Porsche 917 Le Mans Concept Celebrates 50 Years

Fifty years ago the Porsche 917 Le Mans was conceived, and in 1970 it won the famous 24-hour race resplendent in its red and white livery. In 1971 it shared the billing with the equally legendary Steve McQueen in the film, Le Mans – that car sold at auction last year for a cool $14 million, which became a record auction sale price for any Porsche. To celebrate the sportscar’s 50th anniversary Porsche has had a bit of fun and come up with a modern interpretation of the Le Mans racer.

The original Porsche 917 racer was built around a lightweight space-frame; a tubular interlocking geometric shape reliant of the inherent strength of the triangle. Designed by Hans Mezger, the 917 weighed in at a svelte 42kg and had a top speed of around 240mph. The space-frame was permanently reliant on gas pressure inside which allowed for fast detection of cracks and stress damage. A Mezger designed 4.5-litre flat-12 engine, the air-cooled Type 912, powered the car. This caused issues though, as the engine was essentially a mating of two flat-6 engines, which meant that the engine was by no means small. The result was that the driver was pushed further forward than you might expect – in fact, the driver’s feet were further forward than the front wheels; but this enabled Porsche to try to keep the car from ending up too large.

The car came about through a change in FIA rules. To try to maintain safety and keep speeds lower, the FIA set the maximum displacement at 5-litres. They also set homologation rulings to make sure that the 5-litre engined cars that would be racing were genuine production vehicles and not high-end expensive prototypes. Initially set at production number minimums of 50, this was later dropped to 25. Prototypes weren’t banned – they were restricted to 3-litre engines to try to create a more even playing field. Of course, they hadn’t figured on the likes of Porsche simply building 25 of their non-prototype vehicle to circumnavigate the rules…

Porsche 917 Le Mans black and white

The picture shows the moment when co-creators Ferdinand Piëch and Helmut Bott showed the 25 Porsche 917s to FIA officials.

Porsche 917 Le Mans red

For this 50th anniversary concept, Porsche has kept the red and white Le Mans winning livery and come up with a sleek design that looks modern and keeps the essence of the original 917 alive. The 917 concept will not become a prized limited run track-car or anything similar, it will remain purely a concept.

Porsche 917 Le Mans driver reading newspaper

This year, the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart will be holding a 50 Years of the 917 exhibition from 14th May until 15th September, and you will be able to see the Porsche 917 Le Mans concept car as part of this. The exhibition will concentrate on the nostalgia and history of the famous automobile, with original posters and also ten of the actual cars themselves. This concept will surely prove to be a big attraction.

The 1971 movie Le Mans was renowned for being one of the most realistic stories set to film and is worth a watch. I can’t help wondering what McQueen and the film’s director Lee H Katzin would have made of this modern take on the classic car.

Images: primotipo.com, autoblog.com, bloomberg.com, thedrive.com

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