The Porsche 917, a winning car
Porsche built the 917 with one underlying goal: to win its first overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans.
Developed in only 10 months, Porsche’s iconic « winning car » incorporated remarkable technology such as Porsche’s first 12-cylinder engine, an aluminum tube space frame chassis, myriad components from titanium, magnesium and exotic alloys, even suspension springs made from titanium wire. The 917 included another feature which would prove to be controversial in the days leading up to the race: movable aerodynamic wings. In March 1969, the 917 is presented at the Geneva Car Show, and following the FIA regulation minimum required, 25 identical models were being manufactured at this time.
Despite the driver’s enthusiasm for the new promising racer and an almost victory of the 917-008 at Le Mans 1969, the 917 quickly turns out to be unstable and dangerous at high speeds, resulting into death for one the Le Mans’69 driver, John Woolfe.
In fact, with a weight of 950 kg and 560/580 horsepower, the Porsche 917 was by far the fastest on the racing scene, but built in so little time, the car was facing some serious instability issues, and quickly, Porsche top drivers became reluctant to drive it, nicknaming the car the « Ulcer » due to the strong anxiety they got from driving it.
Further to the driver’s feedbacks and the dramatic crash at Le Mans 69, Porsche engineers decided to bring the car back to the factory for further research and shorty found a solution to make it safer, modifying the car into 917 K version. Thus, the first bash of 917 long tails were all converted into 917 K. It was a right move for the German manufacturer who was, quickly after that rewarded by their first overall wins at the following editions of Le Mans 1970 and 1971.
Despite the performance of the short « K » version, Porsche calls for another speed record and wants to improve the long-tail version, introducing a second bash of five long-tail chassis (917-040 to 917-045), specifically designed to race the high-speed straights at Le Mans.
A story in two acts
As we know, retracing some cars history ends up being a enthralling investigation that can last several years to rewrite. Back in the glorious years of racing, cars didn’t last much longer than a race. Racing cars used to be frequently modified by the firm, engine & chassis plates exchanged, part of the body cut & removed, in the intention to create the most efficient racing car of the racing scene in the shortest laps of time and in the most economic way. Thus, Porsche was a powerful actor in the mix and match game, frequently swapping chassis numbers to satisfy the needs of customs documentation and race entries.
The 917-043 is one of the very interesting story to tell, retracing the exciting double life of a racing car.
Following the rule that in the car industry, what defines the car is the chassis, we are able to trace the real story of the car.
A promising debut
917-043 came out of the factory in 1970, destined to become part of the Martini Racing Team for Le Mans 1970. In this occasion, the car was painted in a very special livery, composed of whorls and swoops of white on a violet background. On June 14, early morning before the start of Le Mans 24H race, light green paint was added to the design of the car, making it the final iconic psychedelic version of Martini Racing. This exotic design, was clearly a tribute to the « Hippie » influence and was shortly noticed by the medias, giving the 917-043 the nickname of « The Hippie Car ».
As the race started, Drivers Gerard Larousse and Willi Kauhsen were leading a faultless performance, winning one position per hour, they were third after seven hours. By the twentieth hour, they reached the second place and kept it until the end of the race, achieving a second place just behind Le Mans overall winners, the 917K drivers Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann in the winning 917-023.
The (dismantled) sleeping beauty
A few months later in November, while Jo Siffert was testing the car at Hockenheim, an inadvertent driving error occurred, leading the car and driver into a crash, and thus anticipating the end of the car’s promising racing life.
The damaged car was disassembled and divided into three parts, that were successively reassembled on other cars: the damaged body on the chassis featuring the psychedelic colors was kept in storage by Porsche, while the mechanics were sent to Siffert’s Can-Am 917/10-002, and the vin plate was reassembled on a plain chassis initially numbered 917-044 (new 917-043).
The initial body and chassis was repaired, renumbered it 917-040 and kept in storage until 1972 until Vasek Polak purchased it. The car was sent to California and sold back three years later to the actual owner, Massimo Pedrazzi who kept the car in Brazil until today. After several research, and the clear proof of a racing history on the car’s body, the factory corrected and properly authenticated this car as the original 917-043.
The Other 917-043
In February 1971, Porsche factory selects a spare long-tail chassis ( 917-044) from the 1970’s batch and builds a complete new car and mechanics on it. In order to prepare for the coming 24H of Le Mans in June, the car is painted in the legendary Gulf livery and renumbered 917-043 to fasten the « Carnet de passage », race entry.
That’s when the second life of the 917-043 starts.
After several trials, the brand new car, featuring a 1971 long-tail body, attended the 24 Hours of Le Mans driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver. After a perfect debut in pole position, the team was forced to abandon due to an oil issue first and shortly after that an engine stroke occurred.
Back from the unfortunate race, the car’s was renumbered 044. For testing purpose, the car’s front was cut and fixed on the 917/10-001 Can-Am, whereas the rest of the car was disassembled, the long-tail body and engine were scrapped. The remaining chassis was rebuilt with a new white body on top and then sold to Vasek Polak in 1972.
Later on a, after the rebuilt of complete car, the 917-044 was painted in the Martini Psychedelic and exposed in the Simeone Foundation Automotive Museum in Philadelphia ( actual owner).