With the 917, Porsche for the first time entered the league of immensely powerful, large-capacity racing cars. The 580 hp from the twelve-cylinder 4.5-litre engine of the 917 set new standards, to the extent that even decades later, independent experts rate this Porsche as one of the most impressive sports cars of the century.
Changes in the regulations motivated Porsche to build the 917. Prototypes were allowed a maximum engine size of three-litres, and for sports cars five-litres were allowed. However, a series of at least 25 had to be built. The 1969 race season allowed the 917 to become fully race-proven, with the result that the car entered 1970 with its reliability assured and finely-honed aerodynamics which further improved its track behaviour. At that time, the factory did not enter the cars directly, but via its close partners, John Wyer Automotive and Porsche Salzburg; nevertheless, the World Championship for long distance sports car racing proved to be a triumph for Porsche. Despite fierce competition from Ferrari, the blue and orange, and red and white 917s won almost every race.
The Le Mans 24 Hours race was particularly important, as Porsche had not been able to score an overall victory so far. In 1970, seventeen 917s participated and two completed the race – in first and second places. The winners were Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood in number 23, and the 917 also won the fuel consumption index category, demonstrating the commitment by Porsche to combining performance and efficiency, a focus maintained by the company to this day.
Immortalised by Steve McQueen in the movie classic, Le Mans, the speed and success of the 917 resulted in it becoming a popular choice for private entrants racing in the sports car World Championship.
A total of 59 examples of the 917 were built, 41 as short or long-tail coupes, and 18 as Can-Am or Interseries Spyder versions with 1,400 hp turbocharged engines.
Engine: 4,494cc, twelve-cylinder, horizontally-opposed pistons, air-cooled, two valves per cylinder, four cogwheel-driven overhead camshafts
Power: 580 hp at 8,400rpm
Fuel system: Bosch mechanical, 12-piston, dual row pump, 120-litre fuel tank
Transmission: Five speed gearbox, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip differential
Chassis: Aluminum tubular space frame, plastic body, independent suspension, coil springs, vented disc brakes
Dimensions: Wheelbase 2,300mm, length 4,140mm, height 920mm
Weight: 800 kg
Performance: Top speed 340km/h (211mph)