No list of the greatest racing cars of all time is complete without the mighty Porsche 917. The flat-12-powered endurance racer was introduced in 1969 and dominated the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1970 and ’71, delivering the first overall victories to the German sports car company and setting a new standard for all such competition machines that followed.
RM Sotheby’s will offer a terrific example of this iconic Porsche, a 1970 917K coupe in classic blue-and-orange Gulf Racing livery, during its flagship Monterey, California, auction on August 13-14.
“To any automotive or motorsport enthusiast, the Porsche 917 needs no introduction, and it is the car’s early 917K coupe form that truly ignites the passions of these enthusiasts most strongly,” according to an RM Sotheby’s news release.
“Commonly regarded as ‘The World’s Greatest Sports Car’, boasting a near-perfect flat-12-cylinder, air-cooled engine that could propel the car to speeds in excess of 230 mph, the Porsche 917 set a standard for design, engineering and sheer performance that took endurance sports car design to new levels and which proved dominant over three incredible seasons of World Championship racing.”
Chassis no. 917 031/026, engine no. 917 031, was driven at Le Mans in 1970 by Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs for JW Automotive Engineering / Gulf Racing with racing number 22. But it crashed out on the rain-slicked course on its 50th lap.
Although it didn’t finish, the coupe still would become famous as a result of that race; original footage of the 917K in action was used in Steve McQueen’s movie Le Mans. So not only is this Porsche a fabulous race car, it’s also a bona fide movie star, becoming known as “The Le Mans Legend.”
Chassis 026 was constructed as one of three 1970 Le Mans entries of the JW Automotive Engineering / Gulf Racing team, although its Gulf livery was different from the other two, having a solid-orange roof down to the belt line while the other had orange centerline stripes.
After its Le Mans shunt, the 917 was repaired by the factory, rebodied as a lightweight open 917 Spyder, and renumbered ‘031’ for competition in the European InterSerie Championship, for Group 7 sports racing cars, the news release says. The car was raced extensively by Ernst Kraus, and then acquired by Georg Loos and his Gelo Racing Team. It continued to compete with success in the series through 1973.
The 917 retired from racing in 1974 and became part of the Chandon Collection, where it remained until 1988.
“The current gentleman owner acquired the Porsche in Spyder form over a decade ago and has since fully restored the car, returning it to its original and seminal, Gulf-liveried Le Mans coupe specification,” the release says. “The restoration was executed without regard to cost and the results are impressive in every sensory regard, from the stunning design and livery to the unmistakable symphony of the boxer-engined 12 cylinder at full revs.”
The auction company’s estimated value for this remarkable piece of racing and Hollywood history is $16 million to $18.5 million.
“The Gulf Oil Porsche 917K is essentially the holy grail of competition cars,” Gord Duff, global head of auctions for RM Sotheby’s, said in a news release. “Its inclusion in our upcoming Monterey auction is nothing short of spectacular, and we are thrilled to be able to present the 917K to our clients at the auction where they can fully appreciate it in person.
“It represents the very best of motorsport history and heritage from an era of legendary cars and drivers; it will forever be a movie star in its own right. To me, it is truly a magnificent machine that has no comparison.”
For more information about the Porsche 917K and the Monterey auction, visit the RM Sotheby’s website.