1970-71 Porsche 917K

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This Porsche 917K coupe is one of the most historic available survivors of this titanic breed. Most significantly, it is one of only five World Championship-level race-winning 917s outside factory ownership.
In 1971, entered by the Martini-Porsche team and co-driven by Vic Elford and Gerard Larrousse, it won America’s most charismatic World Championship-qualifying endurance race: the Sebring 12-Hours.
Why so special? Consider this. Of the 41 works-built Typ 917K and 917LH coupes—four of which appeared under two different serial numbers—only 11 (every one of them 917K short-tailed Coupes like 020 shown here) ever won World Championship-qualifying endurance races. Of this select group, three winning cars were later scrapped—or in one case expended in fire-marshal training—leaving only eight victorious 917s surviving today.
Of these even more rarefied survivors, three are retained by Porsche, leaving 020 as one of just five Championship-level winning Porsche 917s “out of captivity.”
This magnificent machine was for several years presented within the Polak Collection as serial 023, the 1970 Le Mans 24-Hour race-winning car, as co-driven by Richard Attwood/Hans Herrmann. During the 1970 World Championship season, two quasi-works teams operated factory 917s: the British-based Gulf-JW Automotive organization became the “front-door” team, while Porsche Salzburg, owned by Ferry Porsche’s sister Louise Piech, mother of Technical Director Ferdinand Piech, became the parallel “back-door” team.
For 1970, Porsche Salzburg used three Typ 917K coupe cars—chassis 019, 020 and 023 plus, for the Le Mans 24-Hours race, a 917LH (Langheck or “long-tail”) 045. For 1971, Porsche Salzburg retained these 917Ks, and after changed regulations left them obsolete by 1972, Porsche offered them to trusted long-time associate, Vasek Polak.
He purchased them all, sold 019 to a private American collector, and retained the Sebring-winning car now pictured here (020) and the Le Mans 24-Hours winner (023).
They wore Martini Racing’s 1971 silver livery, but subsequently the Le Mans-winning 023 was resprayed in Gulf-JW colors for a television commercial. A prominent Japanese collector then approached Vasek Polak to purchase one of these two 917s, favoring serial 020 but wanting it in Gulf livery. Mr. Polak instructed his staff to swap chassis plates between the two cars, the repainted Le Mans winner having plate 020 applied, while the real, still silver-painted, 020 was retained, fitted with the Le Mans-winner’s chassis plate 023.
The Gulf-liveried car thus went to Japan as the Sebring winner, the impression being that the Collection retained the Le Mans-winning car. In fact, the reverse was true, as verified today by Collection staff involved in this identity swap. Consequently, the real 020 pictured here is confirmed to be the genuine Sebring winner.
In fact, Porsche Salzburg first raced 020 on April 2, 1970 in the BOAC 1,000 Kms at Brands Hatch, England, co-driven by Richard Attwood and former Mercedes-Benz works veteran Hans Herrmann, one-time team-mate to Stirling Moss and Juan Fangio.
The car used the original 4.5-liter version of Porsche’s fabulous air-cooled flat-12 917 engine, and was liveried in white-starburst-over-bright blue, with race number 12.
Attwood/Herrmann qualified 9th on the inside of grid-row 4. The race was wet, but Richard Attwood settled into a comfortable 5th position during the first 50 laps. After four hours, the rain eased and the track began to dry. Just after the 150-lap mark, Attwood caught Merzario’s works Ferrari 512S to take 4th place. Brian Redman’s 2nd-placed Gulf-Porsche then crashed, Hans Herrmann in 020 was caught and re-passed by the Ferrari now driven by Chris Amon, but fuel surge then forced the Italian car to make a late pit stop. So Attwood/Herrmann finished 3rd in 020.
On April 25, the Italian Monza 1,000 Kms saw Attwood/Herrmann racing the car again, but after running 6th it retired with engine damage. They reappeared in 020 in the Belgian Francorchamps 1,000 Kms on May 17. Blue-liveried 020 again used the 4.5-liter engine. Practice was notable for Brian Redman’s Gulf-Porsche bursting a tire at very high speed, the popular English driver musing afterwards, “I sat there with my arms crossed at over 160 mph going straight at the barrier and wondered whether I wasn’t in the wrong job…” These were cars fit for heroes.
Attwood/Herrmann qualified 020 8th, ran 6th at half-distance, climbed to 5th but finally finished 6th.
Early in 1971, 020 was used as a training car at Daytona, but for Sebring on March 20, wearing silver livery with race number 3, it was entrusted to “Quick Vic” Elford and Gerard Larrousse, as the “back-door” team’s lone entry, featuring the latest 5-liter engine and transaxle (although with only four-speeds installed), wide-rim wheels and modified bodyshell.
Vic Elford qualified 4th fastest, on row 2 of the starting grid alongside a Gulf-Porsche 917 and behind only the famous Sunoco Penske-Ferrari 512M, and the works Ferrari 312 PB flat-12 prototype.
In the first hour, Vic Elford had a slow back marker strike 020 while being passed, puncturing a tire and costing more than a lap. A great catch-up drive began. In the third hour 020 was back into 4th while the open Ferrari led, with Donohue’s Sunoco 512M and the Rodriguez 917 2nd and 3rd.
After five and a half hours, Donohue and Rodriguez collided. The leading Ferrari broke, leaving a factory Alfa Romeo first, with the delayed 020 storming up behind. Elford closed relentlessly before handing over to Larrousse and reporting, “The circuit’s faster now—all the marker cones have been knocked away and the hay bales pushed back as much as ten feet. You can take a wider line—some corners which were second gear can now be taken in third!”
In 020, Larrousse simply hunted down the leading Alfa, caught it on lap 149 and settled back to take 020 on for another 572 miles, to victory. Journalist Pete Lyons reported: “Pretty regularly on the hour it was called in for fuel and tires and pads… but nothing was going wrong except that nearing the last hour an exhaust manifold broke and the big flat-12 carried on with its smooth, pleasant hum spoiled. With half an hour to go it broke the previous distance record, set last year at 248 laps… only when it was impossible for anything to beat Martini did Elford, keeping vigil by the pit wall, allow his face to relax into a smile.”
Porsche 917 020 finally secured its record-breaking Sebring 12-Hours victory: 259 laps, 1,346.8 miles, averaging 112.5mph.
One final race remained to the car: the 1971 Monza 1,000 Kms, when Elford/Larrousse and Dr. Helmut Marko/Gijs van Lennep drove the two silver Martini team cars. Elford was fastest in wet practice, but both cars suffered engine failures on race day.
Now, beautifully rebuilt and restored bodily by Robert Hatchman Autocraft of Grants Pass, Oregon, and mechanically by the Polak Collection’s own ex-Porsche factory team engineer Gustav Nitsche, this winning car from the pinnacle period of World Championship endurance racing is a genuinely historic automotive jewel.