The car that gave Porsche its first Le Mans win and co-starred alongside Hollywood hero Steve McQueen in the film Le Mans has sold for US$14.08 million (NZ$19.2m).
The orange and blue Porsche 917K was auctioned at the annual Pebble Beach shindig in California. It is now the most expensive Porsche on the planet.
The car might forever be linked to the film Le Mans, but 917s spearheaded Porsche’s domination of endurance racing in the early 1970s, including back-to-back wins at Le Mans in 1970-71.The first 917 was unveiled at the Geneva motor show in 1969.
A month later Porsche lined up 25 examples for inspection by motorsport’s governing bodies.They were lightweight flyers ready to race. A fibreglass body sat on an aluminium spaceframe chassis. The suspension system mixed titanium and magnesium. Engine was a 4.5-litre flat-V12 developing around 430kW at 8500rpm.
The 917s quickly earned a fearsome reputation as “virtually undriveable.” But Porsche quickly improved the car and the results of the work earned its first endurance race win in August, 1969.
Former Formula One racer Swiss Jo Siffert was one of the drivers. Thereafter Siffert enjoyed a meteoric rise with Porsche.
In fact, he bought the 917K with chassis number 024 in June 1970 and later leased it to McQueen’s company, Solar Productions. It was one of three 917s used in the film.
When filming finished, 917-024 remained in Siffert’s ownership and returned with him to Switzerland. In July 1971, he famously drove 917-024 to his own birthday party.
Three months later, Siffert was killed when his BRM crashed at 260km/h. At his funeral, 917-024 led the procession, highlighting his intimate relationship with his favourite racing car.
The car remained as part of Siffert’s estate until 1978, when it was bought by a French collector. It sat in a warehouse outside Paris for 23 years until it was discovered in 2001, still with its Porsche JWA Gulf livery.
The find created much publicity and a Swiss car collector bought it . Three decals from Joseph Siffert Automobiles remained on the rear of the Porsche.
An original space-saver spare, Firestone fuel cell, and Firestone Super Sports GP tyres were still in place, among other unique details. There was even a handwritten tag hanging from the key stating, in German, “the injection pump runs five steps leaner in the Le Mans setup”.
Work began on restoring 917-024 back to its original condition, apart from a more modern replacement spaceframe. The only component missing is the engine. The original V12, which had been on loan to Siffert from Porsche, was never tracked down. To complete the car, engine 917-021 was bought from a private collector in the US.