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Porsche 917: everything you need to know!

Motorsports
Porsche 917

Join us on a ride along the legendary Porsche 917

Today we want you to join us on a ride along the breath-taking highlights of the most famous Porsche racing car: the Porsche 917. As a petrolhead with a keen eye for iconic race cars, it is very likely that you have seen a speeding 917 around the track of Le Mans. You even may have heard that this racing car was so dominant in its time that it was eventually banned out of racing.

However since its recent 50th year anniversary, we would like to show and tell you what the Porsche 917 makes so special. Moreover in this blog we will tell you about the history of the 917. How many Porsche 917’s are made, owned and are left. And of course, additionally we will highlight the most iconic 917 Porsche liveries. Feel free to tell us what you think and which one is your favourite!

About Porsche

Before we completely dive into the 917 model of Porsche, we first want to tell you the story of Porsche itself. As you may know Porsche was established in 1931, but didn’t become right away the company as we know now. Initially, Porsche offered motor vehicle development work and consulting, but did not build any cars under its own name. So you may ask yourself now: How did they become one of all-time greatest car marques? Well the start of success can be owed to the German Government. One of the first assignments Porsche received was to design a car for the people: Volkswagen. The senior Ferdinand Porsche engineered the Volkswagen Beetle, one of the most successful cars of that time.

However it was due to the intellectual Ferry Porsche that the company became synonymous with sports cars and race cars. In 1948 the Ferry Porsche built the first Porsche car, the Porsche 356, the design was based on the Volkswagen Beetle developed by his father. This first sportscar just had 40 horsepower supported by a rear-mounted, slightly souped-up Beetle engine, quite surprising we must say! The Porsche 356 made quickly its mark with agile handling, as well as attributes almost unknown among sportscars at that time.

Did you even know that the Porsche’s worldwide success in motorsports also started with the 356? The very first model with chassis number 356.001 was only a few weeks old when, in July 1948, it scored its first class victory in the Innsbruck City Race. And this this very day hardly any other marque has brought home as many overall wins and world championships as Porsche. Most of the success can especially be thanked to Porsche 917, which is known for their winning streak in the Le Mans. 

The start of the Porsche 917

You must know that the now well-known Porsche wasn’t created out of luxury, but rather out of necessity. Back in 1968, the FIA changed the regulations for the World Sportscar Championship by raising the displacement limit from three to five litres. This meant that the three-litre Porsche racing cars were only competitive to a limited extent. As you can guess, a new five-litre car was needed.

Driven by annoyance about the rule change, head of development, Ferdinand Piëch, gave the go-ahead to build the legendary Porsche 917. The 31 year old engineer wanted a car capable of winning at any costs. And of course the risks paid off!

The Porsche 917 is surely the most famous and successful racing car, although it had a difficult first year in in racing season of 1969. The handling performances of the car were tricky and therefore had the reputation of actually being undrivable. The reasons for these teeth aching problems were simply a time problem: there was not time left for testing, so the Porsche 917 drove straight from the drawing board to the racetrack, so to speak. The design process was all focused on the aerodynamics at the expense of the downforce, as you can imagine this influences the driving stability tremendously!

The winning recipe of the 917

The next season, Porsche conduced a ‘’tried and true’’ recipe on the Porsche 917 for racing success. This could only mean one thing: massive horse powers wrapped in a lightweight body. In this case, a 12 cylinder engine producing 600 horsepower was placed within a tube-frame chassis made of hollow magnesium tubes.

The frame of the 917 just had two purposes. First, the hollow structures were made in order to conserve the weight. Secondly, the hollow framework allowed to circulate coolant to keep the massive rear-engine cooled. As a consequence, the legendary racer only weighted 800 kilograms!

Also the other body parts were completely transformed: the rear, nose sills and wings were completely reengineered. The only parts which were left unchanged were the windscreen, doors and roof.

All the updates resulted into great improvement of handling and the speed of the 917.  The 917 suddenly had what it took to be a winner and was ready for the next coming season.

The domination of the Porsche 917

In the season of 1970, the John Wyers Gulf team and the Porsche Salzburg team entered the 917 in Worlds Sportscar Championship. And as expected, the 620 horsepower cars lived up to its promise and won seven of eight races in that season. The 917 showed its superiority in Le Mans. It was Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood who took first place in the and white Porsche 917 Salzburg short tail. The other team consisting of the drivers Gerard Larousse and Willi Kauhsen took second place in the Porsche 917 Gulf long tail. So Porsche achieved the ultimate goal, the overall victory at the Le Mans.

The hard work in the 917 project paid off, because there was no stopping in this racing monster. The winnings continued. In the 1971 season, the Porsche 917 also won seven out of eight races. And once again Porsche being the victorious winner at the Le Mans. Another interesting fact to mention to you is that the winning team, consisting of Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep, set a record distance of 5,335.16 kilometres that was not broken for almost 40 years.

After the 1971 season, the regulations of the World Sportscar Championship were changed once again and the 917 was no longer eligible to participate. But fear not, the 917 continued to win at the Can-Am series in North America and the Interserie in Europe. They won no less than 37 times up to 1975, an incredible achievement we must say!

How many original Porsche 917’s are made?

As mentioned to you earlier, the development of the Porsche 917 came due to a rule change in motorsports. This decision was made by the FIA in 1968 and was to allow sports cars with smaller engines to race in the Worlds Sports Car Championship and to attract new companies to the grid.

So in this new class of racing, Porsche decided to build only 25 cars instead of 50. As you can imagine, this completely lowered the cost of entry and production for other companies. However when FIA officials visited the Porsche’s factory to inspect the cars for the 1969 racing season, they only found six examples of the 917. The engineers said that they had enough parts to build the rest. The immediate disbelief of the FIA manifested in replying ‘’no way!’’ and therefore mandated Porsche to have all 25 cars completed in order to race.

So Porsche had it own race against time, in just three weeks, Porsche rushed the remaining cars into construction. For this purpose, they even used secretaries and office workers to quickly assemble the cars in time. Surprisingly they succeeded in building all 25 of the cars and also passed the FIA’s inspection. However some of them couldn’t run the engine and therefor had to be reassembled and rebuilt by Porsche mechanics.

Porsche 917 products

We as Keppninni can of course not skip this car out of our livery collection. Below is a selection of our products based on the famous Porsche 917. You can find more products of the Porsche 917 here.

What is the Porsche 917 worth and who owns them?

In 2017 a Porsche 917K with chassis number 024 went to auction at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance. Before I will mention the price I will tell you more about this specific car. Import to mention is that this particular car did not actually race, it did only take part in testing. What drove the price up was the fact it was owned by a Swiss racing driver, Jo Siffert. They also used this car in the famous 1971 film Le Mans, starring Steven McQueen.

All of this together with the fact the car was a barn find and got a full restoration made it an expensive car. In 2017 the car was sold for a whopping $14,080,000! The 917 with chassis number 030 was the only street legal 917 ever made. This car has recently been valued at a price tag of $40,000,000!

How many 917’s are left?

As you can imagine the Porsche 917 is quite unique. As mentioned in the part above, there were only 25 units made in 1969. Over all the years Porsche build a total of 59 units. The 917 won several championships and was a unique race winning car. Famous people out of the motorsport’s world worked on this model, like Ferdinand Piëch, Helmut Marko, Gijs van Lennep and Steve McQueen. All this together makes the 917 a collector’s item, an expensive collector’s item. So what is it worth?

Porsche 917 liveries

In our opinion the Porsche 917 model is definitely one of the most terrific cars that ever raced at Circuit de la Sarthe. However you may think: let’s just swap ‘terrific’ for ‘terrifying’ when describing this speed monster. Another funny detail about the Porsche 917 is that many drivers were actually scared to drive it, because the car was aerodynamically unstable. So not many drivers were able to tame the Porsche 917, but those who did, felt a tremendous satisfaction winning races in it.

Now we will highlight the coolest liveries featured on the Porsche 917, as motorsports fanatic you are going to love this!

Porsche 917-001

It was on March 12 at the 1969 Geneva International Motor Show that the iconic Porsche 917-001 was revealed to the world. Shortly thereafter, on April 21, 25 other examples were necessary to meet up with the regulations of the FIA. However the Porsche 917 with chassis 001 was the first one of the flock and therefore received special green accents while the other 24 Porsche 917’s bore a simple white paint job.  We think that the green highlights on the nose and rear wheel arches are a cool combination!

Porsche 917/20 “The Pink Pig”

The Pink Pig’s legacy started in 1971 when Porsche participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. An attempt was made to blend the best aerodynamics from the short tailed 917k and long tailed 917 LH. This resulted into the weirdest and rarest appearance: the car’s combination of a long body, stubby face and wide hips gave it a pig-like look.

It wad Anatole Lapine who gave the car a pink paint job with butcher cut lines covering the exterior. Due to this special livery, it received also the name as ‘’Big Berta’’and ‘’Truffle Hunter’’. Besides its porky looks, the car was the fastest in qualifying and nearly came in fifth place, before a brake failure caused it to crash before finish line.

Porsche 917K

The Salzburg Red 917 set a milestone in racing history and distinctive design. The Salzburg Porsche claimed the first overall victory of Porsche at the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970. It were Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood that were behind the wheel of the winning number 23.

The iconic Salzburg Porsche has a distinctive red and  white livery based on the colours of the Austrian flag. We think that the overall combination with that specific colour ratio gives the 917 a very vibrant and speeding look.

Did you know that this livery is still used today? It possible to order this livery when you purchase a Porsche 918 Spyder with the Weisscach package. Also the new Porsche model 935 is purchasable with this red white Salzburg livery.

Porsche 917 Martini

Drinking and driving should never go together, except for the partnership of Martini And Porsche, it was like a match made in heaven!  The long tailed 917 LH appeared in a shiny white and martini striped livery. The Porsche Martini 917 set the highest average speed at 240 km/h.

The 917 LH was developed as a low-drag, much more stable compared to 917k. The 917 LH was set up in particular to excel on the long Mulsanne Straight of the Circuit de la Sarthe where speed and aerodynamic slipperiness were key.

In the 1971 the car didn’t  cross the finish line of the 24 Hours of the Le Mans unfortunately. The car had to be  retired due to an engine failure. Nevertheless the car attracted many visitors and became one of the best known Porsche Martini liveries.

Porsche 917 LH Psychedelic a.k.a. “The hippie”

This livery is considered one of the most iconic of all Porsche models. This livery with the 917 LH came in second at the Le Mans in 1970. A nice detail of this car is that was also sponsored by Martini, many people didn’t knew about that.

The livery prompted the French to call the car ‘’Le Psychedelic’’ or ‘’Hippie Car’’, due to its purple colour with the fluorescent green swirls. When the livery was placed on the car, about 1,500 spray cans were used!

While the cultural context of 1970s might be credited for the reference, the hips of the fenders as they curve around the flanks and guide air towards the long-tail at the rear, gives the nickname a double meaning. So even racing couldn’t ignore the free love movement during the 60s and 70s.

Porsche 917 Gulf

The sky blue and orange palette that denotes the Gulf Oil livery one of the most famous racing car designs. Britain’s JW racing designed this iconic livery and can safely be regarded as every motorsport fan’s favourite paint job. The popularity of the exterior can mainly be thanked after the appearance on another chassis in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film.

Thanks to that, the light blue and lightning orange has become more than just colour combination. It is so iconic today, that you can easily refer to it as optical tuning.

Bonus video!

Nothing better than listening to the sound of this incredible car! 

 

Do you have any additions or questions about the Porsche 917? Let that know under this article in the comments! We are also very curious about your favorite livery!

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