Driving the Porsche 917: ‘a rough diamond polished to a shine’

With wheelspin a possibility at any time, on track you treat a Porsche 917 with respect…

Porsche 917 front Race car of the century

Motor Sport’s Andrew Frankel is no stranger to the 917 but wore his kid gloves for his track test

Briefly, it feels like it might get away from you. When the turbos light up and the needle of the boost gauge flickers, then hurls itself around the dial, you wonder if you’re going to be able to contain it. You have to think so fast, because if you don’t the fact you’d never be allowed to drive another factory Porsche race car would be the least of your problems.

And yet despite a level of performance that would be completely alien to anyone other than a modern F1 or LMP1 driver, once you’ve recalibrated your brain even a Porsche 917/30 at full chat can be handled. I’m not saying mastered, nor anything close.

Porsche 917 rear Race car of the century


Porsche 917 rear wing Race car of the century

While it’s not in the least easy, it is still many times easier than its specification – 1100bhp in an 850kg car – might ever suggest, particularly given its hardly cuddly reputation.

But you must remember this is a 917 after four years of constant development, the roughest of rough diamonds polished to a shine. If any of its actions were in the least unpredictable it would be undriveable with this level of power. But while the prospect of sitting in a bird’s-nest chassis with what appears to be a thermonuclear device strapped to the back of your seat, the reality is somewhat less so.

There is no nervousness in the steering. It’s quick, but directs the car where you expect. The four-speed box has synchromesh and a precise action. You’re almost certainly never going to wrong slot and blow the engine. Were it not for the power and its explosive means of delivery, you’d want to skid this car about a bit.

Porsche 917 engine Race car of the century

Even in a straight line you have to be careful. You can spin the vast rear Avons pretty much anywhere and at any speed, so you can’t just nail the throttle. But press it progressively and you will finally feel what 5.4 litres of twin turbo flat 12 motor can do. Experience it once and you’ll be terrified, twice and you’ll be mystified. Three times and you’ll be stupefied that such a car could ever have been created, not to mention utterly blessed that it was once your happy lot to drive it. AF