Hailwood and Hobbs Porsche 917 K for sale with record $16m auction estimate

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The Gulf-liveried Porsche 917 K raced at Le Mans in 1970 in the hands of Hailwood and Hobbs but fell victim to the wet weather

ex Mike Hailwood Gulf Porsche 917K

RM Sotheby's

Raced by Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs at Le Mans in 1970; painted in the celebrated Gulf livery; and prominent in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans film; this Porsche 917 K has a history to match its evocative shape.

So interest is expected to be intense when the car is sold at auction by RM Sotheby’s this summer, with an estimate of $16m-$18.5m (£11.3m-£13m), which would be a world record auction price for a Porsche.

Beneath the gleaming paint of the restored 917 K bodywork is a battle-scarred chassis that, in 1970, lined up at Le Mans as car No22: one of three factory-backed John Wyer Automotive (JWA) entries.

After disappointment in 1969, it was the year that the dominant 917 secured Porsche’s first overall victory at the endurance race, beginning a run that would see it become the most successful manufacturer in Le Mans history.

Rear view of ex Mike Hailwood Porsche 917K

RM Sotheby's

Static view of ex Mike Hailwood Porsche 917K

RM Sotheby's

The trio of duck egg blue and orange Gulf-liveried JWA cars lined up, along with four other 917s (drivers strapped in, for the first year after the running start) and the Porsches quickly moved to the front of the race.

But it wouldn’t be those striking Gulf cars that saw success, as the engine on one — driven by Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen — blew. A missed gearshift by Jo Siffert resulted in the same outcome for his and Brian Redman’s 917.

Car 22 wasn’t there to pick up the pieces: as rain poured down on the 50th lap, Hailwood, still on dry tyres en route to the pits, had crashed into a stationary Alfa Romeo and retired.

“Wyer was absolutely furious: ‘Don’t ring us, Hailwood, we’ll ring you.’” Hobbs told Motor Sport.

Mike Hailwood Porsche 917K craached at Le Mans 1970

End of the race for Hailwood and Car No22

AFP via Getty Images

Despite the dominance of the 917 that season, victory was far from assured as the race continued to take its toll. Richard Attwood told Motor Sport that he had come close to losing his Salzburg-liveried car several times, but clung on in the lead to claim the first overall win for Porsche that year, alongside Hans Herrmann.

From the archive

The damaged Chassis 026, with a 4.5-litre engine, rather than the 5-litre version in the sister JWA cars, was repaired and renamed 031. It was rebodied as an open-topped Spyder and saw service in the European InterSerie Championship, for Group 7 sports racing cars, between 1971 and 1973 before retiring from the professional scene. It was bought by Olivier Chandon, the racing driver heir to the Moët et Chandon fortune.

In private ownership since then, the car was eventually restored to its 1970 specification, including its distinctive Gulf livery, with an orange stripe that runs down to the beltline, unlike the narrower strip on the sister JWA cars.

RM Sotheby’s said that the car “represents a singular opportunity to acquire not just an icon, but the archetypal example of the car widely regarded as ‘the greatest sports racing car ever’.”

How much that is worth will become apparent in August at the Monterey Auction in California.

Gulf Porsche 917K no22 at Le Mans 1970

Car No22 in action at Le Mans

Alamy

The current Porsche auction record of $14.08m is held by another Gulf-liveried 917 K, also driven by Hailwood in 1970. Chassis No24 was the first 917 to see competition at the 100Km of Spa, in its original, unstable configuration. Converted to short-tail ‘K’ spec, it was bought by Jo Siffert and leased to Solar Productions for the making of McQueen’s Le Mans film — where it was also marked up as Car No22, but had considerably more success in the fictional version of the race.

Hailwood and Brian Redman used the car at the 1970 Le Mans test day, but it wasn’t entered into the race. Siffert took the car back when filming ended, and the car led his funeral procession a year later before disappearing into storage.