My 2019 European Expedition had been organised for some months, which was to take in the WEC Spa-Francorchamps 6 Hours (1-4 May) followed by almost a week in Stuttgart (5-10 May). It had not occurred to me and nor had I been informed, that Porsche was preparing its “50 Years of the Porsche 917 – Colours of Speed” exhibition at their Museum in Stuttgart. That’s what is known as being in the right place at the right time!
The whole reason for my trip to Porsche in Stuttgart this May was to photograph a bunch of iconic race cars, for features planned in the future. It was purely coincidental that two of the cars planned for the said exhibition, just happened to also be on my list to photograph – the #64 Porsche 908 LH and the #23 Porsche 917/20 “Sau.”
This year, 2019, is of course a very important milestone in Porsche’s motorsport heritage, as it is the 50th anniversary of the introduction of Porsche’s all-conquering 917 race car. The Porsche Museum is, as expected, honouring the 50th anniversary of this racing icon from 14 May to 15 September 2019 as part of a comprehensive special exhibition entitled “50 Years of the Porsche 917 – Colours of Speed.” A total of 14 exhibits – including ten 917 models and the 908 LH (that almost snatched the 1969 Le Mans 24 Hours from Ford), will be on show. The ten 917s alone boast a total of 7490 PS!
917-001 restored to its original 1969 condition
The Group 4 sports car was developed to secure an overall win in the Le Mans 24-hour race and to win the World Championship for Makes. It was manufactured in 1969 as the first of a total of 25 vehicles required for type approval by the CSI (the competition department of the FIA). The #001 marks the start of the unprecedented success story of the 917 racing car, and is therefore the highlight of the special exhibition. For more than a year, museum mechanics, former technicians and engineers from Zuffenhausen and Weissach, the Porsche AG historic archive, as well as partner companies, have worked on restoring this first 917. It is now in exactly the same condition as it was on 12 March 1969, when it was presented to the world at the Geneva Motor Show.
917 short-tail – the Le Mans winners of 1970 and 1971
Two further highlights in the special exhibition are both Le Mans 24 Hour winning vehicles from 1970 and 1971. In 1970, Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood drove the #23 917 KH (short-tail) in the world-famous red-white Salzburg design to the company’s first overall victory in the race. The following year, Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep managed to repeat this success in the #22 Martini 917 KH. Covering a distance of 5335 km with an average speed of 222.3 km/h, they set two records that were to remain unbeaten for 39 years.
Technology of the Porsche 917
Alongside seven other 917 models and two Langhek models and the 917 PA Spyder, which became a test car with 16-cylinder engine, the special exhibition also provides an in-depth insight into its technology. The fine art of the twelve-cylinder engine designed by Hans Mezger is illustrated by numerous small exhibits such as crankshafts, piston and cylinder sleeve sets, camshafts and turbochargers. Glass-fibre components from the restoration phase of the 917-001 also demonstrates the high standard of body construction at the time.
The 911 Turbo shows how racing technology has made its way into series production with components such as the turbocharger and the brake system. With this model, the turbo technology previously used with success in the 917/10 and 917/30 found its way into this Porsche production sports car in 1974. For the 1978 model year, the 911 Turbo also benefited from a brake system which had previously been developed for the 917 in a very similar form. The fixed brake callipers which had four pistons, were manufactured from light alloy material, just as it had been in the racing car.
The 917 – an inspiration for Porsche engineers and designers
Two further exhibits demonstrate the extent to which the 917 has also remained in the minds of Porsche engineers and designers across the decades. In 1970, a studio model was created on a scale of 1:4, which was originally one of the draft designs during the development of the 917/20 Sau or “Pink Pig.” This model was further developed by the team under Anatole Lapine, the Head of Design at the time. They turned it into a visionary future vehicle which even had a computer unit in addition to its streamlined body.
More than 40 years later, the designers once again picked up the theme of the 917 – this time in the form of a concept study from 2013 with the title “917 Living Legend,” which the Porsche Museum is presenting to the public for the first time as part of this special exhibition. This 1:1 model was created in modelling clay for the return of Porsche to the LMP1 class of endurance racing, with the objective of further overall wins in Le Mans. A small team of designers, aerodynamic experts, package specialists, chassis and drive technicians designed this tribute to the legendary 917 with the #23 in “Salzburg design” in just six months.
The history and technology of the 917 comes alive
Visitors can experience the “racing car of the century” with a total of six toolboxes: alongside the fascinating technology of the 917, they reflect the racing world of that time, the brand sponsorship, as well as the transfer of technology from the 917 to subsequent Porsche racing and series production vehicles. Interactive media stations enhance the visitors’ experience of the history of the 917 – using multimedia presentations with real film scenes from races from the day.
A real racing atmosphere and anniversary book
The special exhibition, which probably has the highest horsepower rating of any so far, is rounded off with numerous racing posters and small exhibits. For the 50th anniversary of the 917, the Museum shop is also selling a special range of 917 products, including the anniversary book entitled “Colours of Speed – 50 Jahre Porsche 917” (Colours of Speed – 50 Years of the Porsche 917) published as part of the “Edition Porsche Museum,” along with a barbecue apron designed as a tribute to the 917/20 “Pink Pig,” just in time for the summer season.
The Porsche Museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays from 09h00 to 18h00. Additional information can be found at www.porsche.de/museum
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Porsche Werkfoto and Virtual Motorpix/Glen Smale