PERHAPS THE MOST COLLECTIBLE PORSCHE 917 IN THE WORLD, this Porsche Factory Le Mans Test Car was driven by Brian Redman, Mike Hailwood and Jo Siffert for the Porsche factory team in Le Mans testing in 1970. It was then purchased by Jo Siffert and leased to Solar Productions – Steve McQueen’s movie production company – for the filming of the epic Le Mans.
Amazingly, this same car is thought – by definitive marque expert Walter Näher – to be the original “Sample Frame,” which was the first 917 frame ever produced. 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 short-tail car for the important Le Mans pre-training in April 1970 and prepared a frame, numbering it 917/024. This new machine, prepared from new to “K” (Kurzheck, or short-tail) specifications, is the car being offered at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction evening sale on Friday August 18th.
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, and 917/024, was leased to Solar Productions by 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 (which included three 917s), 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.
It is now finished in the iconic Gulf livery made famous by Porsche and McQueen. For one car to be associated with so many aspects of motoring history is a very rare thing. The car is powered by an air-cooled flat 12-cylinder engine designed by the legendary Hans Mezger, Engine no. 917/021. With dual overhead camshafts, twin-plug ignition, Bosch mechanical fuel injection, dry sump lubrication, and the distinctive, mechanically driven six-blade fan, it probably delivers between 550-600 bhp.
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.
All of the original 917s are known and well-documented. In 1969-71, there were thirty-six original 917 and 917K chassis built by the factory (Chassis nos. 917/01 to 917/36), of which only twenty-six were built up into factory team cars in period – the remainder being spare chassis which were either sold on later (at least one being built as a road car for Count Rossi) or converted to Can-Am spec before being built. Additionally three were modified by the factory into Spyder configuration in period and no less than ten were scrapped by the factory or completely destroyed in an accident, (although several have now been recreated from the damaged remains).
That means that 917/24 is one of only sixteen surviving non-turbo 917s. It has never been crashed, having been in storage since Jo Siffert owned it until 2002, when it was discovered and reportedly purchased by Audemars Piguet, who commissioned a sympathetic restoration, before placing the car in storage. It represents a very rare opportunity with it’s history, McQueen connection, and originality.
917/24 was auctioned by Gooding & Company on behalf of a Swiss collector on August 18th, 2017 for a World Record price (for a Porsche) of $14,080,000.