THE KING OF SPORTS CARS
INE-SEVENTEEN. It somehow sounds
right, doesn’t it? But then everything
about Porsche’s first outright winner
of the Le Mans 24 Hours was right: the
way it performed, the way it looked, and
even the colors in which it raced. That
the Porsche 917 was a thing of beauty,
wrapped in so many iconic color schemes,
is just as essential in the legend of the
car as the successes achieved and the
records set during its short, spectacular
career at world championship level.
So successful was the 917 that it
resulted in a change of rules that legislated
it out of the championship for which it was
built after just three seasons, only adding
to the mystique that surrounds it.
Yet equally important in the status of the
917 coupe in motorsport folklore are the
heroics performed behind by the drivers
sitting behind its spindly steering wheel,
their feet jutting ahead of the front wheels.
Then there are the wonderful tales
of the development of an ever-evolving,
cutting-edge racing machine that was,
perhaps a little unfairly, dubbed the
“widow maker” in its earliest iteration.
The Porsche 917 even takes center
Nstage in a Hollywood movie. For many,
the star of the 1971 film Le Mans is not
Steve McQueen, but the car that his
character, Michael Delaney, drives. It is, of
course, a rasping, bellowing Gulf-liveried
Porsche 917, its menacing presence
evocatively captured for the big screen.
If a Gulf-liveried 917K is the image
conjured in the mind of a casual racing
fan by mention of the car’s name, the
debate among aficionados is which
single moment from the 917’s short,
sharp Sportscar World Championship
career (from 1969 to ’ 71) epitomizes
Photographed at Porsche Motorsport North America’s Santa
Ana, Calif., base, Porsche 917-015 is the kurzheck (short tail),
4.9-liter car that won the 1971 Spa 1,000km at record speed.