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Thread: Porsche 917 Undressed

  1. #1

    Porsche 917 Undressed

    Something to ponder; the Porsche 917, which won Le Mans 24 Hours for the first time in 1970, was capable of a top speed of 390km/h. And this is what its alloy space-frame chassis looks like in the flesh.

    The bare chassis with no attachments weighs just 42kg.

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  2. #2
    And this is what Frank Gardner was apparently quoted on his experience with the 917:

    “I got a call from the competitions manager,” he said, “and the money they were offering was certainly good enough to cross a strip of water and get in the thing. I think the reason they bestowed this honour on me was that every 917 driver was in hospital at the time, recovering from various stages of disrepair... I remember that Piper did one lap in practice at the ‘Ring, and was all for going back to England, but I pleaded with him to stay because the money was right.

    “This was one of the very first 917s, with an alloy chassis, which was gas-filled. There was a big gauge in the cockpit, which measured the gas pressure, and that was there to keep you informed of the chassis’s condition. If it zeroed, they said, that meant that the chassis was broken, and I should drive mit care back to the pits.

    “Once I knew what the gauge was for, I also knew that if it zeroed I wasn’t going to drive it mit care anywhere – I was going to park the bastard there and then, pick up my Deutschmarks and get home to Mum...

    “Then there was the engine. You had about 300 horsepower at 5000 revs – and then between 5000 and 6000 you picked up another 300! So it was a bit of delight, really – and did I mention that it was on narrow nine-inch rims all round? The computer had said that nine-inch rims would make the car very quick in a straight line, but the computer wasn’t strapped in the bloody seat up in the Eifel mountains, where you tend to get the odd corner...”

    Nor was that the end of it. “You sat between these pannier tanks, which bulged when they put the fuel in, so that was comforting – it took 40-odd gallons because it was pretty hungry. Then you started the engine, and – even with ear plugs in place – it was noisy to the point of being disturbing. It was bloody hard to think – you were horrified by all the activity, your brain numbed by the vibration, the power and the wheelspin.

    “In those days, they were still gas-welding chassis, and this thing flexed so much that the actual position of the gearchange used to alter. You’d reach out for where the lever had been last time you used it – and it wasn’t there! It had moved.

    “Nothing about the car was consistent, that was the thing. When it became airborne – which happened a lot at the ‘Ring – sometimes it would sort of float through the air, and other times it would crash down. It never did the same thing twice. Just when you thought you had it worked out, it’d pull another trick.

    “It was simply indescribable, the motor car – and the weather did its best to help, as well. Snow and rain all the way. You were just so crossed up in the thing that you didn’t know which way was straight ahead in the finish. But we got it through to the end, seventh or somewhere, and in addition to paying me money, they tried to take up a collection for an Iron Cross, which they reckoned I’d earned...”

  3. #3
    Semi-Pro Racer Paul B's Avatar
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    Feb 2017
    Wellington, NZ
    Wow, what a machine, A 42 kg chassis (thats what my roll cage weighs!) and 300hp from 5000rpm to 6000rpm it must have been a handful to drive for sure. A great read!

  4. #4
    in the early 70'3 i bought a copy of a paper written and presented to the SAE.he was a porsche engineer working on the 917's development and gave some interesting numbers on energy dissipation at the end of the mulsanne straight along with a hell of a lot more. unfortunately i have misplaced that paper now.

  5. #5
    World Champion
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    Los Olivos, California, 93441
    The Piper that Frank Gardner mentions was the very experienced and successful English driver, David Piper.
    David's first memory of the Porsche 917 was very much as Gardner had described it.
    " "1969-06-01 Porsche 917". Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 de via Commons -
    ‘The 917 was a dreadful thing when I first drove it, virtually undriveable. Porsche asked me to race it at the Nurburgring. None of their test drivers were prepared to give it a go, and they asked me if I knew anyone else who would share with me. So I got hold of Frank Gardner, he said he was up for it, so off we went to Germany.

    ‘Early on the first morning it was foggy and wet, and there was this white car neither of us had seen before, the first Porsche 917. So I hopped in and set off into the Nordschleife. Unfortunately I didn’t put my ear plugs in and the noise from that air-cooled flat-12 was excruciating, because two of the exhaust pipes came out underneath the doors. It had tremendous power but it was difficult to keep it on the road – it was wandering all over the place like a Volkswagen – and the brakes weren’t very good either, plus you were virtually lying flat on your back with your chin on your chest. It squatted down on its back wheels and it went from negative to positive camber the faster you went, so once you started going quickly it was undriveable. I told Frank to be very careful and he came in after one lap and said ‘Jesus, if we go off round here they’ll need a compass to find us!’ There were no guardrails, you know, just hedges, so nobody would know if you’d gone through a hedge into the forest unless you left skid marks on the road. Anyway, we qualified and back at the hotel all the works drivers were laughing at us; none of them would go near the car.
    We did the race, came 8th overall, and Porsche asked me how I’d improve the car. So I suggested some decent Girling four-pot calipers and proper disc brakes, and some more downforce on the rear to keep the tail down for a start. They took a look at my Lola T70 and copied some things from that, like the tail section and the titanium hubs instead of stub axles. They offered to sell me one but at the time I’d done a deal to race the 512 Ferrari. Then the Ferrari was delayed by strikes at the factory, so I did buy one, for about £14,000, and we did a lot of development work on the car, raced it very successfully, won the Nine Hours at Kyalami and that was the first international victory for a Porsche 917. Enzo Ferrari always said the 917 would never work, with its air-cooled flat-12, but he was wrong, it was a very good car once it was sorted out. "

    Some comments about the early 917.
    " Le Mans winner Richard Attwood remembers, with absolute clarity, “It was a horrendous car. Hugely fast, but floating all over the road. Aerodynamically, it was unbelievably unstable.”

    Hans Herrmann, who raced for Mercedes-Benz in Grands Prix and the Mille Miglia before switching to Porsche, agreed: “The car was a catastrophe. The motor was too strong and the chassis had problems. We did not drive the car; the car drove us!”

    “The thing weaved all over the shop” according to Aussie Frank Gardner, who was drafted to drive a 917 with David Piper at the Nürburgring in 1969 after Porsche’s regular drivers all opted to stick with the smaller and nimbler 908. "

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    Frank Gardner and David Piper brought the 917 home for its first race finish at the Nurburgring 1000Km .(unattributed)

    (Ken H )

  6. #6
    There's no doubt at all that Frank's stories were good to listen to, and now to read...

    But sometimes some of the substance wasn't quite right. Here we have the conflict that the regular drivers wanted to run the 908, which I'm sure I recall reading in reports at the time, versus Frank's statement that they were all in hospital.

    It was definitely a terrifying machine and it did have serious problems while they took a long time to sort it. But do you really think those wheels on the rear are the same as the front?

  7. #7
    World Champion
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    David Piper brought his Lotus 16 out to NZ in 1960 to participate in the race series.
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    David's best finish in NZ was taking 2nd place at the Lady Wigram race
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    A most interesting variation of cars and drivers.

    In 1970 David drove his own Porsche 917 K at LeMans with Gjs van Lennep but retired after a tire blew at high speed. June 13th 1970.
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    David Piper in his Porsche 917K ahead of his friend Piers Courage in a Alfa Romeo T 33/3 # 36.
    (Sadly Piers was to die a week later at the 1970 F1 Dutch GP. at Zandvoort )

    Ken H
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-06-2019 at 09:08 AM.

  8. #8
    David Piper might have had quite a different life - I think he was about 7 or 8 when he and his family arrived here from England.

    He owns, and has owned, some fantastic sports cars.

  9. #9
    Semi-Pro Racer Paul B's Avatar
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    Feb 2017
    Wellington, NZ
    Great pics Ken, your earlier post No 5 shows the early 917 and the above post No 7 shows the 917 with the extended rear aerodynamics to help with the rear end.
    I think I have one of these in my matchbox collection from when I was a kid, have to have a look and see.

  10. #10
    World Champion
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    After the 1970 LeMans 24 HR race Steve McQeen needed to complete the filming of his "LEMANS" movie featuring Porsche 917s and David Piper drove a Gulf-Wyer 917 as a camera car. Sadly that car had a high speed blow-out and crashed heavily and although David escaped with his life he did sadly lose part of his leg. (This was such a terrible time in motor sport with Bruce McLaren and Piers Courage losing their lives during June and Piper being seriously injured, we should be so thankful for today's safety measures.)
    You will note in the hotel parking lot photo how little rear down force would have been created on the 917s at speeds almost what they are today.
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    The violent result of the # 21 car driven by David Piper, crashing. (David was back driving again a few months later and is still with us at close to 90 years old. )
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    Steve McQueen stares at the remains of his borrowed 917K camera car.

    " Believe it or not, the 917K was so valuable, it was reconstructed with help of 917-034 chassis and body.

    Retaining its original chassis number, the rebuilt car went on to win the Daytona, Monza, and Zeltweg races

    the following season! Considering how "right" a car must be to win, those mechanics were miracle workers!"
    (As per Tony Adamowicz )

    (Ken H)
    Last edited by khyndart in CA; 08-08-2019 at 02:34 AM.

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