1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder
1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder

Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder – Car Profile

Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder Profile – Page Two

After arriving at the factory, 917/30-004 was refinished in the iconic blue, yellow and red Sunoco livery made famous by Roger Penske’s all-conquering 1973 Can-Am cars. In July 1992, Porsche AG completed an FIA Historic Vehicle Identity Form for 917/30-004 in anticipation of entering the car in historic events. The following month, Porsche AG entered the 917/30 in the AvD Oldtimer Grand Prix at Nürburgring, where former Porsche works driver Günter Steckkoeing was entrusted with the powerful Can-Am Spyder.

In January 1994, noted Porsche collector David Morse of Campbell, California, made an agreement with Porsche AG to purchase 917/30-004. Before the Can-Am Spyder was shipped to the US, Porsche rebuilt the engine using the last remaining 5.4-liter case, which had been sourced from Vasek Polak’s extensive holdings of original racing parts.

After being shipped to Germany and rebuilt, the engine was tested on a dyno. With a conservative boost of 1.2 bar, the engine recorded 983 bhp at 8,400 rpm. According to Porsche, the engine was capable of producing an estimated 1,200 bhp at just 1.4 bar.

By the end of that year, 917/30-004 had arrived in California, where it was completely disassembled and meticulously restored by Morspeed. Given the rarity and significance of the car, a tremendous effort was made to ensure an accurate, period-correct presentation throughout, while still producing a track-ready machine.

Once disassembled, the bare frame and suspension components were crack checked and repaired as necessary, using original materials wherever possible. For a consistent, high-quality finish, fiberglass panels were fashioned using the originals to form the mold. Throughout the process, period photos were used to guide the restoration and the correct color codes were obtained from the Penske team so that the Sunoco livery could be faithfully prepared.

The freshly restored 917/30 made its debut at the 1998 Monterey Historics, where the 50th anniversary of Porsche was celebrated. As would be expected, 917/30-004 took part in the festivities, racing in the Can-Am category. Driven by Porsche’s own Olaf Lang, the 917/30 won the race, defeating a field of McLarens and Shadows. It was like 1973 all over again.

In 2001, Matthew Drendel purchased 917/30-004. For the young collector, the acquisition of the most famous turbocharged Porsche of all time was seen as a major coup. To celebrate, 917/30-004 – and its proud new owner – participated in the first Rennsport Reunion at Lime Rock Park. There, 004 was joined by Porche’s 917/30-002, the car that served as Penske’s back-up car for the 1973 Can-Am season, as well as Roger Penske himself. After Porsche’s car experienced some mechanical difficulty, Mr. Penske enjoyed some time behind the wheel of 917/30-004, taking the car out for several hot laps.

In 2004, 917/30-004 won the 917 class at the Rennsport Reunion II Concours and the following year it was exhibited at the Porsche Club of America 50th Anniversary Porsche Parade in Hershey, Pennsylvania. In 2006, the Porsche was displayed at the 100 Motor Cars of Radnor Hunt, as well as the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance where it was displayed in the “Cars of the Can-Am Series” class. Given its prominence in the Porsche community, it is no surprise that the Drendel family’s 917/30 was invited to take part in the famed “Family Tree” commercial, which featured some of the most important examples of the marque.

Beyond its success on the track and the concours lawn, 917/30-004 was featured in Pete Lyons’ book Can-Am Cars in Detail. In the 917/30 section, Mr. Drendel gives a visceral account of the dynamic qualities of his Can-Am Spyder:

“It’s like a Learjet on takeoff. It feels like it’s never running out of power and it feels like that in every gear. It feels like you’re being pushed by the hand of God. One time I floored it in second gear and the front wheels came off the ground! I got it out on a 15,000-foot runway and went to 8,000 rpm in high gear. I figure that was over 200 miles an hour, way over. My hands are starting to sweat just thinking of it.”

Despite its otherworldly performance, 917/30-004 would be a welcome entrant into a wide variety of leading historic events. In recent years, 917/10s and 917/30s have been seen participating in a number of major venues, from Rennsport Reunion to the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Although the 917/30 Can-Am Spyder commands a great deal of respect from its driver, it is ultimately a very highly evolved 917, one of the most respected and revered of historic racing machines. In the hands of its former owners and current custodian, 917/30-004 has been enjoyed as originally intended – on the track. For those interested in campaigning the car in historic events, it should be noted that the sale includes a full set of body molds, an important consideration when operating a car of such immense performance.

A strong testament to the historical significance and popularity of these spectacular racing machines, all six 917/30s are accounted for today. Chassis 001 – known as the variable- wheelbase car – and 002 are part of the Porsche Museum Collection in Stuttgart; 003 is currently owned by a private collector in France. Chassis 005 and 006 also remain in private hands.

Although 917/30-004 never had the opportunity to compete in the Can-Am series, its sheltered life in the hands of appreciative caretakers has ensured that this car remains in exceptional condition. Given its distinguished ownership chain, award-winning restoration, authentic specification and inherent rarity, 917/30-004 is an automobile of immense appeal and presence.

Almost four decades have passed since the introduction of the 917/30, yet it remains one of the most iconic racing cars of all time, a monumental work of automotive engineering and the ultimate test of a racing driver. It is undoubtedly one of Porsche’s most magnificent creations.

This particular 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder, chassis number 917/30-004, sold for $4,400,000 at the 2012 Gooding and Company Amelia Island sale, held March 9th in Amelia Island, Florida.

Auction Editor Rick Carey reported on 917/30-004:

1973 Porsche 917 Can-Am Auction BlockLot # 57 1973 Porsche 917/30 Can-Am Spyder; S/N 917/30-004; Blue, yellow, red/Blue; Estimate $3,250,000 – $4,000,000; Competition restoration, 1 condition; Hammered Sold at $4,000,000 plus commission of 10.00%; Final Price $4,400,000 — RHD. 5374cc/983hp (at 1.2 bar) twin turbocharged flat 12, 4-speed,center lock wheels, front splitter, huge rear wing, racing slicks, Sunoco Porsche Audi livery, 1 of 6 built. Paint, bodywork and preparation are over-the-top perfect. No flaws or signs of use anywhere. No race history at all. Sold to the Australian Porsche importer at the end of the 1973 season and displayed in his showroom. Later reacquired by Porsche and completely restored and painted in the Penske/Donohue colors from the 1973 season and given FIA papers before being demonstrated at the Nürburgring. Subsequently re-restored in the U.S. and impeccable. Drendel Family Collection. The audience erupted into applause when this car drove like a thunderstorm into the Gooding tent. With just six built, it’s rare to see a 917-30 in person and rarer still to witness its public sale. The price was no small sum, but lot 57 was a special opportunity to purchase a car of incredible stature and condition. What this price means for the raced Can-Am cars is yet to be seen.

[Source: Gooding & Company; photo credit: Pawel Litwinski courtesy of Gooding]

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  1. The Sunoco Penske Number 6 car represents a major milestone in my life. I rode as a passenger in the Penske-Donohue car. Not one of the cars painted to look like it, but the very car that Donohue drove. At the time, it was owned and driven frequently on the track by the late Otis Chandler, who also owned the Gulf 917K driven by Steve McQueen in the movie “Le Mans.” Otis love the 917-30 and his playground was Riverside, which allowed full throttle acceleration from Turn 8 all the way to Turn 9. It was a good track for the car. Acceleration out of the pits in that car was beyond description. The driver for my few laps at speed around Riverside was Otis’ friend and track partner John Thomas, who co-drive with Otis in IMSA events in a 935, that was also part of Otis’ collection.

    In vintage events, Thomas drove the 917K and Otis drove the 917-30, which absolutely ruled. There was nothing — nothing — that could give it a run. This was back in the early 1980s. What is most astounding, in reflection, about those priceless four laps, is the memory of continuum of controlled, seamless performance. Lateral adhesion was phenomenal, as was acceleration and braking. But, despite the absolutely blinding speed of the car, it was not a violent ride. Unlike the 917K, which John Thomas described as a car that liked to bite you, by trying to slam into the wall at 190 MPH, the 917-30 give a sense of smooth control.

    The acceleration was so ferocious and at the same time so smooth that it defied the senses. There was very little noise. Only the momentary drop of G-force between upshifts — which was in fact a violent transition – gave away the ferocious multiplication of velocity that was going on. But every transition through Riverside’s thrilling and wonderful curves was down with grace and balance — at a speed that was simply beyond believability.

    Unlike many race cars of the time, which gave away the elements of stress and strain, and were working hard to do the job, making noises, clanking and juddering, the 917-30 was poised.

    I later got passenger laps in Otis’ 935 at Willow Springs and rode with John Fitzpatrick in a 935 K3 at Daytona, but nothing compared to the sheer thrill and majesty of my laps in the Sunoco Number 6 car.

    It’s interesting to read how many 917-30s there are now. Only three had been built at the time Otis owned “6.

    David Barry
    New Hope, Pa.

  2. actually was at track elkhart in 1973 and was blown away by this car. i got to go right up to roger penske and mark donahue and took pictures. i will have these cool memories for the rest of my life, also years later at same track got to meet paul newman when he drove for nissan .

  3. I had the pleasure of working with John Thomas in the late 1970’s at Bozzani Porsche and attended a POC event at Riverside with him, Otis Chandler and the 917K and 917/30. john was a great guy and placed my young son in the 917/30 driver seat for a moment he remembers to this day. What an incredible era in racing.

  4. such a beautiful car….i grew up watching these amazing cars and have been in love with can am cars my entire life so much so that i own this car and many other can am style cars as slot cars. the sunoco porsche/ audi is my desktop on my pc

  5. I raced Formula Fords and Formula Atlantic on the west coast and worked for Red Burmiester’s CanAM team when they made the west coast swing. I saw the 917/30k for the 1st time at Laguna Seca. It was no contest against the competition. Coming out of turn 9 with each upshift there was a loud pop the car made when upshifting which would immediately draw your attention. Mark Donahue was always my favorite driver so i went over to where the Penske paddock area was and introduced myself to Mark who in turn introduced me to Roger. We discussed the popping which they were trying to minimize.

    Two weeks later we were in Riverside using the long course. Roger had told me they had a special tail section (langtaile) which they had saved to use on the long straight at the track. Well the other drivers were complaining about their cars becoming front end lite at the bump where turn 7/7a joined onto the backstraight. SCCA made the decision for safety reasons to abandon using the long course and went to the short track which made the backstraight shorter thus Penske never took out the faster bodywork. and Mark confirmed to me that it would hit 240MPH down that stretch.

    Those were some great days.