The ‘greatest racing car in history’ celebrates its 40th
birthday this year and, to celebrate, seven of the most important 917s have gone on display at the new Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.
The 917 was unveiled at the Geneva motorshow in March 1969, having been conceived the year previously to compete in the FIA’s new 5 litre, 800kgs homologated sports car class. Although it dropped out of its first three races due to technical problems, the victories soon began to pile up – the first being in the hands of Jo Siffert and Kurt Ahrens at the Österreichring 1000kms in 1969.
Various iterations of the soon-to-be iconic Porsche racer were to follow, but all shared a tubular light-alloy frame, fibreglass bodywork and a rear-mounted, air-cooled twelve-cylinder boxer engine – initially with a capacity of 4.5 litres making 520hp. Different bodies were designed for different racing conditions, with short-tail models developed on twisty circuits where maximum downforce was required, and the long-tail cars for faster tracks demanding a higher top speed. The open 917 Spyders dominated in CanAm and Interseries events, where the final turbocharged car campaigned by Mark Donohue in 1973 boasted a turbocharged engine with a monster 1200bhp on full boost – and performance so overwhelming that the CanAm series rulebooks were re-written for 1974 to keep the 917 out.
With victories at Le Mans also under its belt, the ‘greatest racing car in history’ accolade was awarded by Motor Sport magazine. Among the seven 917s on display at the Porsche Museum are the 1970 and ’71 Le Mans winners, and the ‘ultimate’ 917/30 Spyder.