this brutal, but beautiful machine?
Perhaps it’s Pedro Rodriguez on
opposite lock in the rain at the 1970
BOAC 1000 at Brands Hatch? Or, same
season, the Mexican side by side with his
teammate and rival Jo Siffert on the blast
toward the still damp Eau Rouge at the
start of the Spa 1,000Km?
Another memorable image (RIGHT) is
the famous shot of 25 917s neatly
lined-up at Porsche’s Zuffenhausen
factory in Stuttgart ready for inspection
by the men in blue blazers from the
Commission Sportive Internationale,
the then-sporting arm of the FIA.
The need to build 25 cars was at
the heart of the 917’s conception by
Ferdinand Piech, boss of the development
and test department under which
motorsport fell at Porsche. The marque
had been increasingly successful on the
international sports car scene, with a line
of cars running from the 906 and 910,
through the 907 and 908, with six- and
then eight-cylinder engines. But a rule
change in the Group 4 category was the
impetus required for Porsche to step up
from competing for class honors and go
for overall honors in the International
Championship of Makes for the first time.
And so the idea of the 917, powered by a
flat- 12, air-cooled powerplant was born.
The homologation minimum for Group 4
THE WONDER YEARS
had initially been 50 cars when new rules
were introduced for 1968, but with few
takers and an eye on encouraging small
constructors to build cars, that was then
halved. But attracting a major
manufacturer like Porsche wasn’t exactly
what it had in mind, which maybe explains
why the CSI officials turned tail when they
first pitched up at Zuffenhausen. Only a
handful of the 917s were fully assembled
and the rest were present in component
form only…which explains the return visit
and that iconic photograph.
The 917 had finally passed muster
with the CSI, but it didn’t meet with the
approval of Porsche’s roster of factory
drivers when the race season got
underway in 1969. Piech’s idea was a
low-drag machine that would fly down the
3.7-mile Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans,
but that made for a disconcertingly
unstable ride. Porsche factory drivers
Siffert and Brian Redman rejected their
917 at the Spa 1,000Km in favor of a
908 Coupe and duly won the race.
Porsche’s stars also wanted nothing to
do with the 917L for the 1,000km race on
the daunting Nurburgring-Nordschleife,
which is why the German manufacturer
brought in Frank Gardner and David Piper
to drive a sole 12-cylinder car.
1969 was for troubled learning; 1970-’ 71 were for winning.
WINS = 14/( 66.66%)
With several cars in component form, the
CSI refused to sign off the 917 on its first
visit to Porsche. Ferdinand Piech made
sure there was no doubt on it second visit...
That’s probably a good way to describe the 917K and its
Sportscar World Championship career. For 1972, the series would
be limited to 3-liter Group 5 cars, outlawing the mighty 917.
J. W. Automotive, run by John
Wyer (ABOVE, with Derek
Bell), is a huge part of the 917
legend, thanks to its kurzheck
breakthrough, 11 SWC wins
and Gulf blue and orange. Only
thing missing? A Le Mans win
for the British team’s 917s.
Of the 21 SWC races run
in 1970 and ’ 71, 917s won
14, with 908s taking three
more. The rest? Ferrari won
one and Alfa Romeo three.
917 SWC wins: J. W. Automotive, 11;
Porsche Salzburg, 1; Martini Racing, 2