Mention the name Porsche and motor racing, and minds immediately focus in on one of the famous race cars to pass out through the gates of the Stuttgart manufacturer. Depending on your age or favoured period in racing, the number of ‘best’ racers will be many and varied. However, the Porsche 917 will rank at the top of the list of most Porschephiles, and for good reason, as it was the 917 that gave the company its first overall victory at Le Mans.
Apart from dominating the World Sportscar Championship, the 917 was also mightily successful in the Interserie and before long, it was being tested and prepared for battle in the Can-Am series in the USA. Known as the 917/10, the cars that raced in the Can-Am series, all had Spyder (open) bodies and were turbocharged. The Can-Am racer that is perhaps best known is the #6 Penske Sunoco Porsche 917/30 driven by Mark Donohue, which in 1973 crushed all before it, scoring six victories out of eight races that season.
But the Can-Am story started back on 3 December 1970 with the building of chassis #917/10-001. On 14 January 1971, this prototype began wind-tunnel development at Porsche’s Weissach R&D facility, running up countless test miles including 23 consecutive days on the Weissach skid pad. Jo Siffert was the first driver to give this car its first test laps at Weissach, completing 25 laps without incident on 29 June that year. An extensive test programme followed in which additional top-level drivers such as Willi Kauhsen, Mark Donohue, and the factory’s chief test pilot, Herrman Mimler, recorded laps at Weissach, Hockenheim, and the Nürburgring.
This chassis also served as the test-bed for the turbocharged flat-12s that would come to dominate Group 7 Prototype racing. During that period, the car was fitted with many different engine configurations, including a 4.9-litre naturally aspirated engine, 4.5-litre Turbo, and a 5-litre Turbo.
In the course of its wind-tunnel testing, 917/10-001 was fitted with five different body designs. The first was eventually installed on Jo Siffert’s 917/10-002, the STP-backed Spyder that he drove in the 1971 Can-Am series. The second configuration was with louvers over the front wheels, very angular design, the third one became the ‘customer-spec’ body with a rounded nose and short rear wing overhang, and the fourth was the very effective ‘shovel-nose’ with an extended rear wing. After the 1971 Le Mans race, another configuration was with the nose of the #18 Gulf-sponsored Rodriguez/Oliver 917 Langheck coupé that was fitted to this chassis for additional wind-tunnel experiments.
Towards the end of September 1972 this chassis was completely rebuilt and sold to Willi Kauhsen. Kauhsen fitted 917/10-001 with a ‘customer-spec’ nose section and entered it in the Hockenheim Interserie on 1 October, where he finished 2nd. Then, after installing a new ‘shovel’ nose, Kauhsen brought 917/10-001 to America for the Laguna Seca Can-Am race but retired with a blown turbo. At Riverside, Kauhsen finished eighth after running out of fuel late in the race. The Fittipaldi brothers then invited Kauhsen to bring the car to South America that December to run the first two rounds of the Coppa Brazil, a four-race series organized by Antonio Carlos Avallone at the Interlagos circuit. Kauhsen won the first race but retired from the second a week later.
For the 1973 season, Kauhsen bought a brand-new car, 917/10-015, and put both cars to use. When racing 015, he would rent out 917/10-001 to other drivers. In May 1973, the car appeared at Imola, where it was entered by Bobby Rinzler, who put Charlie Kemp behind the wheel. After a strong start, the car did not finish. Next came Silverstone, where Gunther Steckkönig finished in sixth place. In June, Kauhsen finished fourth at the Norisring. Another trip to the United States saw Kauhsen enter the Mid-Ohio round of the Can-Am Championship (retired) and then bring 917/10-001 back to Europe for Hockenheim’s Interserie races, where Wilson Fittipaldi (Wilson Fittipaldi, the older brother of CART champion and double Formula One world champion Emerson Fittipaldi) practiced in 917/10-001 but raced chassis 015. Driving 917/10-001, Kauhsen finished 6th in the first contest and won the second, earning a combined 4th overall.
Kauhsen then parked 917/10-001 until the following June, when it was entered in the Nürburgring 300km for Emerson Fittipaldi, who wanted to gain more track experience at the ‘Ring’ prior to the German Grand Prix. Although Fittipaldi qualified on pole, he fell back to sixth by the end of the race, which ran in poor weather conditions. At season’s end, Kauhsen retired 917/10-001 and put it into storage, where it remained until 1997. A two-year restoration subsequently brought the car back to its yellow and red Bosch livery.
Beginning in 2000, Kauhsen demonstrated this iconic machine at numerous historic racing events, including Goodwood, the Nürburgring, Daytona, and Brands Hatch. It was also displayed at the Stavelot Museum at Spa. Although it was offered for sale in 2006, it did not change hands until 2009, when Dr Ulrich Schumacher acquired it. Schumacher demonstrated 917/10-001 frequently at Hockenheim, Goodwood, and at Austria’s Ennstal Classic, where former Ferrari Grand Prix driver Gerhard Berger took the wheel. It was sold again in 2012, and its new owner displayed the car at the St. Raphael Concours d’Elegance, where it was selected ‘Best Race Car’. Chassis 917/10-001 then underwent another full restoration, completed in late 2014. It was then refinished in Gulf Oil livery and with the guidance of former factory racing driver Jürgen Barth, fitted with a normally aspirated, 5-litre, 12-cylinder boxer racing engine number 917-089, good for an estimated 630bhp at 8300rpm.
This unique Spyder is to be presented by Sotheby’s on Wednesday, 8 February 2017 at the Salon Retromobile in Paris as a ‘point-in-time’ restoration, replicating 917/10-001’s return to the Weissach wind tunnel in 1971. It retains its original tube frame and is fitted with the #18 Gulf-liveried Le Mans nose. The yellow Bosch livery shovel-nose and matching rear will accompany the car. Further, it comes complete with two large folios containing historical photographs and copies of magazine articles and other material from the Kauhsen archive, its ONS Wagenpass, a comprehensive report by Jürgen Barth, and a current FIA Historic Technical Passport.
With a known and well-documented history from new, this important Porsche 917/10 prototype offers its new owner a unique opportunity to acquire an important slice of motor racing history. The importance of this vehicle cannot be over-estimated,
- The first 917 Can Am Spyder: chassis #917/10-001
- First of only thirteen 917/10 chassis constructed
- The only 917 of all variants with chassis number ‘001’ in private ownership
- Factory test and development chassis
- Notable competition history
- Only four private owners from new with single ownership between 1972 and 2008
- Comprehensively documented with period Wagenpass and current FIA HTP
- Guide price: €4.600.000 – €5.500.000
- 600+ bhp, 4998cc DOHC air-cooled horizontally opposed 12-cylinder engine with Bosch mechanical fuel injection, five-speed manual transaxle with limited-slip, front and rear independent suspension, and front and rear ventilated disc brakes.
- Wheelbase: 2300 mm
For further information, refer to the RM Sotheby’s website here
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche & RM Sotheby’s