There is little that you can add to the vast history that is already known about the Porsche 917, or so you might have thought. But the quietly spoken Jay Gillotti, has pieced together a valuable and mightily useful account of the Gulf 917 Porsches that ruled the circuits of the world in 1970 and 1971.
Although it would become one of the most iconic sports racers of all time, the 917 didn’t start out that way. In fact, in 1969, the race car’s debut year, there were few professional racing drivers who were keen or were even prepared to put the new car through its paces, as it had developed a reputation for being unstable at high speed. Jo Siffert famously steered well clear of the 917 in that first year, and he advised his driving partner, Brian Redman, to do the same. It was through the keen eyes of the engineer, John Horsman, who worked for the John Wyer racing team, who discovered where the car’s propensity for high-speed instability lay. But you will find out more about that development in this fine book.
Far from pulling together the many well-trodden 917 tales and race reports, Gillotti has worked with heavyweights from that era, like John Horsman, in assembling a rich and insightful publication that will surprise many.
The author takes the reader back to the beginning, to where it all began with the 917’s predecessors and those rivals on the racing scene in the late 1960s. In his very well written, and thus easy to read style, Gillotti explains the origins of the 917 and its development, looking at how the car’s design was shaped, and its early wind tunnel and track testing regime.
The format of the book takes each chassis in turn that ran in Gulf colours, and if there is a favourite that a reader wants to locate, this is made easier as each chassis has its own chapter with page number in the Contents up front. Also very handy, is where a chassis that had been crashed and subsequently rebuilt into a new car, then that car basically had two chassis numbers – and here the author mentions both the original and the new chassis numbers. It was common practice in the day to move chassis numbers around, but little thought was given back then to the possibility that those cars would still be racing in a thriving historic class almost five decades later. As a result, the paper trail relating to this chassis renumbering practice is often complex to unravel and very time consuming.
The story of each chassis has been compiled into a well-ordered account of the Gulf 917s that raced in 1970 and 1971, as well as listing where those cars are and what they are doing today. This is where the enthusiast, who may have been a youngster in 1970, can really benefit as it is possible to identify 917s that raced in period, that are perhaps close to where you live today. The text is peppered with profiles of the key personalities who played an important role in the Gulf 917s, such as, drivers (Siffert, Redman, Rodriguez, Kinnunen, Oliver, Elford, Bell and others), engineers (John Wyer, John Horsman, David Yorke and others) and also the Gulf mechanics.
What is also useful is the inclusion of circuit maps and the plethora of racing notes (for all circuits) kept by John Horsman. These are very detailed and show all adjustable engine settings, suspension and tyres settings, circuit and race lengths, engine and transmission numbers, fuel consumption and much, much more. Also shown are comparative lap times of the drivers and pit stop analyses from different races, which makes for extremely interesting reading, as this type of material rarely makes it into print. Horsman kept detailed lap diagrams of the circuits which show revs and gear change points, and where the driver should lift off the throttle and where he should be flat out. This shows the 917 in an altogether different light, and winner here is the reader!
Refreshing is the sensitivity shown by Gillotti in the use of quotes from other sources. For instance, the author will not only give the source reference for a quote from another book, but he has also explained the setting in which that quote is applied. This shows that the author has done his homework. On that score, a glance through the Acknowledgements at the back of the book provides clear evidence of the breadth and depth of the author’s research, and this is mightily impressive. The Acknowledgements section is an impressive piece of work in itself.
The layout and presentation of this book is commendable, making the narrative and images easy to read or study. It is a sizeable book as you could imagine (496 pages) as it covers a huge topic, but the book is not too large that it becomes uncomfortable to read. The racing notes are in the main large, which makes studying them easy. The author’s photo selection is superb, showing a combination of both black & white and colour, and contemporary and modern day.
This is a very valuable piece of Porsche’s great motor racing history wrapped up in an impressive cover and strong slip case. For the enthusiast, you can choose between the Regular Edition or the Publisher’s Edition, this latter option comprises a two-volume set that includes an additional 152-page book containing bonus material. This extra material gives additional race data sheets not included in Regular Edition, as well as further archival documents with 90 images, also showing the background to the book’s preparation, and much more. The Publisher’s Edition consists of 200 signed and numbered copies (signed by Derek Bell, Brian Redman, John Horsman and Jay Gillotti).
With all of that previously unseen race data and comparative lap times etcetera, you will be able to impress your friends in the most heated of arguments, not to mention that the book would enhance your Porsche book collection. Should you buy it? I would say without a doubt, and make it quick while you are about it!
|Publisher||Dalton Watson Fine Books|
|ISBN Regular Edition||978-1-85443-299-5|
|ISBN Publisher’s Edition||978-1-85443-302-2|
|Format||230 x 280 mm (portrait), hardback with slip case|
|Page count Regular Edition||496 pages|
|Page count Publisher’s Edition||496 pages, plus 152 pages|
|Images Regular Edition||460 photographs, including colour|
|Images Publisher’s Edition||460 photographs, plus 160 photographs, including colour|
|Price Regular Edition||£125.00/US$150.00|
|Price Publisher’s Edition||£275.00/US$350.00|
Written by: Glen Smale