Happy 40th Anniversary Porsche 917 – Photo Gallery

Story and photos by Louis Galanos (except as noted)

Coming out of the old turn 3 on the Daytona course is the first place 917 of Rodriguez and Oliver and the Porsche 917 of Jo Siffert and Derek Bell. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the first race run by what some call the greatest race car in the history of motorsports, the Porsche 917.

The Porsche 917 we know today and that was made a movie star by actor/racer Steve McQueen in the movie Le Mans was visually very different from the one that made its racing debut at Spa on May 11, 1969. Coincidentally that was also my birthday and to this day I wonder why the head of Porsche 917 Development, Ferdinand Piech, didn’t invite me to the 917’s first race.

My very first live look at a 917 took place at the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona where the now familiar 917K model was entered by John Wyer Automotive and sporting the orange and blue livery of the Gulf Oil Company.

By the time of the Daytona race in January of 1970 the well-known teething problems dealing with high speed instability and oppressive cockpit heat had been resolved and what stood before me on the grid was probably the fastest production race car ever made and capable of speeds approaching 240 mph.

Porsche won at Daytona that year and the following year. Both times Pedro Rodriguez was at the wheel. Much credit for these victories and others has to be given to the John Wyer organization and their superb team of drivers and mechanics.

At the race I was fortunate enough to spend some time observing the John Wyer Gulf Porsche pit crew in action. I was a little shocked because I had expectations that these pits would be as well run and as organized as the Porsche factory pits I saw at the 1969 24 Hours of Daytona.

The Porsche factory pits in 1969 amazed me. All kind of equipment and tires were neatly stacked and the tools needed for the race were laid out on a felt cover not unlike what you might see in an operating room. Plus all the mechanics were dressed in clean overalls on race day.

The Gulf/Wyer pits didn’t even approach what I saw in 1969. Parts and tools were scattered all around the pit box. Mechanics were in well-worn greasy overalls and I saw a mechanic kick a tool across the pit floor into a corner rather than pick it up. It was organized chaos that in the end produced results. The Gulf/Wyer organization won with maddening consistency and who can argue with that?

The legendary 917 only raced for three seasons that included the latter half of 1969 through 1971. During that short span of time a 917 was entered in 21 major races and came in first 14 times and second twice. This overwhelming success probably contributed to its demise because no other factory race car could compete with the 917. So FIA changed the rules and 1971 would be the last year for the Porsche 917. By the way, the only Gulf Porsche 917 to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans was the one in the Steve McQueen movie.

The 917 didn’t disappear just because of a few rules changes. Porsche decided to enter a higher power version of the 917 in the North American Can-Am championship. The newly evolved cars known as the 917-10 and later the 917-30 were so successful that some automotive writers feel that their success eventually killed the Can-Am series.

Today, with the help of vintage racing events and the movie Le Mans the 917K Porsche lives on in the hearts and minds of racing aficionados around the world. Also, there are companies out there willing to sell you a replica 917K if you have the money. Then you too can relive the glory days of the 917 and The Golden Age of Sports Car Racing.

Porsche 917 Turns 40 Years Old Photo Gallery – Louis Galanos (click image for larger picture)

The pace lap for the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. Coming out of the old turn three and behind the camera car we see the #1 Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman followed by the #2 Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. The 'K' designation stood for Kurzheck or short back.
The pace lap for the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. Coming out of the old turn three and behind the camera car we see the #1 Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman followed by the #2 Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. The ‘K’ designation stood for Kurzheck or short back.
The second place Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. Siffert’s car could have won except for the 'triple whammy' (tire problems, clutch problems and electrical problems). At one point the car was wheeled behind the pit wall but they changed their mind, replaced the clutch, and back they went onto the track. On Sunday morning between 10 and 11 a.m. Siffert put on an amazing show of driving making up 6 laps in one hour and going into second place ahead of the Ferrari 512 of Mario Andretti. With less than an hour to go Siffert pulled into the pits with a recurring electrical problem and was there for over 5 minutes. Andretti reclaimed second place before they could get the Porsche going again and when they did Siffert piled on the coal and with just 6 minutes left in the race passed Andretti on the backstretch and finished second.
The second place Porsche 917K of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. Siffert’s car could have won except for the ‘triple whammy’ (tire problems, clutch problems and electrical problems). At one point the car was wheeled behind the pit wall but they changed their mind, replaced the clutch, and back they went onto the track. On Sunday morning between 10 and 11 a.m. Siffert put on an amazing show of driving making up 6 laps in one hour and going into second place ahead of the Ferrari 512 of Mario Andretti. With less than an hour to go Siffert pulled into the pits with a recurring electrical problem and was there for over 5 minutes. Andretti reclaimed second place before they could get the Porsche going again and when they did Siffert piled on the coal and with just 6 minutes left in the race passed Andretti on the backstretch and finished second.
The winning Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen.
The winning Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen. They won with a lead of 45 laps on the second place 917 of Jo Siffert and Brian Redman. They set a new Daytona record for the 24 Hour event of 678 laps and 2,757.44 miles with an average speed of 114.866 mph. To get a perspective on this record it was like driving from Daytona Beach, Florida to a point past Catalina Island in the Pacific Ocean off of Los Angeles in a 24-hour period.
The Kurt Ahrens/Vic Elford Porsche 917K entered by Porsche Salzburg (Porsche Austria) in the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. The car did not finish due to a problem with the fuel tank. Along with Wyer Automotive and Martini Racing these three teams represented the Porsche factory in endurance racing. Initially John Wyer was not aware of the Porsche deal with Martini and Salzburg but I guess Porsche was trying to insure victory at any cost.
The Kurt Ahrens/Vic Elford Porsche 917K entered by Porsche Salzburg (Porsche Austria) in the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. The car did not finish due to a problem with the fuel tank. Along with Wyer Automotive and Martini Racing these three teams represented the Porsche factory in endurance racing. Initially John Wyer was not aware of the Porsche deal with Martini and Salzburg but I guess Porsche was trying to insure victory at any cost.
The winning Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen coming down pit lane at the end of the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. Look closely and you will see Leo Kinnunen sitting on top of the car along with the mechanics. Pedro Rodriguez was driving.
The winning Porsche 917K of Pedro Rodriguez and Leo Kinnunen coming down pit lane at the end of the 1970 24 Hours of Daytona. Look closely and you will see Leo Kinnunen sitting on top of the car along with the mechanics. Pedro Rodriguez was driving.

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Show Comments (26)

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  1. Great pictures and story. Thanks SCD and Louis. Hopefully one or more of these will be at Monterey next weekend.

  2. Great job Lou. Tremendous photos and a detailed factual report of a fantastic car that raced in the years that, for me, are unforgetable.

    1. Lou Galanos produces some great stuff. The recollections are so enhanced by his photos.
      Ed McDonough
      UK

  3. Really enjoyed the pics and the story! Way better than (what I remember) of the magazine coverage of the day. Thanks for posting!

  4. A fantastic article on my favorite Porsche and the black and white and color photographs were hypnotic. Now I want to go home and watch the superb “Steve McQueen Movie LeMans”. It seems that the Porsche 917 and Steve McQueen will always be intertwined. I hope more superb articles will appear soon and how about articles on the Ferrari 512M & 512S? Thank you for the great articles and for the excellent site.

  5. Ahh… the glorious days when Porsches ruled. 16 Le Mans wins. I just wonder if new horizons are in the offing now that Mr. Piech has Porsche under him. Maybe we’ll see the great marque back in Le Mans again with factory prepared cars. Great pictures of the legendary Langhecks Mr. Galanos. Thank you for sharing them. Also usual, many thanks to Sports Car Digest. Kudos.

  6. This is a truly wonderful tribute to a truly iconic race car. Kudos to who ever collected these photos and put this collection together.
    Tom Bucher

  7. I also atended te 1970 and ’71 Daytona races. I was 16 and 17 at the time and these were some of the most thrilling times of my life. I have been a dyed in the wool Porsche fan since then. I noticed above that Mr. Galanos was a University of Florida graduate and retired teacher. My father was a professor in the college of education at the U. of F. (which prepares state of Florida teachers) from the early 60’s to the late 80’s. Perhaps they knew one another.

    1. Anything is possible Tom. I graduated with my MEd. in 1973 and I may have had a class with him. However, after almost 40 years I can’t remember if I did. Sorry.

  8. I just got done reading your article. Thanks for sharing your great photos and memories of these events!

    1. No relation to him or the designer James Galanos. Didn’t know how many folks with the Galanos name existed out there until I Googled the name. My father came from Greece to this country in 1918 and may have been very active with the ladies early in the 20th century. Thus all the folks with the Galanos name. :-)))

  9. I too was there when I was 12 and 13. I also went to Sebring those years. The long pit stops and catches were some of the most thrilling moments in racing history.

    I ran into Mario Andretti 2 years ago and asked him about the 917 vs the 512. He told me the Ferrari (s) had no chance as the aero on the Porsche was that much better.

  10. Car no 2 the 1971 Daytona winner, is alive and well in Belgium and sometimes it goes to the UK. It won a number of other races in 1971 It is in working order and comes out to play on nice summer days. Jackie Oliver gets a drive.

  11. The composite photo shows the old thing out on a nice summer day at Goodwood., Jackie Oliver driving. But it doesnt have the Daytona banking glass roof. It was filled in for later races. There were 12 917s there that weekend.

  12. Good shots, I went to all the races in your article and have many pictures of the same cars. It’s hard to beat the sound of those 917 engines. Those pits at Sebring were a long way from first class. Thanks for the history.

  13. Are you implying that the two Daytona races that Pedro Rodriguez won were pure luck? The way you describe them, somebody else should have won except for their bad luck.
    Anyway thanks for the great photos.

    1. It couldn’t have been pure luck considering how difficult the car was to drive, as many have said it was.

  14. Great site. I was researching for some model building. I produced the 2 hour DVD from Amelia Island, The Legendary Porsche 917″. 5 drivers and engineer John Horsman telling about the development of the 917. How can I get your readers to know it is available?
    Thanks,
    Dennis

  15. Dennis Koleber: Sports Car Digest (SCD) would be the perfect place to promote the DVD. You need to contact the folks at SCD and also leave a comment here mentioning where it can be obtained. Like James Broks I am also interested.