The minute you understand the 1969 Porsche 917‘s keen racing instinct you are bound to fall in love with it, and no Le Mans poster is complete without the 917! Motorsport has always been in the DNA of Porsche, so it comes as no surprise that Porsche has been dominating the Endurance Racing scene for as long back as we can date our memory. In fact, their involvement in Endurance Racing dates all the way back to the 1950’s, through majority of their involvement up to the mid-1960’s involved supplying small capacity racing engines to the non-factory racing teams.All of this changed with the late 1960’s when there was a spectacular unison of a British Racing Team and the incredible might of Porsche Engineering. The year was 1969, just hours before the running of 12 Hours of Sebring, a private conversation between Porsche Team Manager – Rico Steinemann and the legendary John Wyer, where Porsche management proposed the idea of offering J.W. Automotive Engineering the Porsche Factory Racing Program for 1970 and 1971. And little did they know at this point that they were scripting the pages of motorsport history.The offer from the Porsche Management was purely based on the brilliance displayed by the slough based U.K. team to consistently win against newer cars backed by better-funded Factory Teams. J.W.A.E was being partnered by Gulf Oil, running their Ford GT 40 which was considerably obsolete against the likes of Factory Teams having newer cars and updating their parts every other race. John Wyer took the matter up with Gulf Oil who really fought hard to find the incentive for the change, given how the team was still continuing their winning streak running in their outdated car. It wasn’t until John Wyer had seen the 1969 Porsche 917 for the first time in the Geneva Salon, where he found his conviction to take the case up with Gulf Oil. In Wyer’s words, Porsche had typically done what they did best “make everything else obsolete with a single stroke of engineering brilliance”.
The conversation between J.W.A.E and Porsche took place at the beginning of the 1969 racing season, though there was only a basic agreement between the two teams for the next season, they still had the whole of the 1969 season ahead of them to remain competitors. Despite the fierce competition in the 1969 season between the teams who would turn partners next season, they both had pleasant memories to take home at the end of the season, with J.W.A.E once again claiming the 24 hours of Le Mans with their aging Ford GT 40 and Porsche winning the World Championship with a combination of their 908’s and the early 1969 Porsche 917’s. The contract was finally signed in August of 1969, with Porsche supplying 7 complete 1969 Porsche 917’s to J.W.A.E for the upcoming 1970’s racing season.
The first race for the Porsche 917 under the J.W.A.E couldn’t have been a bigger challenge for the new partnership, it was the 1000kms race at Brands Hatch which showcased the best competition and the worst of the British Weathers. The tricky conditions of rain and wind showed mixed results in qualifying for the 2 chassis of the 917’s running that race. The older 004 chassis with the great Jo Siffert and Brian Redman aboard, the driver pairings of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen running the updated 016 chassis. The cars started the race on narrow Firestone rain tyres, with the 004 chassis having a troubled start with a flat rear, leading them to lose considerable amount of time to get the car back in the pits. The 004 car joined back in 3rd place and was alternating between second and third position before having to retire on the 177th lap, when it was hit in the rear by the Ferrari 512S of Chris Amon. The 016 car on the other hand had a spectacular race and took home the overall win, which marked the start of Porsche’s dominance in the world of Le Mans for years to come.
The 1969 Porsche 917 was powered by a 4.5 liter flat twelve-cylinder engine mated to a four-speed gearbox producing about 520 bhp. By 1970 and 1971, the engine capacity was increased to 4.9 and 5.0 litres producing 600 and 630 bhp respectively. In addition, the 917 could accelerate from 0 – 62 MPH in a neck wrenching 2.3 secs and accelerate to 124 MPH in a meager 5.3 secs and was capable of hitting a top speed of 240 MPH. The car also was a display of Porsche’s first take on balancing aerodynamic stability and reducing aerodynamic drags at higher speeds.
The up-swept tail in its initial iteration produced very little down-force and even generated aerodynamic lift at higher speeds. Then there is the brutal zero modulation accelerator, the initial 917’s accelerator’s were either completely open or completely shut, the concept of being able to throttle modulate was non-existent. This meant it was very easy to light up the rear tyres coming out of a corner and one had to have an extremely tamed right foot to keep the 917’s temper in control.
The aspect of driving this car around the Circuit De Le Sarthe for 24 hours Le Mans brings perspective of the incredible skill, concentration and sheer courage displayed by their drivers, with absolutely no electronic aids and limited safety regulations to bail them out of difficult situations. Therefore, nothing can come minutely close to the level of nostalgia and respect that the 1969 Porsche 917 can invoke in a petrolhead, its just pure mechanical brilliance, which demanded not only the at most of skills from its drivers but also unparalleled courage, in its attempt of achieving glory with danger lurking around every corner.
So a keener understanding of the 1969 Porsche 917 does portray the image of an older solider with relatively less agility and dated technique, he might not leave you with the best first impressions, but the minute you share war strategies with him, you suddenly begin to understand his keen natural instinct, and his flare for War. Similarly, the 1969 Porsche 917 in today’s context seems rough around the edges, but the minute you understand its keen racing instinct you are bound to fall in love with its character and no Le Mans poster is complete without a Porsche 917! In addition, the 1969 Porsche 917 is going on auction at JamesEdition this year, to know more click
In addition, the 1969 Porsche 917 is going on auction at JamesEdition this year, to know more click here.
Image source – JamesEdition