Perhaps the single most iconic racing car in history, the Porsche 917 is what most people think of when they hear the name LeMans. This isn’t surprising, as Porsche developed the 917 to compete in the storied endurance race, and 917s gave Porsche their first LeMans win in 1970. More pics after the jump.
Steve McQueen added to the cars fame with the release of his 1971 film, LeMans, which featured actual footage of the 1970 race. If you’ve never seen the film, you should; it’s not much for dialogue or plot, but it features great racing footage of Porsche 917s battling Ferrari 512s.
Porsche produced the 917 from 1969 through 1973, in a total of six variants. Engines were flat 12s and ranged from 620 horsepower to over 1,100 horsepower in the 917/30 configuration. Early 917s were ill tempered and evil handling, since Porsche sculpted the body with low drag, not downforce, in mind. Brian Redman, famous for his mastery of the 917 in various versions, recalled that, “it was incredibly unstable, using all the road at speed.” An accident at the start of the 1969 LeMans race claimed the life of John Woolfe, the first privateer to race the 917.
By 1970, Porsche had developed aerodynamic enhancements that improved the cars behavior at high speeds and the victories began to accumulate. Other body styles were built in an attempt to reduce drag, but maintain some level of drivability. Five 917LH “Longtail” versions were built, including the “Hippie Car” shown here.
The last major variant of the 917, the 917/30, was introduced in 1973 and featured an open cockpit design to compete in the North American Can-Am Challenge. It remains the most powerful sports racer ever produced; in qualifying trim, running 39 pounds of boost, the 12 cylinder twin-turbo motor produced 1,580 horsepower. This was good enough to propel the 1,800 pound car to 100 kilometers per hour (62 mph) in 1.9 seconds. The car would hit 200 mph in 10.9 seconds and had a top speed of 260 miles per hour. Ironically, the car that so forcefully dominated Can-Am racing also led to its demise; concerned that speeds had gotten too high and that motor racing was seen as wasteful following the original oil crisis, the SCCA pulled the plug on the series in 1974.