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Porsche Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of the 917 Race Car

50 years ago Porsche engineers developed one of the most effective racing machines ever made and now they’re celebrating the 917’s 50th year of existence. Marking the occasion is a 2019 917 concept vehicle that will soon be on display at the Porsche Museum.

917 Porsche Photos

Porsche 917/10 1972 Model Year Porsche 917/10 "Pink Pig" Porsche 917/10 "Porsche Audi" Porsche 917 Interserie Spyder Porsche 917LH 1971 Porsche 917K Porsche 917L 1970 Porsche 917K Porsche 917-PA Porsche 917 "Cibie" A Rear Three-quarter View of a 917/30 A Rear Three-quarter View of a 917/30 CAN-AM Porsche 1971 917LH 2019 Porsche 917 50th Anniversary Concept Porsche 917 Original 2019 Porsche 917 50th Anniversary Red 1971 Porsche 917

Porsche 917 Facts:

1. The 917 was the first Porsche automobile to give the manufacturer a win at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 917 took home Porsche’s second win in 1971 as well.

2. The 917 was originally powered by the Type 912 flat-12 4.5-, 4.9-, or 5-liter motor.

3. The 917/30 Can-Am version went from zero-to-62 mph (100 km/h) in a mere 2.3 seconds. This model could go from zero-to-124 mph (200 km/h) in only 5.3 seconds.

4. The 917/30 Can-Am variant could reach a top speed of 240 mph (390 km/h).

5. Steve McQueen drove a Porsche 917 in the 1971 movie, Le Mans and in 2017 the same vehicle sold for $14 million at auction (a record price for any Porsche car).

6. Porsche celebrated the 40-year anniversary of the 917 at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in 2009.

7. In initial tests, it quickly seemed that the 917 Porsche didn’t work well on the racetrack.

8. As with previous under-powered Porsche cars, the 917 aerodynamics had been optimized for low-resistance towing to perform well on the high-speed Le Mans, Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps, Autodromo Nazionale Monza, and elsewhere.

9. Porsche’s earlier model, the 908, was redesigned with a completely new chassis and designated 908-03, so it would be used in Targa Florio and Nurburgring, with 1000 km of events – two winding, narrow and slow gears in which the 917 was not competitive.

10. The Porsche commitment was to build cars for every kind of track – the 908-03 for the slow and winding slopes, the 917K for the middle and fast track, and the 917L for the Le Mans straights.

Origins of the 917

The 917 came to be in thanks to a concerted effort to reduce car speeds at Le Mans and similarly fast circuits at the time. The Commission Sportive Internationale (the independent competition arm of the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) at the time) declared a four-year (1968 through 1971), three-liter Group 6 prototype event for the International Championship of Makes. It was this event that race officials hoped would entice manufacturers already producing a three-liter, Formula One engine to compete in.

While three-liter sports car manufacturers were still few, CSI organizers allowed for five-liter Group 4 race cars to participate alongside their smaller engine counterparts.

1971 Porsche 908 1000km Race at Nürburgring

1971 Porsche 908 1000km Race at Nürburgring

In April 1968, facing few entrants in races, the CSI announced that the minimum production figure to compete in the sport category of the International Championship of Makes (later the World Sportscar Championship) was reduced from 50 to 25, starting in 1969 through the planned end of the rules in 1971. With Ferrari absent in 1968, mainly Porsche 908s and Ford P68s were entered there, with the Ford being a total failure. As a result, old 2.2-litre Porsche 907s often won that category, with John Wyer’s 4.7-litre Ford GT40 Mk.I taking wins at faster tracks.

Starting in July 1968, Porsche made a surprising and expensive effort to take advantage of this rule. As they were rebuilding race cars with new chassis every race or two anyway, selling the used cars to customers, they decided to conceive, design and build 25 versions of a whole new car with 4.5-litre for the sport category with one underlying goal: to win its first overall victory in the 24 Hours of Le Mans on May 14, 1970. In only ten months the Porsche 917 was developed, based on the Porsche 908.

When Porsche was first visited by the CSI inspectors only three cars were completed, while 18 were being assembled and seven additional sets of parts were present. Porsche argued that if they assembled the cars they would then have to take them apart again to prepare the cars for racing. The inspectors refused the homologation and asked to see 25 assembled and working cars.

On March 12, 1969, a 917 was displayed at the Geneva Motor Show, painted white with a green nose and a black No. 917. Brief literature on the car detailed a cash price of DM 140,000, approximately £16,000 at period exchange rates, or the price of about ten Porsche 911s. This price did not cover the costs of development.

On April 20 Porsche’s head of motorsports Ferdinand Piëch displayed 25 917s parked in front of the Porsche factory to the CSI inspectors. Piëch even offered the opportunity to drive any of the cars, which was declined.

917’s Construction

The car was designed by chief engineer Hans Mezger under the leadership of Ferdinand Piëch and Helmuth Bott. The car was built around a very light spaceframe chassis (42 kg (93 lb)) which was permanently pressurised with gas to detect cracks in the welded structure. Power came from a new 4.5-litre air-cooled engine designed by Mezger, which was a combination of 2 of Porsche’s 2.25L flat-6 engines used in previous racing cars. The ‘Type 912’ engine featured a 180° flat-12 cylinder layout, twin overhead camshafts driven from centrally mounted gears and twin spark plugs fed from two distributors. The large horizontally mounted cooling fan was also driven from centrally mounted gears. The longitudinally mounted gearbox was designed to take a set of four or five gears.

To keep the car compact despite the large engine, the driving position was so far forward that the feet of the driver were beyond the front wheel axle. The car had remarkable technology. It was Porsche’s first 12-cylinder engine and used many components made of titanium, magnesium and exotic alloys that had been developed for lightweight “Bergspider” hill climb racers. Other methods of weight reduction were rather simple, such as making the gear shift knob out of birch wood, some methods were not simple, such as using the tubular frame itself as oil piping to the front oil cooler.


Porsche has made it perfectly clear that their 2019 917 concept car will remain just that – a concept – and won’t make its way to dealer showrooms any time soon. Expect this newly constructed 917 to be exhibited at the Porsche Museum from May 14 through September 15 of this year. In addition to the concept model, enthusiasts can look forward to 10 additional 917s that have been fully restored and will be on display.

Porsche’s Official Press Release:

See the official press release here: Porsche celebrates “50 years of the 917”

Return of the 917-001 and more than 7,795 PS-powered special exhibition

Stuttgart. One of the strongest number sequences ever produced by Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year: the Porsche 917. The most famous racing car of all time made its debut at the Geneva Motor Show on 12 March 1969, and the Porsche Museum is celebrating the landmark birthday with plans to restore the first 917 ever made to its original condition, as it was when first unveiled 50 years ago. The 917-001 underwent various changes over time. “Our approach to the authentic handling of classic cars has changed considerably over the past ten years,” explains Achim Stejskal, Director of the Porsche Museum. When restoring vehicles from the company’s historic collection, the museum places great importance on retaining original material and taking into account the relevant history of its exhibits.

The history of the 917-001 as a test and presentation vehicle
The 917-001 marked the beginning of an unparalleled racing car career for the 917. The 917-001 Group 4 sports car, designed to sweep the board at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and win the Brand World Championships, was the first of the 25 vehicles that had to be made to meet the requirement for type approval; the chief designer on the project was Hans Mezger, who was responsible not only for the twelve-cylinder engine, but also for the vehicle as a whole.

The 917-001 was presented for the first time in Geneva in March 1969, with it bodywork in white with a green front section; it had a new look for its appearance at the International Motor Show in Frankfurt the same year, for which the car was repainted in white and orange. When Porsche later announced the transfer of its racing activities to the J.W. Automotive Engineering team, headed by Briton John Wyer, the 917-001 was once again used as a presentation vehicle – and refinished in the brand colours of US oil company and sponsor, Gulf: light blue and orange.

Following its first clean sweep at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 917-001 was then reworked into the short-tail version by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in September 1970; when the 917-001 was handed over to Porsche Salzburg in October 1970, it was in the colours of the car that won the Le Mans race and was emblazoned with starting number 23.

Restoration of the 917-001 to its original 1969 condition
For over a year, museum mechanics, former technicians and engineers from Zuffenhausen and Weissach, as well as the Historical Archives and partner companies, worked on the restoration of this original 917. The project was particularly challenging from the outset because of the multiple transformations the car had undergone during its time as a test and presentation vehicle. The top priority throughout was the conservation and reuse of the car’s original materials wherever possible and technically practicable.

The restoration was particularly guided by testing which was able to determine which of the body materials were original and could be reused, using material analysis and comparison with historical design drawings and photographs. It was with this approach that the body parts for the front and rear sections were painstaking reproduced using state-of-the-art 3D technology and with reference to the original design drawings; the rear section of the aluminium space frame was also restored with the aid of original documents. Exactly 50 years on, the 917-001 will be presented in the Porsche Museum, restored to its original condition as in 1969.

Unparalleled dominance in motorsport and a trendsetter for turbo technology
The success story of the 917 is legendary. The car managed to secure an overall victory in its very first year of competing in the 1,000-kilometre race at Zeltweg, Austria in 1969. In 1970, Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood achieved the coveted overall triumph at Le Mans – the greatest motorsport success Porsche had ever achieved until that point, and which would be repeated by Dr Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep in 1971. Following further development of the 917 to the 917/10 and 917/30 turbo versions with over 1,000 PS, George Follmer and Mark Donohue were able to dominate the North American CanAm Series in 1972 and 1973 respectively; these Porsche models also proved unbeatable in the event’s European counterpart, the Interserie. An altered version of the turbo technology was also reused a little later in a Porsche standard vehicle – when the 911 Turbo was born in 1974.

Special exhibition in the Porsche Museum
From 14 May to 15 September 2019, the Porsche Museum will honour the 50th anniversary of the 917 with an extensive special exhibition entitled “Colours of Speed – 50 Years of the 917”. A total of 14 exhibits – including ten 917 models which alone have a combined PS output of 7,795 – will be on display. The Porsche Museum will present a 917 concept study to the public for the first time as homage to the first Le Mans victory of 1970. The red-and-white show car was designed by a small team of designers and engineers, though with the entry of Porsche into the LMP1 category of he FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC), this model remained as purely a concept study. A selection of racing posters and small technical exhibits will round off the special exhibition, which features the highest-ever total PS for such an event. To mark the anniversary, the museum shop will also offer a selection of 917 products for sale, including a pink barbecue apron inspired by the unique 1971 917/20, nicknamed the “Pink Pig”. Edition Porsche Museum, the in-house publisher, will also release a book to mark the anniversary of the 917.