This week marks the 40th anniversary of the Porsche 917.
The car was first displayed at Geneva on March 12, 1969.
Development of the 917 commenced in July of 1968 in complete secrecy to avoid leaked information of its existence reaching Porsche’s number one competitor – Ferrari. The car features a 4.5 lite flat 12 engine and a spaceframe that many consider too light and flexible, however; during the development period Porsche also developed a flat 16 prototype designed for a capacity up to 7.2 litres.
The Spa 1000km of 11 May 1969 saw the 917’s competition debut.
The car was initially deemed “incredibly unstable” by development driver Brian Redman and “extremely dangerous” by Hans Herman.
However an intense development programme through 1969 saw the car ultimately developed into one of the most successfully race cars of all time. It went on to win Le Mans in 1970 and returned in ’71 with the Martini and Gulf-Wyer teams to completely dominate the event.
The Long Tailed Le Mans racer was capable of 0-100km/h in 2.5 seconds and a top speed of 406km/h
The Gulf Team livery 917 was immortalised by Steve McQueen in the 1971 film Le Mans. It has since that time -- along with the Bullit Mustang -- become one of the two most iconic movie cars.
For the 1973 Can-Am series, a turbo-charged version was produced; developing 820kW in race tune and 1180kW in qualifying tune. This version, the 917/30 could accelerate from 0-100km/h in 1.9 seconds and 0-160km/h in 3.9 seconds, hitting a top speed of 414km/h.
Mark Donohue set the land speed record for a closed circuit in a 917/30 at Talladega Sperspeedway in 1975. The average speed was 356 km/h and the record stood for four years.
The Porsche 917 is one of the most significant race cars of all time with current (2009) values at between $3 million to $7 million. If though chassis number 917 – 022 (the primary Steve McQuenn Le Mans film car) came on the market now we expect that that upper limit may be far exceeded.