1971 Porsche 917 SpyderSOLD

RM Auction - Vintage Motor Cars at Amelia Island - March 10, 2007

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ESTIMATE: $850,000 - $1,000,000

$850,000 Sold

5.4 liter flat 12-cylinder, air-cooled, five-speed gearbox in unit with Transaxle, multi-tubular space frame chassis with fiberglass reinforced plastic.

Collectors consider the 917 to be the most desirable Porsche race car ever built, commanding the very top prices in all market conditions for the past 20 years. The reason is not hard to discover, as the 917 was the last step in a progression of the new era of Porsche racing cars that began with the 906 in 1966. The 3-liter engined 908 won the World Championship in 1969, but Porsche feared it would never have enough horsepower to win overall honors at Le Mans. This feat was as important for Porsche as winning the World Championship against the Ford GT40s, Lola T70s and the anticipated McLaren Group 4 coupe.

When the FIA dropped the production requirement for Group 4 5-liter sports cars from 50 to 25, the Porsche factory saw its opportunity and the 917 was born. Using the 908 chassis as a starting point, the 4.5-liter, 12-cylinder, aluminum-tube framed 917 was unveiled at the Geneva Auto Show in March 1969. By May 1, with 25 examples built, the FIA homologated the 917 as a Group 4 sports car.

Despite its awesome power output, the 917 was not an immediate success. The handling of this mighty beast was enough to frighten most of the factory drivers, who much preferred to drive the less powerful 908. At Le Mans in practice for 1969, the factory’s drivers reported that the car wandered across the track at its over 200mph top speed, in spite of which, it nearly won the race on its first appearance there, so mighty was its performance and velocity.

Despite this, a short-tail coupe achieved the 917’s first victory at Zeltweg, Austria, in August, 1969. Over the winter, John Wyer’s JW racing team took over the running of the 917 from the factory and swiftly changed the rear bodywork to resemble that of the Lola T70 coupe, eliminating the bad handling at a stroke. In Wyer’s Gulf Oil-sponsored team’s hands, the 917 won the World Championship both in 1970 and 1971 before being outlawed in favor of 3-liter cars once more. A 917K entered by the Porsche-Salzburg team produced Porsche’s first overall Le Mans victory. Over the two years, 917s won 15 of the 24 World Championship races they entered, 11 of them by the Gulf-Wyer cars.

This particular car, identified as 917.01.021, was delivered in May 1970 as, presumably, coupe no. 917.021 to the AAW Racing Team of the Finnish Porsche distributor, Wihuri. The car ran 13 races including Spa, the Watkins Glen 6 Hours, Nurburgring 1000 kms and Le Mans. It was usually driven by Gijs van Lennep, sometimes paired with David Piper or Gerard Larrousse.

Over the winter of 1970-1971, the car was returned to the factory. For 1971, the factory supplied the AAW team with new Spyder parts and bodywork plus a 5.4-liter engine, which were combined with the other mechanicals of the year old coupe. The Spyder was driven in all seven races of the European Interserie by Leo Kinnunen, winning the Championship.

Under new ownership, the car raced occasionally in the Interserie in 1972 and 1973 and was then restored. It was sold to the Harrah Automobile Collection, where it stayed until being acquired by Robert Hendrickson in 1987. The new owner kept the 917 Spyder for several years before passing it to Bob Rapp via Kevin Jeanette.

While in his ownership, Gunnar Racing, headed up by the indefatigable Kevin Jeannette, carried out extensive work on the old car, bringing it up to mechanically acceptable condition. The work, according to Jeanette, is likely better described as a restoration and included a total disassembly of the car. At that point, the main chassis structure, ahead of the original rear cross member, was re-fabricated from new to factory specs prior to re-assembly with the car’s original engine, gearbox, suspension, wheels, gauges, seats, brakes, wiring harness and body panels. The engine and transaxle at that time were fresh, with about one hour of testing time logged, and it is assumed that these major components are still in good condition since it is believed that this 917 Spyder has not seen further track time since this refurbishment. As always though, we must recommend a thorough check over and race preparation by a Porsche specialist prior to further historic racing sessions.

917.01.021 is a rare purchase opportunity for a Porsche collector, being in excellent mechanical and cosmetic condition and correctly restored to its 1971 championship form, including a fresh 5.4-liter engine. It is quite rare for a truly significant, championship winning 917 to come to market, much less one in this fine condition.

Reference Number 7111

as of 2/8/2007

Car 1971 Porsche 917 Spyder
VIN 917.01.021 
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