems were in the aerodynamics, because at very high speed (max. speed 370 km/h) as in the straight line of Hunaudières in Le Mans, the car tended either to take off or the opposite effect, the risk to see the rear passing in front during " strong " braking.


Continuous modifications


Being fully aware that the car was not aerodynamically perfect, many drivers were reluctant to drive the 917 in 1969 during the various phases of its development, they were simply risking their lives at each lap of the racetrack.


Multiple adaptations were made, mainly on the rear part of the car to make it more stable at high speed. Without going into too much detail, the 917 was declined in 3 main versions: 917 K "Kurzheck", 917 LH "Langheck" and Spyder for the CAN-AM races in the United States.


Success is coming


Finally, on June 14, 1970, Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood gave Porsche its first overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans in their red No. 23 917K of the Porsche KG Salzburg team.


Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen took second place in the No. 3 "Psychedelic" 917LH of the Martini Racing Team.


In 3rd place was also a Porsche 908/2L of the Martini Racing Team driven by Rudi Lins and Helmut Marko. It was a total triumph for the brand and especially for the developers of the 917, Ferdinand Piëch, Hans Mezger and Helmut Flegl.


Additionally, this edition served as the basis for the movie « Le Mans », which was partly shot during this race. The production rented the racetrack for the whole summer and the shots with Steve McQueen at the steering wheel of a 917 were filmed at that time for insurance reasons. The notoriety of the 917 was further boosted by the movie which was released in 1971.


For the 1971 edition of Le Mans, the Porsche 917 breaks the distance record with 5 335.31 km completed (an average speed of 222 km/h), a record it held until 2010. In 1970, the 917 won 7 races out of 10 and in 1971 7 victories out of 11 races! Results without appeal!


The year 1971 also saw the appearance of a 917 in a particular livery "pink pig" very unusual for that time, even unique to this day. The car is currently in the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.




At the same period, Porsche decided to try the CAN-AM championship in North America. Some of the 917s entered developed more than 1'400 hp! In 1972 and 1973, the 917 won 8 races.


The 917's involvement in racing ended in 1975


The teams


Apart from the official team of the brand, the main private teams using the 917 in races were JWA (John Wyer Antomotive) and Martini Racing Team.


The chassis numbers


65 Porsche 917 were built between 1969 and 1971 (not all of them were used). 44 of them were K and/or LH versions and 21 Spyder for CAN-AM races. You will find on the websites www.962group.com the complete list of chassis numbers and their history.


Collectors and fans


Thanks to the social media, there are still today, 52 years after its release, many fan groups, collectors and artists keep up the legend active with archive pictures and videos. Porsche 917 Officiel.


In the same vein, the site It's my World proposes numerous works of art and imprints on the Porsche world in general and the 917.


The Porsche 917 was elected " Racing Car of the Century " by more than 50 international experts and remains for many the ultimate racing car of the early 1970s.


It wrote an important page in the history of the brand, which to this day holds the record of 19 victories in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.


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Illustration 917 #20 by Jean-Pierre Montreuil