Ex-Ernst Kraus/Jurgen Barth 1972-73 European Interserie and David Hobbs/Mike Hailwood Gulf-JW Automotive team 1970 Le Mans
1972-73 Porsche 917 Interserie Spyder née 1970 Gulf-JWA Le Mans 917K Coupe
Chassis no. 917 026 (until Le Mans 1970)/917 031
Engine no. 917 031
Here we are thrilled to have been appointed to offer this remarkably interesting example of what enthusiasts have repeatedly voted as being 'The World's Greatest Sports Car' the flat-12 cylinder, air-cooled Porsche 917.
Over three tumultuous seasons of World Championship endurance racing, Porsche of Germany's initially 4.5 and later 4.9 and 5.0-liter 917s fought a no-holds-barred battle with Fiat-Ferrari and their Italian 5-liter V12 Ferrari 512s. The Porsches proved dominant, and their 917K Coupes played the major role in securing for the Stuttgart marque a hat-trick of World Championship titles during 1969-71.
The Porsche 917 is plainly too well known and understood to require a detailed introduction here. Suffice to say that it is the iconic Porsche model which gave this legendary marque its first overall race victories in the Le Mans 24-Hours and that despite the design's present age of over 40 years 917 performance will still as one past World Champion driver put it "...still take the crease out of your trousers". Consider, for example, a 0-62 mph (100 km/h) time of 2.3 seconds, 0124 mph (200 km/h) coming up in 5.3 seconds, and a top speed when properly configured - of over 240 mph (390 km/h). And yet combine all of this with notable driveability, tractability and controllability and the immense esteem in which the 917 is held becomes completely understandable.
Broadly speaking, after the original 1969 prototype cars had been developed to true competitive raceworthiness, Porsche produced six variants of the 917. The first to shine with its cut-back rear deck and short tail was the 917 Kurz (short) popularly known as the '917K' in which guise the chassis now offered here first appeared at Le Mans 1970. An aerodynamic, long-tailed variant was known as the 917 Langheck (long-tail, or '917LH'). The 917/20 was a one-off low-drag study for Le Mans which was famously painted pink and decorated as a diagram of a German butcher's cuts of pork, accordingly being nicknamed 'The Pink Pig'. For the 1972 Can-Am series of unlimited-capacity sports car races the turbocharged open Spyder-bodied 917/10 had been developed in conjunction with Penske Racing and for 1973 the ultimate Spyder-bodied, twin-turbocharged Porsche 917/30 developed over 1,100 bhp (820 kW), or as much as 1,580 bhp (1,180 kW) in qualifying tune...becoming arguably the most potent road racing machine ever constructed. Examples of the 917/10 Turbo Spyder were also supplied to client teams interested in contesting the European InterSerie Championship which was Europe's contemporary counterpart of Can-Am competition.
At least two former endurance racing 917K Coupes were also cut down with ultra-lightweight Spyder bodywork fitted and naturally-aspirated flat-12 engines retained instead of being turbocharged. This particular car offered here 1970 chassis serial '026' was one of these cars, and it is offered here in contemporary InterSerie racing configuration, as campaigned there by the German owner-driver Ernst Kraus, and subsequently by Georg Loos' Gelo Racing Team for well-known Porsche exponent Jurgen Barth.
But to trace the history of '026' as now offered here we must first consider its debut as one of the three 1970 Le Mans 24-Hour race entries of the now-legendary Gulf-JW Automotive racing team.
The car had been assembled for its race debut and was painstakingly prepared by Gulf-JW in defense of the team's two consecutive previous victories in the 24-Hour Grand Prix d'Endurance at Le Mans. Those two victories had been achieved with the same Ford GT40 liveried in matching pale-blue-and-orange Gulf Oil-sponsored colors.
For its debut at the Le Mans 24-Hours, on the weekend of June 13/14, 1970, Porsche 917K '026' wore a distinctively different version of the Gulf livery, with its entire cabin roof being sprayed orange down to the waistline, instead of carrying the color merely as a centerline stripe as on its sister cars. It carried race number '22'. Chosen drivers for the event were the experienced British pairing of David Hobbs and multiple World Champion motorcycle superstar Mike Hailwood. In the race David Hobbs completed a total 32 laps of the Sarthe circuit at an average (nett) lap time of 3mins 35.0secs. Mike Hailwood completed 17 laps at an average (nett) lap time of 3mins 48.9secs, the majority of his period in the car being upon a wet circuit in falling rain.
In his excellent book Racing In The Rain (David Bull Publishing, 2006) Gulf-JWA team engineer John Horsman recounts how: "Mike Hailwood came in for a routine refuelling stop....David Yorke asked him if he wanted the rain tires. He declined, but soon after leaving the pits the rain began to come down really hard. David rushed to phone our Mulsanne (Corner) signalling team, to tell them to hang out the 'in' sign for Hailwood, but he had just gone past them. The mechanics on Hailwood's car had the rain tires out on the pit lane, ready for him, but he sailed on by without stopping. By now the rain was torrential. Three hundred yards past the pits Mike slid off the road into a car already parked there. That was the end of another highly fancied winner (and David Hobbs's chance of a win)..."
It was the 50th lap when 'Mike the Bike' aquaplaned this Porsche chassis in the Dunlop Curve after the pits and crashed heavily there. He trudged back to the pits through the rain, carrying '026's detachable steering wheel in one hand. Upon his arrival at the Gulf-JWA pit he was reputedly greeted by team chief John Wyer with the words "Good evening Michael. Is that what caused it...or is that all that's left?". After making his explanations and apologies, Mike Hailwood left the pits with Wyer's parting words ringing in his ears. They were, again reputedly: "Oh by the way Michael don't ring us, we will ring you..."
Once retrieved from its resting place to the paddock for inspection, the orange-roofed Porsche 917K was found to be badly damaged. The car was accordingly stripped and its damaged chassis frame returned to the Porsche factory where it was accurately surveyed and considered to be worthy of repair, although the work would be time consuming during that busy high season.
The frame was therefore set aside for future attention, and a brand-new chassis frame which was number '031' in the 917 series was then issued to Gulf-JWA, who proceeded to assemble a complete replacement car around it, using many mechanical, electrical and body components salvaged from the Le Mans wreck of '026'.
In order to ease paperwork difficulties and complications with Customs and other interested official agencies, it was then decided to renumber the new frame '031' as '026' the inference being that the rebuilt car would then be, in effect, the original Le Mans-crashed '026' effectively "repaired" rather than rebuilt or replaced. This renumbering is confirmed by a letter in the accompanying history file, addressed to Herr H. Flegl at Porsche and dated 10 July 1970, printed on JW Automotive Engineering Ltd letterhead and signed 'A. Stafford'. The letter states: "...that we have transferred the chassis plate from 917026 which was wrecked at Le Mans to the new chassis 917031; and that the wrecked chassis which we are returning to you will therefore carry the number 917031."
Had this rebuilt, re-framed car been a Formula 1 design, the contemporary finest race reporters would undoubtedly have adopted the standard practice of the time, and have taken to describing it as '026-2'.
In Porsche lore, the car has instead become known as chassis, or identity, '031/026' which accurately reflects the replacement of its original off-the-shelf identity '031' by the convenient pre-existing one of '026'. While this rebuilt/re-framed car went on to contest further races as a Gulf-JWA Coupe entry the career of the 1970 Le Mans-damaged original '026' chassis frame was to resume in 1972 within the Spyder-bodied reiteration now being offered here.
This Le Mans-damaged chassis frame was in fact repaired when Porsche could find the time and it was re-numbered '031', being re-issued as an effectively 'new' Porsche 917 Spyder with lightweight open bodywork intended to contest the 1972 European InterSerie Championship, for Group 7 sports-racing cars. This new Spyder therefore used in effect chassis frame '026/031', or could justifiably have been described in period as Porsche 917 serial '026-1'.
This Porsche 917 Interserie Spyder was subsequently campaigned in the 1972 European race series by privateer Ernst Kraus, replacing the flat-8 engined Porsche 908/02 which he had used for the 1971 InterSerie campaign, and making its debut on April 3 that year in the 300km Goodyear PokalRennen at the Nürburgring in Germany. After encountering some problems Ernst Kraus finished ninth.
On May Day at Imola in Italy, Ernst Kraus drove this car into a fine third place overall behind the winner Willi Kauhsen's turbocharged Porsche 917/10 and Helmuth Kelleners' McLaren-Chevrolet M8F. On May 21 at Silverstone in England, Kraus finished fourth behind Leo Kinnunen's Porsche 917/10, Willie Green's Ferrari 512M and Hans Wiedmer's McLaren-Chevrolet M8E. On July 9 at the Osterreichring in Austria, Spyder '026/031' suffered an engine failure, and before the subsequent July Hockenheim round Ernst Kraus crashed during practice and was unable to start on race day. On August 6 at the Norisring in Nuremberg he finished fifth in Heat 1 but had another engine problem which prevented him starting in Heat 2. On August 27 he finished eighth at Keimola, Finland, and in the final round of the Championship at Hockenheim on October 1 he finished a delayed 15th. In a non-Championship race at Mainz-Finthen on June 18, Ernst Kraus had also finished second to Kelleners' larger-engined McLaren M8F.
This German driver campaigned a turbocharged 917/10 Spyder in the 1973 InterSerie Championship, while his former 917 Spyder was acquired by Georg Loos as a back-up car within his Gelo Racing Team. It re-emerged at the Norisring Round 4 of the 1973 InterSerie Championship where it was driven by Jurgen Barth of Porsche, finishing fifth. At Hockenheim on July 15 Jurgen Barth again drove the naturally-aspirated car home into fifth place and on August 19 he finished sixth in the Gelo-entered car at Misano-Adriatico in Italy. Seventh place again driven by Jurgen Barth - followed at Hockenheim on September 30 to complete that season's campaign.
The car was subsequently acquired by the Chandon family of France, from whom it was purchased by Michael Amalfitano in 1987. During Amalfitano's custodianship this 917 has been demonstrated at the Daytona Rennsport Reunion events, in addition, a document in the history file dictated by Mr Amalfitano himself states that the 917 was "raced several times successfully in the United States, being clocked at speeds in excess of 170 miles per hour at Watkins Glen, New York."
Mr Amalfitano commissioned the team at Gunnar Racing, led by respected Porsche restoration specialist Kevin Jeannette, to perform extensive body and chassis restoration during 2006-07. The chassis was crack tested for safety with the goal of returning '026/031' to the track once again. As offered here we are advised that the car is equipped with a 5.4-liter version of the naturally-aspirated air-cooled, flat-12 cylinder engine, offering some 630 horsepower in a road racing projectile weighing around 1,600 lbs.
In May of this year the 917 was taken to Palm Beach International Raceway for a final shakedown prior to the sale. Klaus Fischer, of Amalfi Racing who has looked after all of Mike's competition Porsches, keeping them in race ready order, executed the final checks before the car was driven and evaluated by Mike's good friend and Porsche racing legend Brian Redman: we are delighted to report that the car performed flawlessly and a brief film of the test can be viewed online by going to http://www.bonhams.com/quail.
This mouth-watering example of one of the rarest of Porsche 917-series models has a well-understood and very respectable racing history in its InterSerie Spyder form, and it offers a new owner the most attractive prospect of relatively easy restoration into its original Le Mans endurance racing coupe form, as campaigned by the dominant and most revered World Championship team of that extraordinary era. It represents, in essence, a high-water mark of motor racing history...as one of the often-voted greatest racing cars of all time.
- We are pleased to report that further research into the Interserie history of 917 '026/031' has revealed that this car was campaigned in 1971 by Jurgen Neuhaus, driving for the Uschi Heckersbrush team. The 917 Spyder raced in 1972 Interserie events by Ernst Kraus is thought to have been chassis '031/026', the car which received the original chassis plate from '026'. The car on offer today, '026/031', was raced in Interserie during 1971-1973. In 1972/73 it was campaigned in various Interserie events by the GELO team, and occasionally driven by Jurgen Barth. The car is presented today in its Interserie Spyder configuration.