52 AUGUST 2014
Porsche factory team for 1970 even
before it had beaten the 908 at
Le Mans with its ageing Ford GT40
driven by Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver.
When J. W. carried out an evaluation
test at Austria’s Österreichring in
October ’ 69, engineering manager
John Horsman noticed that the front of
the car was plastered with flies, whereas
the tail remained clean, meaning the
airflow was separating. The team set to
work modifying the rear bodywork
using aluminum sheeting, pop rivets
and duct tape. What emerged was an
approximation of the classic 917 shape,
the kurz or kurzheck (short-tail).
It was the 917K that gave Porsche the
first of its tally of 16 outright Le Mans
victories in 1970, although not to one of
the favored cars. Attwood and Hermann
won in horrendous conditions aboard a
Porsche Salzburg-entered machine using
a 4.5-liter engine, rather than the new
4. 9 developed for the ’ 70 season.
Elford was racing another variant of
the 917 that year, the 917LH. The
langheck had been developed to send
the car, as was Piech’s want, ever faster
down the Mulsanne. Wyer rejected the
langheck, but Elford was again happy to
put his faith in a low-downforce machine.
“The short tail K was very easy to
drive, but the langheck was a bit less
comfortable,” he explains. “You could
twitch the short-tail car around a bit in
the corner, but with the long-tail version
you had to be absolutely precise and
committed. Once you turned in, you
couldn’t change your mind.”
Porsche would subsequently try to
combine the best attributes of the K
and the LH. The result was the 917/20
that raced at Le Mans in 1971 with
Reinhold Joest and Willi Kauhsen.
That car is not remembered for its
achievements on the track — it qualified
only seventh and failed to finish – but
for its livery. The car was dubbed the
“Pink Pig” and had names of the cuts of
meat written on its bodywork.
The “Pink Pig” wasn’t the only
great 917 livery. The car did much to
ensure that Gulf Oil blue with an orange
stripe entered motor racing psyche.
Ditto Martini Racing stripes. And don’t
forget the psychedelic swirls of the
917LH driven by Kauhsen and
Larrousse at Le Mans in ‘ 70.
But most of all we shouldn’t forget the
exploits of the drivers who raced the
917. Would the car be remembered in
the way it is today without Rodriguez’s
wet-weather masterclass at Brands in
1970, or without he and Siffert pushing
themselves to ever faster lap times at
Spa a year later (see opposite), or
Jackie Oliver’s fastest ever lap of
Le Mans at a cool 155.626mph average
during the 1971 test weekend?
The answer is, perhaps not. But the
legend that is the 917 is much, much
more than the sum of its successes on
the race track. It truly is an icon.
(TOP) Whatever the angle, the Porsche 917K
exudes purposeful aggression. 917-015’s
4.9-liter, flat- 12, air-cooled engine (ABOVE)
produced approx. 600hp in late-1971 spec.