Porsche 917-023: the most famous 917

Despite the time, money and technology invested in modern Porsche cars, including the Porsche 918 and 919 LPM1 Hybrid, the Porsche 917 is still the model most frequently seen at the top of “ultimate Porsche” lists. But which is the ultimate Porsche 917?

Porsche built circa 60 variations on the 917 theme, including 917/10 and 917/30 Can-Am models. Iconic liveries included Gulf, Martini and Kremer “Hippie” cars, but the most famous 917 must be the red-and-white short-tail painted in the family’s own Porsche Salzburg dealership colours. This is chassis number 917-023: the car that claimed Porsche’s first Le Mans victory in June 1970.

Porsche 917 Le Mans 1970 4

Legend has it that, like all good race cars, the winning Porsche 917 was sold in the car park after the race, to pay for the next round of racing developments. In fact, 917-023 stayed with Porsche for the rest of 1970 before selling to the Martini Racing team, and then on to famous US collector and engineer, Vasek Polak. It passed through the Matsuda collection and also lived with an American doctor before current owner, Carlos Monteverde, bought it for racing. Much of Monteverde’s collection apparently lives quite near my house, but that’s another story.

Richard Attwood Porsche 917 Le Mans 1970

Richard ‘Dickie’ Attwood drove the car to victory in Le Mans 1970 and was never surprised that Porsche sold the car soon after the win. “Le Mans did not have the same cachet in 1970 as it does now,” Dickie explained to his local paper. “There are more significant races for drivers, but it’s tremendously important for manufacturers.

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“1970 was a landmark win for Porsche because it was their first, but my win there was lucky. We only qualified fifteenth fastest – it was more a case of other drivers losing rather than my winning. But, having been leading by six laps in the previous year with three and a half hours to go when the transmission broke, I deserved a bit of luck.

“Winning Le Mans unquestionably helped me in later life. The hero worship of sports stars has now reached stratospheric levels and the significance of that victory seems to grow stronger with the passing of time.”

Porsche Salzburg 917 2

Despite claiming Porsche’s maiden Le Mans win and being one of the few people who have owned a Porsche 917, Attwood was not the Porsche 917’s greatest fan at the time, noting that Porsche would pay double money to convince drivers to race the “no good” 917 rather than the proven 908, which was still well able to claim the winner’s purse at most races. When Porsche asked their driver what format of 917 he wanted to race in June 1970, Attwood chose a slower 4.5-litre, short-tail car with the 4-speed gearbox on the basis of reliability. He adopted a similar approach to his team mate.

Having raced alongside Vic Elford in 1969, Attwood felt his team-mate had cost them a win by driving the car too hard, breaking the gearbox with three hours to go while the car was six laps in front. For 1970, Dickie chose to drive with Hans Herrmann: one of the factory’s most famous drivers, but a man in his early forties who had already decided to retire.

Porsche 917 Le Mans 1970 1

The pair did no testing before the event: Le Mans was Attwood’s first drive in the car. Qualifying way down the field, a win should have been impossible for Porsche 917-023, but then the rain fell and history was made.

The full story of Porsche 917-023 has now been committed to print in a book by former Silverstone press officer, Ian Wagstaff, which will be released on June 1st. The book tells the story of chassis 023, including hundreds of period pictures, interviews with all surviving drivers of 917-023 and input from one of the most experienced 917 mechanics of the era. Pre-order the book here.

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