Creating a winner

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Over time the 917 evolved Into a 1 580bhp beast that ruled Can-Am

There are six significant versions of the Porsche 917. The original, featuring Porsche’s first flat 12-cylinder engine, appeared at the Geneva Motor Show in March 1969, and by the end of April another 25 had been built to satisfy homologation rules. The car wasn’t immediately successful, failing to win Le Mans. Drivers criticised its aerodynamic instability and preferred the older, more reliable 908, forcing Porsche to re-think the design of what became a hugely successful car. A new version, the 917K (Kurzheck) with a shorter tail, was the result of a development programme with John Wyer’s JWA Gulf Team and engineer John Horsman, whose design for a shorter tail gave the car added stability. At Le Mans in 1970 JWA brought three cars, two with the 4.9-litre engine and one with the 4.5-litre flat 12 unit. Another version, the 917LH (Langheck), featured a long tail and was developed by the Porsche factory in partnership with French designer Robert Choulet. In the end it was the 917K of Hans Herrmann and Richard Affwood, entered by Porsche Salzburg, that gave the company its first Le Mans victory with the model. A Martinisponsored 917LH followed it home and a 908 came third to complete a Porsche podium. In 1971 the 917s dominated. Future fivetime Le Mans winner Derek Bell recorded 246mph on the Mulsanne Straight with the car. This was also the year of the Pink Pig, but a 917K won Le Mans (above), an experimental version using a magnesium frame and driven by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep. In ’72 new rules restricting engines to three litres weren’t in the 917’s favour, so Porsche built the 917/10 and 917/30 for Can-Am. This was Porsche’s most powerful sports car, its 5.3-litre 12-cylinder unit delivering 1580bhp with its twin turbochargers turned up to full boost. The 917/30 dominated Can-Am in ’73. The 917 made Porsche a sports car superpower, a domination that was later continued by the 936, 956 and 962. But it’s the spectacular 917 that remains the legendary car, feared and adored in almost equal measure by those who raced it.

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