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Believed to be the Martini/Gulf Racing 917LH that placed second overrall at the 1970 Le Mans
Believed to be the Martini/Gulf Racing 917LH that placed second overrall at the 1970 Le Mans

Believed to be the Martini/Gulf Racing 917LH that placed second overrall at the 1970 Le Mans

Chassis No. LH-044
Engine No. 015
Violet and light green with maroon cloth interior
Engine: Flat 12-cylinder, dual overhead camshafts, Bosch mechanical fuel injection, 4999cc, 630bhp at 8,400rpm, 434lb-ft at 6,500rpm; Gearbox: 5-speed Porsche transaxle; Suspension: front, independent by unequal control arms with coil springs over tubular shocks, rear, independent by unequal control arms and radius rods with coil springs over tubular shocks; Brakes: four wheel disc. Right hand drive.
Porsche built the 917 with one underlying goal: to win its first overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans. A 1968 change in the FIA Group 4 sports car regulations to a 5 litre limit (effectively closing the door on American V8s) prompted Porsche's decision. Under the leadership of Ferdinand Piech and Design Director Hans Mezger, twenty-five 917s were conceived, designed and built in only ten months to meet the FIA production minimum. Those first 25 examples incorporated remarkable technology: Porsche's first 12-cylinder engine, an aluminum tube space frame chassis, myriad components from titanium, magnesium and exotic alloys, even suspension springs made from titanium wire. Over the next three years the Porsche 917 was to become an enduring symbol of modern road racing technology, an effect far greater than would be expected from only the 37 examples built.

Porsche raced the 917 itself in its first season, 1969, but for 1970 and 1971 contracted with private teams: J.W. Automotive Engineering (led by John Wyer, who had so successfully run the Ford GT40 racing program), Porsche-Salzburg and the Martini International Racing Team of Hans-Dieter Dechent. The race cars were owned by Porsche who supplied them to these teams prepared specifically for each race. From the beginning, Porsche went to great lengths to develop cars with low aerodynamic drag for the Mulsanne Straight, which at that time was as yet unmarred by chicanes. They succeeded admirably, but on the track the slippery shape proved to be seriously unstable. At a late '69 test session which included the first prototype Can-Am 917, they realized the Can-Am car's chunky high downforce design solved the 917's stability problems and thenceforth ran two versions of the 917, the 917KH (kurzheck, or short tail) and the 917LH (langheck). The low drag LH was tried at various times on the fastest circuits where Porsche believed its higher top speed would offset lower cornering speeds but was raced only at Le Mans. Although the first 25 Porsche 917's were built with add-on extended tails, by 1970 Porsche used distinct LH cars. Only six 917LHs, of which this is one, were built, specifically to achieve Porsche's ultimate goal, overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans.

Martini Racing was supplied with one 917LH for the 1970 Le Mans classic, Martini's first race with the 917, identified in race records as chassis 043. The Martini 917 began a tradition of exotic livery for selected Porsche team cars as Porsche's then-new styling studio chief, Tony Lapine, gave the Martini 917 elaborate whorls and swoops of light green on a violet background. It earned the instant nickname The Hippie Car from the team and media. Martini drivers Gerard Larousse and Willi Kauhsen (both later to field their own successful racing teams) performed perfectly, surviving electrical problems caused by the driving rain to finish second to Porsche's first overall Le Mans winner, Hans Hermann and Dickie Atwood in the Porsche-Salzburg 917KH. The Martini 917LH won the Index of Thermal Efficiency, averaging an impressive 9.1 miles per gallon against the winner's 7.4mpg, attesting to the aerodynamic efficiency of the langheck body. Le Mans 1970 was an unqualified success for Porsche: 24 of 50 starters were Porsches as were five of the seven classified finishers. In 1971, the 917LH assigned to J.W.'s Gulf-Porsche team for Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver was identified in race records as the same chassis number as 1970's Martini car, 043. In Porsche's ongoing search for better balance between aerodynamic drag and stability, the 1971 LHs had revised bodywork owing much to the French SARD design group headed by Charles Deutsch (famous for his Deutsch-Bonnet race cars and many Index of Performance trophies at Le Mans) with a shorter nose, semi-enclosed rear wheels and a full-width rear wing between the fins. Oliver set the pace in the April test session, with a lap of 3ft 13.6in. In the race, Oliver and the brilliant Rodriguez led for the first eleven hours, Oliver posting the fastest race lap at 3ft 18.4in (151.854mph), before losing 22 minutes in the twelfth hour while replacing the rear wheel bearings and retiring an hour later when an oil cooler line burst. The third Gulf-Porsche, a 917KH, finished second to the winning Martini 917KH, driven by Helmut Marko and Gijs van Lennep, which set a Le Mans 24 hour distance record that still stands, 5335km; 33 of 49 starters were Porsches, as were 10 of the 13 classified finishers. Porsche had accomplished not only its goal of overall victory, it had established overall dominance, in less than three years from the 917's conception.

1971 was the last year for the 5 litre sports car regulations in international racing. However the Porsche 917's reputation continued to grow with the Can-Am version, particularly Roger Penske's turbocharged 917/30 driven by Mark Donohue and George Follmer which obliterated its competition in 1972 and 1973, and in the European Interseric. After the 1971 season the Martini hippie car - Oliver/Rodriguez 917LH dropped from view; its probable history was re-established only in the last few months.

It came about like this. In 1975 Vasek Polak, with his unique connections, bought the car offered here from the factory, the only complete 917LH ever sold by Porsche. It was sold to Polak as a new car built up from a development chassis that after little use had been wrecked during testing for Le Mans in 1970 and never raced. During its 23 years as part of the Polak collection it was largely unused apart from infrequent display appearances. When the present owner purchased it, the Polak Foundation undertook a complete rebuild under the supervision of Carl Thompson, Polak's long-time Director of Racing, to ready the car for historic racing. To do the work Thompson brought from the Porsche factory a group of technicians and mechanics who had worked on the 917s when they were built and raced, with firsthand contemporary knowledge of all the cars and their construction details. When these technicians stripped the car they quickly brought to Thompson's attention that it did not fit the stated description of the chassis' history. First, it was clear that the aluminum tube frame chassis had never been wrecked or even damaged, in fact, it was exactly the same as they had built it, almost three decades before. Second, it showed clear and extensive evidence of the working stress that could only be the result of being raced, long and hard. It was apparent the car in Redondo Beach was not the reportedly unraced 917LH that was wrecked at the Le Mans test session that had been identified as chassis 044.

The Porsche factory chassis records, while sometimes confusing, were clear in one respect: 040 and 041 had been heavily damaged in racing accidents and were recorded by the factory as being scrapped and 044 had absolutely no racing history. In fact, 044 had no history at all except for the representation made by Porsche to Polak when sold that it had been damaged (seriously enough that it had never subsequently been raced) in that testing accident before Le Mans. That left only three 917LH chassis that had racing history...and two of them still belonged to Porsche (042, the '70 Elford/Ahrens cars in the Porsche Museum, and 045, the '71 Siffert/Bell car on loan to the Le Mans Museum). There is no reference in the factory records to the Martini-Gulf/Porsche 917LH raced as 043 ever having been wrecked or damaged, perfectly fitting the physical evidence of the chassis' condition. Also worth considering is an incident documented by Karl Ludvigsen in his exhaustive history, Porsche, Excellence was Expected. In 1970 Kurt Ahrens crashed a 917LH heavily at VW's test track just two days before it had to leave Stuttgart for the Le Mans test weekend. Miraculously, it was repaired and at Le Mans in time for the test session. Or was its chassis number substituted to an undamaged 917LH? It is a well known fact that many race teams frequently swapped chassis plates to satisy the needs of customs documentation and race entry forms. This paperwork had to be submitted well in advance of the races. Often, the designated cars had crashed or were not prepared in time for the race, necessitating the substitution of another works car now possessing a chassis plate that matched the submitted documents. Could it be that 044 is the famous Martini racing hippie car of 1970 and the Rodriguez/Oliver Gulf-Porsche of 1971?
Presented in the famous psychedelic violet and light green 1970 Le Mans livery and correct 1970-style body, this unique 917LH as offered is race ready with fresh 5.0 litre engine producing 630hp and the versatile 5-speed all sychromesh Porsche transmission. The recent preparation was done under the supervision of Carl Thompson, Vasek Polak's Director of Racing, by the Porsche factory technicians who built and prepared the 917s during their racing careers and thus is both correct and to the highest, typically Porsche, standards. This is a singular opportunity to acquire the only Porsche 917 langheck in private hands, that raced in the only race where 917LHs competed. It is instantly recognizable in its 'hippie' livery.

The 917LH comes with 5 complete gear sets of separate ratios, a spare set of wheels and mounted tires, a copy of a 917 owner's manual, 2 N.O.S. head light covers, 1 N.O.S. plexiglass rear window and 1 N.O.S. plexiglass side window (all N.O.S. items have the correct Porsche part numbers). Additional documentation for the true Porsche Racing enthusiast offered with this lot is a 1971 J.W. Automotive Engineering track diagram. It shows a lap driven by Derek Bell in the sister car, chassis no. 045LH, and details the gears used, maximum revs used and braking points. The track is Le Mans...the car may be yours.

Sale Room Notice
Please note this car is in fact confirmed by letter from the Porsche Works to be the second place finisher at Le Mans in 1970. It did not run in the Gulf Livery in the 1971 event.


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