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Formerly the Property of Jo Siffert | Used in the Epic Film, Le Mans | Documented by Porsche Engineer and Noted Author Walter NäherPorsche AG (built in 1970 and retained for testing)Joseph Siffert (acquired from the above in 1970)Pierre Prieur (acquired from the estate of the above by 1978)Current Owner (acquired from the above via Modena Motorsport in 2002)
Le Mans Pre-Training, Le Mans, France, April 11–12, 1970, Siffert/Hailwood, No. 22Nürburgring Test, Nürburg, Germany, May 19–21, 1970, No. 22Ehra-Lessien Test, Ehra-Lessien, Germany, May 23, 1970
THE PORSCHE 917 At the end of the 1968 racing season, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) released several new important regulations aimed at reducing average speeds. The only cars that would be eligible to compete for the World Manufacturers’ Championship were three-liter prototypes, exotic racing cars built in small numbers, and five-liter sports cars that had to be constructed in a series of 25 identical examples. Porsche recognized this new dictate as an opportunity to create a world-beating five-liter sports racer that would be campaigned alongside the three-liter 908. If the new car was at all successful, Porsche would finally have a serious chance of overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The new Porsche was the direct result of years of intense research. Though it employed the most modern concepts in automotive design, the new car was absolutely in keeping with Porsche tradition. The foundation of the new model was an incredibly lightweight aluminum space-frame chassis. Similarly, the suspension systems made extensive use of lightweight materials, such as titanium and magnesium.
Glued to this frame was a striking, streamlined body made from thin fiberglass. Covered in NACA ducts and suspension-controlled aerodynamic flaps, the shape of the new Porsche was honed in the wind tunnels at Stuttgart Technical Institute. Each car was designed to wear both short and long tails, the latter specially designed with Le Mans’ Mulsanne Straight in mind.
The magnificent car’s air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine is an undisputed masterpiece of automotive engineering designed by the legendary Hans Mezger. With dual overhead camshafts, twin-plug ignition, Bosch mechanical fuel injection, dry sump lubrication, and the distinctive, mechanically driven six-blade fan, it delivered 580 bhp at 8,400 rpm in original 4.5-liter form.
At the Geneva Auto Show in March 1969, Porsche unveiled the new car, named the 917, to the amazement and utter surprise of the motoring world. On Monday, April 21st, Porsche staged 25 completed 917s in a perfect row in the courtyard outside Werk I to greet the inspectors sent by the International Sporting Commission (CSI) of the FIA. Never before had so many world-class sports racing cars been built in so short a time. Even after just a few races, the 917 earned a fearsome reputation. Vic Elford stated that “the early 917 really was virtually undrivable.” Fellow Porsche works driver Gerhard Mitter nicknamed it “the Ulcer.”
In light of these issues, Porsche continued to perfect the 917 throughout the 1969 season, developing the car race after race, test session after grueling test session. By 1970, the new-and-improved 917K (K was for Kurz, or “short”) was ready to take on the world.
Throughout the entirety of the 1970 and 1971 seasons, the Porsche 917K was the car to beat. During this period, the 917K achieved back-to-back wins at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and Porsche won its second and third Manufacturers’ Championships. Except for a victory at Sebring by Scuderia Ferrari and three wins by the Alfa Romeo Autodelta team, Porsche won every championship race on the calendar for two years. In just four years of production, including two years in turbocharged Can-Am specification, the Porsche 917K was established as the ultimate sports racing car of the era. Its success meant that Porsche, previously respected as a class winner, had now attained the sport’s highest level of acclaim.
JO SIFFERT Born on July 7, 1936, in Fribourg, Switzerland, Jo Siffert – affectionately known as “Seppi” among family and friends – emerged from humble origins to become one of the most successful drivers of his era.
By 1960, Siffert had gained valuable experience on motorcycles and campaigning a Stanguellini Formula Junior before heading to Formula 1. While he never had a ride with a top team, Siffert earned two wins, six podium finishes, and 68 championship points in 96 Grand Prix starts.
It was in sports cars that Siffert really earned his reputation. His meteoric career with Porsche made him a household name and closely paralleled the Stuttgart firm’s rise to prominence. After a brief outing at Spa in one of the earliest 917s, Siffert told fellow Porsche works driver Brian Redman, “We’ll let the others find out what’s going to break.” Only at the end of the season and after much urging did Siffert finally agree to race the new 917, and on August 10, 1969, at the 1000 Km Zeltweg, Seppi and Kurt Ahrens presented Porsche with victory number one for the 917.
During the 1970 and 1971 seasons, Siffert drove the much-improved 917K and the 908/3 for the works-backed JWA Gulf-Porsche team. He won four championship races and secured a further seven podium finishes while helping Porsche capture the Manufacturers’ Championship for Makes in three consecutive years.
THE EARLY HISTORY OF 917-024 As documented in Walter Näher’s definitive work on the 917, Porsche 917: Archive and Works Catalog 1968–1975, it was very common for Porsche to renumber 917s during their racing careers. Porsche factory records indicate that the first 917-024 was built in 1969 and renumbered during its racing life as 002, 005, and finally 006. After months of rigorous testing work at the Nürburgring, Hockenheim, Weissach, and Zeltweg, the chassis was subsequently wrecked and scrapped in February 1970.
Porsche needed a shorttail car for the important Le Mans pre-training in April 1970 and prepared a frame, numbering it 917-024. Notably, Näher believed that the frame used may have been the “Sample Frame,” which was the first 917 frame ever produced. This new machine, prepared from new to “K” specifications, is the car offered here.
These tests would be Porsche’s ideal opportunity to prove that the shorttail model was capable of conquering the high-speed Le Mans circuit. Painted in Porsche’s traditional white and wearing No. 22, the new 917-024 was entrusted to Brian Redman and Mike Hailwood. When Redman set the fastest times of April’s test in 024, it was more apparent than ever that Porsche would have an opportunity to win the famed 24-hour race in June.
Chassis 917-024 would go on to further testing at the Nürburgring and at Ehra- Lessien in May 1970. On June 25, Jo Siffert purchased the car from Porsche, as documented by copies of correspondence acquired from Porsche’s archives.
STEVE McQUEEN’S TRIBUTE TO LE MANS With a massive budget, the finest contemporary race cars, some of the era’s best professional drivers, and a star actor turned racing driver, it comes as no surprise that the 1971 film Le Mans is as legendary as the race it depicts.
While some of the film’s racing footage was captured during the actual 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, much was shot on set with both actors and professional drivers at the wheel of various Porsche 917s and Ferrari 512s, among other sports cars, with sequences famously filmed at racing speeds.
Given the film’s plot, it was necessary to have several Ferrari 512s and Porsche 917s as the major stars of the film. Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions purchased one 917K from Porsche directly, while JWA loaned another. A third car, 917-024, was leased to Solar Productions by Jo Siffert, along with many other cars used in the movie.
As chronicled by numerous photos of Siffert’s fleet before shooting, 917-024 was initially numbered 22 and sported a livery featuring an orange roof that continued down the tail section. It is difficult to know exactly which car is featured in each moment in the film, but historian Walter Näher believed that the drivers, including McQueen himself, swapped between cars as necessary.
After assembling the fleet, the Solar Productions crew was tasked with mounting cameras and using camera cars to film the action. While the three Gulf-liveried 917s are shown in most action sequences battling the Ferraris, they too were used as camera cars for some of the best racing sequences. Today, 917-024 still retains the mounting points used to affix camera rigging to its rear frame tubes.
Porsche 917s used in the production of Le Mans must be among the most recognizable and impactful automobiles ever to grace the silver screen. That the movie ended with a Gulf-liveried 917 winning the Le Mans race only added to the mythic nature of these cars.
JO SIFFERT AND 917-024 After the filming of Le Mans, 917-024 remained in Jo Siffert’s ownership and returned with him to Fribourg, Switzerland. In July 1971, he famously drove 917-024 to his own birthday party, as documented by a photo taken by his dear friend Jean Tinguely, a famous Swiss artist.
Unfortunately, Jo Siffert died on October 24, 1971, when the suspension of his BRM failed at 160 mph. Motor racing was robbed of a true master at just 35 years of age. At Siffert’s funeral, 917-024 led the procession, highlighting his intimate relationship with his favorite racing car. Following Siffert’s passing, 917-024 remained in Fribourg for a number of years, before it was sold to M. Pierre Prieur, a collector from Saclay, France. An original declaration of importation dated August 25, 1978, marks the Porsche’s passage from Switzerland into France.
HIDDEN IN PARIS In 2001, 917-024 once again returned to the public eye when this incredible automotive treasure was discovered in a warehouse outside Paris, where it had been quietly stored during M. Prieur’s ownership. Still in its Gulf JWA livery from Siffert’s ownership, the 917 was remarkably untouched after 20-plus years in hiding. Three decals from Joseph Siffert Automobiles Fribourg remained on the rear of the Porsche and, interestingly, the car was wearing race No. 65, though there is no record of it having been raced since it was featured in the film. An original space-saver spare, Firestone fuel cell, and Firestone Super Sports GP tires were still in place, among other unique details. There was even a handwritten tag hanging from the key stating, “Einspritzpumpe von Le Mans-Einstellung fünf Raster magerer gestellt” (a simple note that the injection pump runs five steps leaner in the Le Mans setup) with the initials “H.L.,” believed those of Porsche driver Herbert Linge.
News of the remarkable find traveled quickly throughout the automotive world, and the Porsche was featured in Motor Klassik’s March 2002 issue, including staged photographs of 917-024 taken in a barn, complete with bales of hay.
While barn finds are always exciting moments, the discovery of a 917K surely ranks among the greatest and most electrifying discoveries of all time. Moreover, 917-024 remained largely as it was during Siffert’s ownership. While in need of restoration, the Porsche was a time capsule example of the legendary 917K.
917-024 TODAY Following its discovery, 917-024 was acquired in early 2002 by a Swiss gentleman whose growing collection of racing cars was in need of a centerpiece. Eventually, the decision was reached to restore the car, a process that was executed with a methodical effort.
Working with Modena Motorsport, 917-024 was inspected and photographed, and a complete disassembly took place. Images show the significant originality and undisturbed nature of the Porsche. Furthermore, the completeness of 917-024 is overwhelmingly evident, with the only notable missing component being the 12-cylinder engine, which had been on loan to Siffert from Porsche and presumably returned to the manufacturer after his death. To complete the car, engine 917-021 was purchased from a private collector based in the US, as documented in the car’s file.
The goal of this extensive work was to bring the 917 back to its former glory as a usable racing car, as the owner intended to drive it in the Le Mans Classic 24 Hour after the restoration. To achieve the highest level of safety for on-track use, it was deemed prudent to build a full replacement for the original frame, which showed typical corrosion and multiple cracks from usage. The restoration was completed and then tested at Circuit Dijon-Prenois in France, and otherwise remained unused.
When the time came to sell 917-024, it was decided that the original frame should be carefully restored and installed to provide the ultimate in historic authenticity. Swiss racing and restoration specialists Graber Sportgarage were entrusted to manage the project, which was completed by some of the world’s most skilled Porsche specialists.
Working closely with Graber was an ex-Porsche factory engineer, Walter Näher. Mr. Näher, who was considered among the utmost authorities on the 917, started with Porsche in 1969 and was around the 917 project for its entire run. Prior to his passing on March 11, 2017, he used factory records, to which he had complete access, to produce the most comprehensive published work on the 917 to date. Numerous reports filed to 917-024’s owner during the restoration process, which coincided with bi-weekly visits to supervise the project, accompany the car, lending a knowledgeable insight to its historic significance and the accuracy of its restoration.
German experts who work closely with the Porsche factory collection were hired to restore the original frame while retaining as much originality as possible. This work was carried out with the utmost care and was thoroughly photo-documented. Composites specialists Roy and Seppi Korytko installed the body, which was intricately bonded to the restored original frame. Graber then assembled the car using its original components, retaining the period Firestone tires, finally restoring 917-024 to its former glory in the Gulf JWA livery worn by both Siffert’s 917Ks in competition and by this car for the majority of its existence.
The level of presentation is outstanding, and the quality of the work is readily apparent. Chassis 917-024 has a powerful presence, a sort of magnetism when seen in person. Unused since completion, its immaculate condition provides a unique opportunity for a new owner to show the 917K at top-level concours d’elegance ahead of any potential on-track endeavors.
Importantly, accompanying the car at auction are the reproduction chassis built for the car’s initial restoration, along with pieces of its original bodywork and sections of the original chassis tubing that were replaced for safety during the most recent restoration. Also joining the car are extensive documents from the consignor’s ownership and the aforementioned reports from Walter Näher.
Porsche 917-024 has a story like no other, and given its many individual merits, possesses a substantial and unique history among 917s. The Porsche’s three private owners and decades of long-term storage have ensured that 917-024 is one of the best examples of this famous model.
An integral part of the 917 program as a test car, 917-024 played a significant role in Porsche’s assault on the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. As a star in the film Le Mans and Jo Siffert’s personal car, this incredible 917K has qualities that simply cannot be claimed by other examples. Beyond this, given the inherent greatness and rarity of the Porsche 917 model, 917-024 is, quite simply, one of the finest racing cars in existence.