Porsche 917

Greatest sports racing car

Even when it wasn’t winning, back kin ’69, even when evil aerodynamic instability of the early cars killed poor John Woolfe, everyone knew the Porsche 917 would change sportscar racing forever. You only had to see it mow down the Mulsanne Straight at over 245mph to know that. Dickie Attwood will tell you that, at such speeds, you watched the horizon in the mirror appear to lower as the back of the car started to leave the ground. Others talked of the consequent wheelspin while covering a mile every 15 seconds. The 917 was different.

It was different because it was savage in a way no other sportscar before or since has been, different because, unlike the Ford GT40 from which it wrested the mantle of fastest sportscar of the day, you needed almost freakish talent to make the most of it, particularly in those early days. Most of all though, it was different because it was so quick. Derek Bell says that Ferrari’s hastily conceived reply, the beautiful 512S, kit truck-like by comparison and the results suggest no less. In the two seasons that the 917 and 512 competed for the International Championship for Makes, the Ferrari won just once; the Porsche 14 times.

And then there was the 1973 CanAm championship in which the 917/10 and 917/30 won every race. Ah, yes, the 917/30… 1100bhp in race trim. No car, not even the most powerful turbo Fomula One car ever raced with so much again. And, right now, nor does it seem likely to.

FACTS & FIGURES:580bhp, 4.5-litre normally aspirated Flat-12 engine; double Le Mans 24 Hours winner (1970, 71); 15 World Sportscar race wins between 1969-71; two Sportscar World titles (1970,71); Can-Am title in 1973