• Mar 9, 2009
Click above for a high-res gallery of the Porsche 917

Forty years ago this week at the Geneva Motor Show, Porsche rolled out what would become one of the most successful racing cars of all time. The Porsche 917 was born of new FIA homologation rules that required a "production" run of at least 25 examples before the car could take to the track. Over the next several years, 917 variants in several different body styles including short- and long-tail closed coupes and open-top "spyder" models would win wherever they went, including Le Mans, Daytona, Sebring and the Can-Am series.

All 65 examples that were ultimately built were powered by an air-cooled flat twelve-cylinder. The first coupes used a 4.5-liter normally aspirated 520 horsepower engine while the penultimate example was the 917/30 spyder. This 1,200-hp turbocharged beast swept Can-Am in the hands of Mark Donohue, bringing the series to a climax in 1973 before the combination of the economy and Middle East oil embargo caused most major teams to withdraw. Seven of the 917s can now be seen in Porsche's new Stuttgart museum.

As a special tribute to the legendary 917, we've also collected some of our own photos of this very special Porsche for your pleasure. Taken at the Goodwood Festival of Speed and at other gatherings, these photos have been collected in a high res gallery available by clicking any of the images below.


Live photos copyright ©2007-2009 Frank Filipponio / Weblogs, Inc.

[Source: Porsche]

"Greatest racing car in history" celebrates its birthday

Stuttgart. 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, even by today's standards, is underestimated when it is described as the "super sports car": The Porsche 917. It became a legend as one of the fastest and most successful racing cars of all time.

Porsche fired the starting shot for Project 917 in June 1968, after the international motor sports authority or FIA had announced a class of "homologated sports cars" with up to five liters cubic capacity and a minimum weight of 800 kilograms. Under the supervision of Ferdinand Piëch, the stipulated 25 units of the new racing car model were completed by April 1969 so that the 917 could begin its racing career in the same year. After it initially dropped out of its first three races due to technical problems, the 917 success story began in August 1969 at a 1,000-kilometer race at the Österreichring with a victory by Jo Siffert and Kurt Ahrens.

The engine configuration of the 917 was just as unusual as its different car body versions: Behind the driver's seat extended an air-cooled, twelve-cylinder engine with horizontal cylinders, whose crankshaft designated it as a 180-degree V engine. The 520 HP engine had an initial cubic capacity of 4.5 liters. The tubular frame was made of aluminum, the car body out of glass fiber reinforced synthetics. Porsche engineers developed different car body models to best meet the different demands of different racetracks. The so-called short-tail model was designed for heavily twisting roads in which a high contact pressure was necessary for fast cornering. The long-tail model was designed for fast racetracks and a high final velocity. Then came the open 917 Spyders, which were used in the CanAm and Interseries races.

At the end of the 1970 race season, Porsche confirmed its superiority with the 917 and 908/03 models, winning the Racing Series World Championship [Markenweltmeisterschaft] in nine out of ten possible victories. This series of victories began in Daytona and continued in Brands Hatch, Monza, Spa, on the Nürburgring racetrack, at the Targa Florio, in Le Mans, Watkins Glen and the Österreichring. However, the season's high point was the long-desired overall win of the Le Mans 24-hour endurance race, a trophy that Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood brought home to Zuffenhausen on June 14, 1970. Their 917 short-tail model painted in the Porsche Salzburg colors of red and white with the start number 23 not only successfully defied its competitors but also the heavy rainfall.

As in the previous year, the 1971 season was dominated by the 917 model so that the Racing Series World Championship [Markenweltmeisterschaft] went to Porsche again with eight out of ten race victories. And once again, a Porsche 917 was victorious at the Le Mans 24-Hour race – this time with Gijs van Lennep and Dr. Helmut Marko, who set a world record with an average speed of 222 km/h and 5,335 kilometers driven, a record that still stands today. One special feature of their 917 short-tail model, visually characterized by its "shark fin", was the tubular frame made of magnesium. A 917 long-tail coupe model set a further record in 1971: On the Mulsanne straight stretch, which is part of the route in the Le Mans 24-Hour race, the sports car with the start number 21 recorded the highest speed of 387 kilometers per hour. Another Le Mans racecar achieved major recognition: The Porsche 917/20 was a mix between the short-tail and the long-tail models and was notable for its broad proportions. Although the pink colored racecar, nicknamed "the Pig", dropped out halfway through the race, its unusual paint color made it one of the most famous Porsche models ever.

When the European FIA regulation for the "five-liter sports car" expired at the end of the 1971 season, Porsche decided to enter the Canadian American Challenge Cup (CanAm). In June 1972, the private Penske race team in motor sports used the turbo-charged Porsche 917/10 Spyder for the first time. With a performance of up to 1,000 HP, the Porsche Spyder dominated the race series and won for Porsche the CanAM championship with victories in Road Atlanta, Mid Ohio, Elkhart Lake, Laguna Seca and Riverside. In the following year, the 1,200 HP 917/30 Spyder had its racing premiere. The superiority of the monster car driven by Mark Donohue was so obvious that the regulations of the CanAM series had to be changed in the end in order to exclude the 917/30 from competing further in the 1974 season. Typical for Porsche: The technologies for increasing performance developed for these races were successfully transferred to the on-road sports car. That's how the 911 Turbo, with its side-exhaust turbocharger, began its career in 1974 and has been, since this time, a synonym for the performance capacity of the Porsche sports car.

To date, the reputation of the 917 is legendary. Therefore, 50 international motor sports experts from the famous British trade magazine "Motor Sport" nominated the 917 as the "greatest racing car in history". All in all, 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. Seven of the most important 917 models – among them the Le Mans victory cars from 1970 and 1971 and the 917/30 Spyder – are currently on exhibit in the new Porsche Museum in Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 18 Comments
        • 5 Years Ago
        +1 for the Pink Pig, one of the greatest liveries is racing.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Probably the greatest Porsche ever built.
      • 5 Years Ago
      @ Dondonel
      "I am aware of the chicanes added to the track, but they do little to the overall lap times, at most they add 10 more seconds on a 3.5 minute lap, not enough to cover the 150 km or so separating them from 917K record. Just think about the fact that cars 40 years ago spent one of the 24 hours in pits (refueling, changing tires, pilots etc)."

      Assuming one hour in the pits, at 3:30 per lap, you would do 394 laps, (the record is actually 396 laps, 5335.31 kms) . Adding 10 seconds per lap (3:40) would equate to 376 laps in the same time period. In the 60's before the chicanes were added, the track was 13.469 kms in length. After the chicanes were added the track length went up to 13.629 km, which multiplied by 376 equals 5124.50 kms , so you've proved yourself wrong.

      Your additional point about the modern era cars being faster through the turns doesn't take into consideration why they're faster through the turns and what that does to the top speed in the straights. They are faster through the turns due to aerodynamic downforce, which lowers top speed on the straights. Again, you've proved your point to be wrong.

      @Metar - You have it right. And there's two main reasons why the earlier Group C cars were so much faster, no chicanes on the Mulsanne and lack of aerodynamic downforce compared to today's cars.

      @Mobius_1 - You must have never seen Alan McNish drive! His drive from 2 laps down to win at Petit Le Mans last year was epic.
      • 5 Years Ago
      So she's 40! I still think she could run circles around a lot of today's machines. Depending on respective drivers, too, of course. I remember Steve McQueen driving a similar colored light blue Porsche 917 in Lemans I think, back in the late 60s or early 70s, but I am not sure if the bright orange Gulf Oil logo was on there or not. Maybe the bottom of the car was orange. Can anyone edify me on this?

      May her legacy live on!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sam, do you even know what penultimate means?
        • 5 Years Ago
        HAHAHAHHAA... i am glad someone noticed before me.

        i mean, wow. A+ writing there.

        hahahahahha
      • 5 Years Ago
      What an amazing car, for any time period. I suddenly want to go watch "Le Mans" now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      @ Dondonel
      "I am aware of the chicanes added to the track, but they do little to the overall lap times, at most they add 10 more seconds on a 3.5 minute lap, not enough to cover the 150 km or so separating them from 917K record. Just think about the fact that cars 40 years ago spent one of the 24 hours in pits (refueling, changing tires, pilots etc)."

      Assuming one hour in the pits, at 3:30 per lap, you would do 394 laps, (the record is actually 396 laps, 5335.31 kms) . Adding 10 seconds per lap (3:40) would equate to 376 laps in the same time period. In the 60's before the chicanes were added, the track was 13.469 kms in length. After the chicanes were added the track length went up to 13.629 km, which multiplied by 376 equals 5124.50 kms , so you've proved yourself wrong.

      Your additional point about the modern era cars being faster through the turns doesn't take into consideration why they're faster through the turns and what that does to the top speed in the straights. They are faster through the turns due to aerodynamic downforce, which lowers top speed on the straights. Again, you've proved your point to be wrong.

      @Metar - You have it right. And there's two main reasons why the earlier Group C cars were so much faster, no chicanes on the Mulsanne and lack of aerodynamic downforce compared to today's cars.

      @Mobius_1 - You must have never seen Alan McNish drive! His drive from 2 laps down to win at Petit Le Mans last year was epic.
      • 5 Years Ago
      917K (1971 600HP) still holds the record at Le Mans for the longest distance run in 24 hours!

      In 2nd place is Sauber C9 (1989 - 800hp) and in 3rd place is Ford GT IV (1967 - just 485HP, no slick tires, and lift instead of downforce).

      Amazing cars and drivers, but kind of sad state of affairs for the current endurance racing, if a 40 years old record still holds.
        • 5 Years Ago
        The track changes. Having two slow-speed chicanes in the middle of the longest straight in motorsports helps - instead of a continuous 380km/h sprint (the late-'80s Group C cars broke the 400km/h barrier!), it is now three short stints of acceleration: The highest 2007 speeds, for example, were 339km/h.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Metar

        I am aware of the chicanes added to the track, but they do little to the overall lap times, at most they add 10 more seconds on a 3.5 minute lap, not enough to cover the 150 km or so separating them from 917K record. Just think about the fact that cars 40 years ago spent one of the 24 hours in pits (refueling, changing tires, pilots etc).

        On the other hand, it is true that top speeds decreased through regulation compared to early 90s, but speeds through corners went up, in fact the current cars in qualifying trim are easy the fastest compared to their predecesors.

        Nevertheless, despite that current cars on per lap time basis are faster, the 40 year record (overall distace run in 24 hours) still stands.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I think the current bunch of drivers aren't mad enough to go all out when a win seems in the bag. Sigh... :P
      • 5 Years Ago
      Yes, the 917. From a time when the object of racing was to go as fast as hell in a car built only with speed in mind. I doubt too many modern drivers would have dared drive one of these beasts in anger. I believe the spaceframe on the coupe was rumored to weigh around 100 lbs...or maybe that was 100 kilos??? Imagine doing about 250mph in 917 LH on Mulsanne or experiencing 2 second zero to sixty times in the 917-30. If my memory serves, Donohue used to test at Paul Ricard and the 917-30 trapped 257 mph near the end of the mile long straight there. Probably had the boost turned way up :)
      • 5 Years Ago
      These cars were very confused, not knowing if they were race cars or fighter jets. At top speed it didn't take much for them to explore flight. As for having titanium balls to drive these things, I have no doubt mine would be up near my throat.
      • 5 Years Ago
      One of my favorite cars of all time.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I take my hat of for those drivers who lived in the Era of Speed at All Cost... The men behind these beasts were real heroes, some dying like ones... It certanly took balls of solid titanium to get inside one of those and drive it to the limit for 24 hours.
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