1970 Porsche 917
- Year of manufacture1970
- Car typeOther
- Lot number044
- Exterior colourOther
Porsche AG (built in 1970 and retained for testing)
Joseph Siffert (acquired from the above in 1970)
Pierre Prieur (acquired from the estate of the above by 1978)
Current Owner (acquired from the above via Modena Motorsport in 2002)
Le Mans Pre-Training, Le Mans, France, April 11–12, 1970, Siffert/Hailwood, No. 22
Nürburgring Test, Nürburg, Germany, May 19–21, 1970, No. 22
Ehra-Lessien Test, Ehra-Lessien, Germany, May 23, 1970
Walter Näher, Porsche 917: Archive and Works Catalog 1968–1975, p. 76
Michael Keyser with Jonathan Williams, A French Kiss with Death, numerous
Michael Keyser, Behind Le Mans: The Film in Photographs, numerous photos throughout
John Horsman, Racing in the Rain: My Years with Brilliant Drivers, Legendary Sports Cars, and a Dedicated Team, 1970 Le Mans discussed on p. 227
Siegfried Rauch, Unser Le Mans
Jürgen Barth and Gustav Büsing, The Porsche Book: The Complete History of Types and Models
Ian Bamsey, Porsche 917: The Ultimate Weapon
Peter Hinsdale, The Fabulous Porsche 917
Jörg Thomas Födisch, Jost Nesshöver, Rainer Rossbach, and Harold Schwarz, Porsche 917: The Heroes, the Victories, the Myth
Karl Ludvigsen, Porsche: Excellence Was Expected: The Comprehensive History of the Company, Its Cars and Its Racing Heritage
Peter Morgan, Porsche 917: The Winning Formula
Larry Pihera, The Making of a Winner: The Porsche 917
Glen Smale, Porsche 917: The Complete Photographic History
Gordon Wingrove, Porsche 917: The Undercover Story
THE PORSCHE 917
At the end of the 1968 racing season, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) released several new important regulations aimed at reducing average speeds. The only cars that would be eligible to compete for the World Manufacturers’ Championship were three-liter prototypes, exotic racing cars built in small numbers, and five-liter sports cars that had to be constructed in a series of 25 identical examples. Porsche recognized this new dictate as an opportunity to create a world-beating five-liter sports racer that would be campaigned alongside the three-liter 908. If the new car was at all successful, Porsche would finally have a serious chance of overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The new Porsche was the direct result of years of intense research. Though it employed the most modern concepts in automotive design, the new car was absolutely in keeping with Porsche tradition. The foundation of the new model was an incredibly lightweight aluminum space-frame chassis. Similarly, the suspension systems made extensive use of lightweight materials, such as titanium and magnesium.
Glued to this frame was a striking, streamlined body made from thin fiberglass. Covered in NACA ducts and suspension-controlled aerodynamic flaps, the shape of the new Porsche was honed in the wind tunnels at Stuttgart Technical Institute. Each car was designed to wear both short and long tails, the latter specially designed with Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight in mind.
The magnificent car’s air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine is an undisputed masterpiece of automotive engineering designed by the legendary Hans Mezger. With dual overhead camshafts, twin-plug ignition, Bosch mechanical fuel injection, dry sump lubrication, and the distinctive, mechanically driven six-blade fan, it delivered 580 bhp at 8,400 rpm in original 4.5-liter form.
At the Geneva Auto Show in March 1969, Porsche unveiled the new car, named the 917, to the amazement and utter surprise of the motoring world. On Monday, April 21st, Porsche staged 25 completed 917s in a perfect row in the courtyard outside Werk I to greet the inspectors sent by the International Sporting Commission (CSI) of the FIA. Never before had so many world-class sports racing cars been built in so short a time. Even after just a few races, the 917 earned a fearsome reputation. Vic Elford stated that “the early 917 really was virtually undrivable.” Fellow Porsche works driver Gerhard Mitter nicknamed it “the Ulcer.”
In light of these issues, Porsche continued to perfect the 917 throughout the 1969 season, developing the car race after race, test session after grueling test session. By 1970, the new-and-improved 917K (K was for Kurz, or “short”) was ready to take on the world.
Throughout the entirety of the 1970 and 1971 seasons, the Porsche 917K was the car to beat. During this period, the 917K achieved back-to-back wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Porsche won its second and third Manufacturers’ Championships. Except for a victory at Sebring by Scuderia Ferrari and three wins by the Alfa Romeo Autodelta team, Porsche won every championship race on the calendar for two years. In just four years of production, including two years in turbocharged Can-Am specification, the Porsche 917K was established as the ultimate sports racing car of the era. Its success meant that Porsche, previously respected as a class winner, had now attained the sport’s highest level of acclaim.
Born on July 7, 1936, in Fribourg, Switzerland, Jo Siffert – affectionately known as “Seppi” among family and friends – emerged from humble origins to become one of the most successful drivers of his era.
By 1960, Siffert had gained valuable experience on motorcycles and campaigning a Stanguellini Formula Junior before heading to Formula 1. While he never had a ride with a top team, Siffert earned two wins, six podium finishes, and 68 championship points in 96 Grand Prix starts.
It was in sports cars that Siffert really earned his reputation. His meteoric career with Porsche made him a household name and closely paralleled the Stuttgart firm’s rise to prominence. After a brief outing at Spa in one of the earliest 917s, Siffert told fellow Porsche works driver Brian Redman, “We’ll let the others find out what’s going to break.” Only at the end of the season and after much urging did Siffert finally agree to race the new 917, and on August 10, 1969, at the 1000 Km Zeltweg, Seppi and Kurt Ahrens presented Porsche with victory number one for the 917.
During the 1970 and 1971 seasons, Siffert drove the much-improved 917K and the 908/3 for the works-backed JWA Gulf-Porsche team. He won four championship races and secured a further seven podium finishes while helping Porsche capture the Manufacturers’ Championship for Makes in three consecutive years.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF 917-024
As documented in Walter Näher’s definitive work on the 917, Porsche 917: Archive and Works Catalog 1968–1975, it was very common for Porsche to renumber 917s during their racing careers. Porsche factory records indicate that the first 917-024 was built in 1969 and renumbered during its racing life as 002, 005, and finally 006. After months of rigorous testing work at the Nürburgring, Hockenheim, Weissach, and Zeltweg, the chassis was subsequently wrecked and scrapped in February 1970.
Porsche needed a shorttail car for the important Le Mans pre-training in April 1970 and prepared a frame, numbering it 917-024. Notably, Näher believed that the frame used may have been the “Sample Frame,” which was the first 917 frame ever produced. This new machine, prepared from new to “K” specifications, is the car offered here.
These tests would be Porsche’s ideal opportunity to prove that the shorttail model was capable of conquering the high-speed Le Mans circuit. Painted in Porsche’s traditional white and wearing No. 22, the new 917-024 was entrusted to Brian Redman and Mike Hailwood. When Redman set the fastest times of April’s test in 024, it was more apparent than ever that Porsche would have an opportunity to win the famed 24-hour race in June.
Chassis 917-024 would go on to further testing at the Nürburgring and at Ehra- Lessien in May 1970. On June 25, Jo Siffert purchased the car from Porsche, as documented by copies of correspondence acquired from Porsche’s archives.
STEVE McQUEEN’S TRIBUTE TO LE MANS
With a massive budget, the finest contemporary race cars, some of the era’s best professional drivers, and a star actor turned racing driver, it comes as no surprise that the 1971 film Le Mans is as legendary as the race it depicts.
While some of the film’s racing footage was captured during the actual 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, much was shot on set with both actors and professional drivers at the wheel of various Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s, among other sports cars, with sequences famously filmed at racing speeds.
Given the film’s plot, it was necessary to have several Ferrari 512s and Porsche 917s as the major stars of the film. Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions purchased one 917K from Porsche directly, while JWA loaned another. A third car, 917-024, was leased to Solar Productions by Jo Siffert, along with many other cars used in the movie.
As chronicled by numerous photos of Siffert’s fleet before shooting, 917-024 was initially numbered 22 and sported a livery featuring an orange roof that continued down the tail section. It is difficult to know exactly which car is featured in each moment in the film, but historian Walter Näher believed that the drivers, including McQueen himself, swapped between cars as necessary.
After assembling the fleet, the Solar Productions crew was tasked with mounting cameras and using camera cars to film the action. While the three Gulf-liveried 917s are shown in most action sequences battling the Ferraris, they too were used as camera cars for some of the best racing sequences. Today, 917-024 still retains the mounting points used to affix camera rigging to its rear frame tubes.
Porsche 917s used in the production of Le Mans must be among the most recognizable and impactful automobiles ever to grace the silver screen. That the movie ended with a Gulf-liveried 917 winning the Le Mans race only added to the mythic nature of these cars.
JO SIFFERT AND 917-024
After the filming of Le Mans, 917-024 r