If you’re a Porsche motorsport fan, chances are high that you’re also a fan of the amazing and powerful 917 of the late 60s and early 70s. It was a world-beater in its time, and was Porsche’s first demonstration that they were really capable of taking on all comers. Two Le Mans victories, a handful of international championships, a world closed course speed record, a technologically advanced series of flat-twelve engines, and some of the greatest drivers ever known to mankind. There were 13 of these amazing machines on display, or on course at the recent Rennsport Reunion V, so let’s give you a rundown of which were in attendance.
917-001 – Porsche Museum
Of all the cars at Laguna Seca over the weekend, this 917 is probably the most strange. It’s owned by the Porsche Museum themselves, and it cuts an astounding figure, but what’s hiding underneath isn’t exactly what you’d expect. This Porsche is the very first 917 built, but it certainly doesn’t look it. The first 917 was never used as a racer, only as a test bed for future development. That said, the first chassis was converted from its original long tail bodywork in 1970 to the new Kurzheck body, and painted to match Porsche’s Le Mans Winning Salzburg car (917-023). The Porsche, as you can see, now looks like the 1970 Le Mans winning chassis 917-023, even though it isn’t.
So where is 023? Well, 917-023 belongs to a private collector in Europe, and unfortunately they have no interest in selling. Porsche keeps this car in the museum as a representative of the one that provided them their first overall victory (of 17 total, now). Being that they had 001 just ‘sitting around’, it’s in-period Salzburg livery makes for a good stand-in.
If I were in charge at Porsche, I might try a little harder with the current owner. Perhaps trading them a different 917 for his 917-023 with an additional 918 and perhaps a 935 thrown in for good measure. Luckily I’m not in charge at Porsche, but hey, it’s worth thinking about.
917-009 – Charles Nearburg
This car was run in it’s original bodywork configuration in 1969 just one time at the Zeltweg 1000Ks of Austria (Siffert and Ahrens). For 1970, this chassis was given over to John Wyer’s Gulf team and converted to Kurzheck specification.
Run at the 12 Hours of Sebring in 1970 with Siffert and Redman, the car suffered a failed front right hub, and did not finish, despite qualifying second fastest. Later in 1970, the Porsche ran an endurance event at Monza, qualifying on pole, but suffering issues and finishing no better than 12th with the same driver pairing.
For 1971, the 917 was taken again to the 12 Hours of Sebring, this time with Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver. Again the Porsche qualified well, good enough for 3rd on the grid, but again ran into issues. This time, the car made heavy contact with the Penske-run Sunoco Ferrari 512M and damaged the nose cone extensively. This 917 did finish the race in 4th, but not without some effort.
917-015 – Bruce Canepa
This 917 is Canepa’s personal race car, and he’s run it before, including the last Rennsport Reunion. This is the Daytona-Spec version of 917-015, which is easily visible from the strange roof window that was added to the car. This window was helpful for seeing “up” the banking at Daytona, which is quite steep. This chassis won the Daytona 24 Hour in 1970 with Rodriguez and Kinnunen at the helm.
After its Daytona victory, 015 was relegated to test car status for the remainder of the World Sportscar season. It wasn’t run again until the weekend of the Watkins Glen 6-hour. 015 was brought along again as a test car and backup chassis. This time, the 917 was entered in the Watkins Glen round of Can-Am, which shared the weekend with the 6 hour. Brian Redman qualified the Porsche in 11th and managed to eke out a 7th place with it.
After the end of the 1970 season, 015 was returned to Porsche for a new chassis. With all the hours it had run, the chassis was deemed “timed out” of service life, and it was replaced with chassis number 035 and renumbered. 015 went on to compete as an open-topped spyder in the Interserie after being repaired, but we won’t get into that here. The car, as it sits now, has obviously been repaired and returned to its original Daytona-winning Kurzheck Coupe configuration.
917-016 – Chris MacAllister
This was probably my favorite of all the Porsches on display throughout the whole weekend. Subscribing to the “Preservation over Restoration” camp, Mr. MacAllister’s 917 is still in amazing as-raced condition. The rock chips, the patina, the age, the history; it’s all visible. And he still races it like it was meant to be in the ’70s. Add in that he’s owned the Porsche since 1996, and apparently driven it as such for almost 20 years, and I like it (and him) even more.
This was a winning Porsche in the hands of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. From the car’s very first outing at the 1000Ks of Brands Hatch, the duo qualified a lowly 7th, but stormed through for the victory. At Monza later that same month, the pair converted a 5th into a victory. Le Mans, unfortunately, saw this 917 finally fail, as the Gulf-Wyer racing didn’t have very good luck with their engines that year. In July, the Porsche was fitted with a different engine and shipped over to Watkins Glen for the 6 hour race, which it won handily.
Watkins Glen would be this 917’s last finish for the year, however. A gearbox failure for Rodriguez in the Can-Am event, a crash at Imola, and burned exhaust valves at Zeltweg saw the Porsche relegated to test-car status for the rest of its professional career. Derek Bell did take the car out for the Can-Am race in ’71, but could do no better than 11th overall.
917-017 (004) – Bruce Canepa
917-004 was built in 1969, and competed at the Nurburgring 1000Ks with Gardner and Piper aboard. In 1970, like most 917s, 004 was converted to Kurzheck spec and shipped off to John Wyer for a full Gulf treatment. Afterward the car was shipped off to Brands Hatch for the 1000K race there with Siffert and Redman aboard. That race was very rainy, and the car suffered a crash, then heavily damaging the rear end. The car was shipped back to Werk 1 and the chassis was replaced with the chassis numbered 017.
After the shunting and rebuilding, 017 was renumbered as 004 and racing continued. At Spa, with Pedro and Leo aboard, the car qualified on the pole, but the gearbox gave up the ghost forcing a DNF. At Le Mans, the car again took pole, but was crashed during the race.
In 1971, the car was taken to Daytona for Siffert and Bell, but had an engine failure. In April, the car was shipped off to Monza, where they finally managed a result with it, finishing second on the podium after 1000 Kilometers, from 7th on the grid. Zeltweg was the final race for 004/017, again with Siffert and Bell aboard, and again suffered a DNF. The car then languished around the race shop until 1975 when the car was completely overhauled and sold to a Mr. Sutterfield.
917-022 – Jerry Seinfeld
This Porsche isn’t really famous for its racing pedigree. 917-022 is known for its career as a movie star. Originally purchased in 1970 by Solar Productions for use in the movie Le Mans with Steve McQueen, this 917 helped make them all famous for worldwide audiences. While a Gulf 917 never won Le Mans, it did in the revisionist history of Hollywood’s portrayal.
After principal photography ended on the film, the Porsche was sold off to Team Auto Usdau to continue life as a serviceable racing car. This 917 had a reasonable career in 1971, having been painted in bright yellow with green stripes. Its most successful outing was the Nurburgring 1000Ks, where it finished 6th overall and 1st in class with Joest and Kauhsen. At a course like that, the 917 was too large and dependent on high speeds to compete with smaller and more nimble cars like the Porsche 908/3, which won the event outright. For a few races later in its career, this 917 was fitted with a tail fin rear deck instead of the center wing style that it wore in the film.
Obviously this Porsche has been restored to its Le Mans movie livery, and it looked awfully good in the garages at Laguna Seca lined up alongside a dozen other Porsche Le Mans heroes.
917-035 (015) – Porsche Museum
917-035 was the chassis number used to repair 917-015 (The Daytona-winning Bruce Canepa-owned chassis seen above), and was renumbered to reflect such. After the offseason rebuild, 015 entered the 1971 season with a new chassis, and ready to attack. Starting off with a 2nd place finish at Buenos Aires isn’t a bad way to get back in the ring. After that race, this 917 was fitted with a new 5-liter engine, and following a DNF at Brands Hatch, won overall at the 1000 KMs of Spa with Rodriguez and Oliver from 3rd on the grid.
After that win, this 917 followed that up with a podium place at Watkins Glen for the 6-hour race, placing 3rd with Bell and Richard Attwood sharing driving duties. Since the car was already there, Porsche and John Wyer entered the 917 in the 1971 Watkins Glen Can-Am for Gijs Van Lennep, who could finish no better than 9th against much more powerful cars.
This car is freshly restored, and it shows. This car was absolutely perfect from bottom to top. This is the car that Pat Long took for a shakedown at Willow Springs in preparation for the event.
917-042 – Porsche Museum
This Langheck 917 was the only Langheck in attendance at Rennsport Reunion, and what a representative for the bodystyle it was. This Porsche was built in 1970 for the express purpose of whipping up a frenzy at Le Mans, and that’s exactly what it did. With a brand new 4.9 liter flat twelve, the Porsche was supplied to the Salzburg team as a complement to 917-023, and was painted in inverse colors, red over white. In retrospect, Elford and Ahrens regret their decision to go with the long-tail car for 1970, as it was the short tail 917 that won, but at the time, it seemed like the right move to make.
Showing up for Le Mans in 1970, the longtail 917 was far and away the quickest down the Mulsanne, which contributed to 917-042 setting a blisteringly quick 3:19.8 in qualifying to grab the pole. Whether it was the stresses of higher speeds, or the less reliable larger displacement engine, this Porsche didn’t make the finish.
Being that this 917 was so heavily optimized for Le Mans, it wasn’t really even thought of as an option for any other races, so the car went into storage to await the following June. In 1971, this Porsche was trotted out to the Martini Racing garages. An impressively different set of bodywork was applied to the car, featuring a longer-more swooping tail, a wider, lower, front nose cone, and a whole host of other tweaks. Elford paired with Larrousse this time, and was hoping for redemption. This Porsche was a full 5 seconds faster in qualifying in 1971 than it had been in 1970, thanks to all of those aero tweaks. Sadly, this was only good enough for second on the grid. Again, this 917 did not finish.
Since Le Mans 1971, Porsche has retained ownership of this car, and it is now one of the focal points of the museum’s 917 display.
917/10-003 – Unknown Owner
One of the best parts of the weekend was seeing George Follmer step back behind the wheel of his old championship winning 917/10 and take it for a few laps around Laguna Seca. He still knows what he’s doing behind the wheel, I guess.
In 1972, this Porsche was supplied to Penske for use in the SCCA’s Canadian American Challenge (Can-Am) for Group 7 Cars. After winning five of the nine rounds that year (Road Atlanta, Mid Ohio, Road America, Laguna Seca, and Riverside), Follmer and Penske easily walked away with the championship trophy. It’s safe to say that this 917 was head-and-shoulders above the competition, and a stellar driver was at the wheel.
Follmer would get another chance with this Porsche the following year, as chassis #003 was sold to Rinzler Racing’s Royal Crown Cola sponsored team to contest the 1973 season, and wanted an experienced driver to pilot. No more victories would come, though, as Penske had the improved 917/30 for the year that absolutely destroyed the competition. Follmer and 917/10-003 did manage three 3rd and three 2nd placed position finishes in 73, though.
I think it was learning about the Can-Am 917s that really made me a Porsche enthusiast, that’s when I really got hooked, so seeing this beauty in the Chopard Tent, and later on track, was a quasi-religious experience for me.
917/10-007 – Brumos Racing
Having met Hurley a few times, it’s hard to imagine such a calm and gentle man having hustled a big, angry, aggressive machine like this 917/10 around a race track, even in his “I’m invincible” youth. These racing Porsches could really get out of control if you weren’t really up on the wheel all the time. Seeing “his” 917 only adds to my respect for the good Mr. Haywood.
For the 1972 season, this 917 was supplied to Brumos for the Can-Am championship. Unlike the Follmer car, Peter Gregg’s ride had slightly different front aero, more akin to the nosecone of a Langheck Le Mans car than the aggressive front of 917/10-003. Additionally, this Porsche was originally run with a light blue paint job and a big round 59 meatball on the side. The “Brumos Livery” hadn’t yet been invented, and wouldn’t be seen until the 1973 season.
Through 1972, Peter Gregg ran this 917 in the Can-Am, and managed no better than a third place finish with the car at Road America. The car suffered a series of failures, failing to finish, or even start the race, four separate times. Given a better finishing record, Gregg might have placed a bit higher in the championship.
In 1973, Gregg would move to focus on Trans Am, and leave his Can-Am seat open for the young Hurley Haywood to step in. Again, 1973 was absolutely dominated by Donohue and his mighty 917/30, so hoping for a podium was the best Hurley could really do, and managed that three times out of four finishes with two 3rd and one 2nd finish. Again, DNFs were rampant, as 917/10-007 failed to finish half of the races it ran in 73.
917/10-015 – Chip Connor
This 917 has served an interesting life as a racer. This was a very late production Porsche for 917/10s, and was employed by the Willi Kauhsen Racing Team in the European counterpoint to Can-Am, a championship called ‘Interserie”. This chassis won the Interserie races at the Nurburgring and Imola in 1973 with Kauhsen himself at the wheel. He also ran the Porsche at a couple of Can-Am events on this side of the Atlantic.
In 1974, Kauhsen again ran 917/10-015 in the Interserie. Again he found success, winning at the Silverstone round of the championship. A second at Kassel-Calden, and a pair of 4ths at Casale and Hockenheim was the best he could muster for the remainder of his time with the Porsche, however.
Here comes the interesting part, to me, at least. At the end of 1974, this 917 was then sold to a Mr. Randolph Townsend of Reno, Nevada. Townsend was an avid amateur racer, and was a part of the “Team Reno”. I’m sure he must have tried the car out at some smaller local events, but the Porsche’s history shows an appearance at the SCCA’s US Road Race of Champions, running in the A Sports Racer category. He brought the 917 out three times, finished 3rd in 1975, 6th in 1976, and 2nd in 1977.
After that, the Porsche ended up in the Rosso Bianco museum, which went bankrupt. The contents of the collection were transferred to a different state-run museum, and they had no need for a 917/10, so the car was sold. In 2006, Connor purchased the Porsche at the Quail Lodge auction, and had the 917 restored to its original Interserie Bosch livery.
917/30-003 – Robert Kauffman
This is *the* 917/30. The one that Mark Donohue used to capture his 1973 Can-Am championship and absolutely destroy the rest of the field. Penske and Donohue were heavily involved in this 917’s development, and as such, had first crack at Porsche’s best, and to date still most powerful, racing machine. In 1973, this was practically a space-ship on the race track. A true prototype. Future technology. And it took a massively talented driver and crew to tame the beast within.
Mark started the Can-Am season in 917/30-002, starting the season at Mosport with a disappointing 7th. Switching to 917/30-003 for race 2, things improved at Road Atlanta, with a 2nd. His first win came at Watkins Glen driving 002. From then on, he was in 003 for the rest of the season, notching up 5 more wins on the trot (Mid-Ohio, Road America, Edmonton, Laguna Seca, and Riverside). 6 wins out of 8 races is a heck of a way to clinch a championship, right? Porsche, Penske, the 917/30, and Donohue himself all proved to be unbeatable.
After the Can-Am effort, this chassis was used in 1975 during the Talladega 500 NASCAR weekend to set a closed course top-speed record lap average of 221.160 miles per hour. This record stood for 11 years, until Rick Mears took his Indy March-Cosworth faster in qualifying for the Michigan 500 in 1986. Sadly, the record winning run would be Donohue’s last ride before his death the following week.
Since that time, this 917 has been restored, and is a recent acquisition of the Mr. Kauffman, and resides at the Canepa museum, since about a month ago.
917/30-005 – Peter Harburg
This Porsche has never had any race provenance, but that didn’t stop Harburg from taking his 917/30 out on the track for a run with the big guns. If I had to guess, he was likely running on low boost pressures, and probably wasn’t pushing for fastest lap, in order to preserve the car. He was running about even on pace with some 906 Carrera 6s in his class, while the naturally aspirated 917Ks and a 908 ran away with the show at the front of the field. That said, I’m sure I would have done far worse, perhaps even stuffing the old beauty into the wall at Turn 3. No complaints from me, I was just happy to see the old girl out on track and hear her turbo flat-12 running.
917/30 chassis was the intended successor to Penske’s 1973 car, and was meant to have contested the 1974 Can-Am season. As soon as Penske found out that the SCCA was changing the rules to neuter the 917’s advantage, the already delivered 917 chassis went unfinished and was relegated to the corner of the shop for a number of years. Gerry Sutterfield would eventually work a deal to purchase the Porsche in 1979, and set about building the car into a complete 917/30 for his collection.
In 1989, Sutterfield sold this Porsche to Hans Thulin, who added it to his private museum in southern Sweden. The 917 would stay with Thulin for two years until his world came crumbling down around him. Thulin had allegedly borrowed several times against the same securities, and this resulted in his failure in business, his eventual bankruptcy, and the bankruptcy of his lender, Optima Bank. In the liquidation of his assets, the Porsche was sold to an undisclosed Japanese corporate collection (believed to have been the Meitec Corporation, and engineering consultancy).
In 2005, this Porsche was moved to an anonymous private collector. The anonymous party is still unknown [at least to the general public], but the 917 was sold again in 2011 to John Collins of Talacrest who owned it for less than one month. Purchased in October, and sold again in September, this 917 ended up in the Australian collection of one Mr. Peter Harburg.
When this Porsche sold again, in 2011, it was still outfitted with a strangely designed white, yellow, black, and red striped livery. Harburg, being of sound mind, decided to give the Porsche a proper Penske Sunoco 917/30 livery and return it to a little bit of vintage racing around the world. As the decals on the rear fairings prove, this 917 has been to the Goodwood Festival of Speed a couple of times, among others. Harburg did list the 917 for sale at RM’s Paris sale (along with a 904 and a Rothmans 956 from his collection), but it ended up being a no-sale lot with a high-bid of $2,677,400. It would appear that Harburg has opted to keep the 917 since that time, and he sure looked like he was enjoying the car at Rennsport Reunion. Thanks for bringing it all the way over here, Peter!