19 Feb 2019

Porsche’s 917 @ 50: Sturm und Drang

March 12th will be exactly fifty years since Porsche first displayed its 917 in public, where one lone example sat on the Porsche stand at Geneva. Five weeks later, Porsche would show Commission Sportive Internationale (CSI) inspectors 25 complete examples in Stuttgart; those 25 constituted the necessary minimum to compete in the International Championship of Makes in pursuit of an overall Porsche win at Le Mans.

Long before social media was anything beyond media being social, Porsche’s all-new 917 created a sensation. Ridiculously compact, with a centralized mass and very little of it, racing enthusiasts had never seen anything quite so overtly outrageous since Auto-Union stirred the Grand Prix pot in the late ‘30s. And while the 25 cars built to meet the CSI minimum represented a lot of inventory for the niche that was the ultimate in endurance racing, it wasn’t nearly enough to meet demand; eventually 50 total 917s of various specification would be built.

Today the 917 is relegated to vintage racing, commemorative celebrations and – of course – the seven figure prices commanded by the rarefied auction houses. But for those watching Porsche take its first overall win in the ’70 running of Le Mans, or captivated by the high speed – albeit fictionalized – intensity of the Porsche and Ferrari duel in the McQueen-dominated narrative of the Le Mans film, there is nothing like Porsche’s 917. There wasn’t anything like it then. There isn’t today. And its intrinsic appeal is forever.