What might well be most famous racing car of all time made its international debut exactly 50 years ago this week at the 1969 Geneva Motor Show. To celebrate this landmark birthday, the Porsche Museum has restored the first 917 ever made to its original show condition and will display it alongside a never-before-seen concept car this spring.
Chassis 917-001 heralded the beginning of an unparalleled period of racing success for Porsche. The Group 4 sports car, designed to sweep the board at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and win the World Championship of Makes, was the first of the 25 units made to meet homologation requirements for type approval. Its chief designer Hans Mezger, who was responsible not only for the twelve-cylinder engine, but also for the car as a whole.
The success of the 917 is the stuff of legend. The car secured overall victory in its very first year of competition in the 1,000-kilometre race at Zeltweg, Austria. In 1970, it achieved that coveted maiden win at Le Mans – Porsche’s greatest motorsport success at the time – and repeated the feat the following year. Further development saw the turbocharged 917/10 and 917/30 dominate the North American Can Am Series in 1972 and 1973 while proving unbeatable in the Interserie in Europe. And lest we forget, an altered version of that turbo technology gave rise to the 911 in 1974.
The first 917 underwent various changes over time, making its restoration a challenging one. “Our approach to the authentic handling of classic cars has changed considerably over the past ten years,” explains Achim Stejskal, Director of the Porsche Museum. When restoring vehicles from the company’s historic collection, the museum places great importance on retaining original material and the relevant history of its exhibits.
When the 917-001 was unveiled for the first time in Geneva it was presented with Porsche’s traditional white-painted bodywork offset by a green front section. But by the time of the International Motor Show in Frankfurt late that same year, the car was repainted white and orange. And when Porsche later announced the transfer of its racing activities to the J.W. Automotive Engineering team, headed by Briton John Wyer, 917-001 was once again used as a presentation vehicle and refinished in the now iconic blue and orange brand colours of US oil sponsor Gulf.
The original 917 soon adopted the ‘Kurzheck’ or short-tail bodywork that J.W. Automotive had helped develop. And when Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann drove a 917K to outright victory at Le Mans the following year, chassis 917-001 was repainted once again in the now famous red and white Salzburg livery that adorned that historic race winner.
For over a year, museum mechanics, former technicians and engineers from Zuffenhausen and Weissach, as well as the Historical Archives and partner companies, have worked tirelessly on the restoration of our original 917. The top priority throughout was the conservation and reuse of the car’s original materials wherever possible and technically practicable. The process was dependent on careful testing to determine which materials were original and could be reused, using both physical analysis and comparison with historical design drawings and photographs.
From 14 May to 15 September 2019, the Porsche Museum will honour the 50th anniversary of the 917 with a special and extensive exhibition entitled ‘Colours of Speed – 50 Years of the 917.’ A total of 14 exhibits including ten 917s will be on display, with the perfectly restored 917-001 at its heart.
The Museum will also present a 917 concept to the public for the first time. The red-and-white show car was created by a small team of designers and engineers as a homage to that famous first Le Mans victory. A selection of racing posters and small technical exhibits will round off this special exhibition, and to mark the anniversary, the museum shop will also offer a selection of 917 products for sale, including a book to mark the anniversary.