The FIA had never intended for cars like the 917 to exist. Porsche and Ferrari hoodwinked the FIA into leaving an enormous loophole in their regulations which both teams exploited fabulously.
In 1968, the governing body of the sport had introduced a new 3-litre capacity limit for group 6 sports prototypes, designed to end the arms race between Ford and Ferrari that had dominated the past four years. A new group four was also introduced, allowing cars to have engines up to 5 litres as long as they were homologated – i.e. as long as at least 50 cars were built. Under pressure from Ferrari, that threshold was reduced to 25 and a huge loophole was opened.
PORSCHE 917: 1970 – CHASSIS 026 (031/026)
Porsche entered Group 6 with their new 3-litre 908 prototype but were surprised to find that the new car matched by Gulf-JWAE’s 5-litre Ford GT40s running in Group 4. In June 1968, Porsche decided to build a car to Group 4 rules. They took a flat-8 908 engine and essentially added four more cylinders, making the 4.5-litre flat-12. The chassis was also based on that of the 908. The huge coupe body was 15 ft 6 in long.
The car debuted in May 1969 but before it had even raced, Porsche approached Gulf-JWAE to take over running the works Porsche team for 1970. Gulf-JWAE had defeated Porsche at Le Mans for the last two years with their GT40s, and Porsche saw that numerical domination, as had worked for Ford in 1968, was no guarantee of success. Handing the 917s over to Gulf -JWAE worked by eliminating one set of opposition; it was a Porsche Salzburg 917 that won Le Mans instead.
The most successful of the 917s used by Gulf-JWAE was chassis 026. It was built in 1969 and was used as a test car before being converted to a short-tail specification for JWAE to race in 1970. Porsche technician Herbert Linge used the car at Le Mans test weekend and it was raced by David Hobbs and Mike Hailwood in the 24-Hour race. They ran as high as third before Hailwood lost control of the car in the wet at the Dunlop Curve and crashed into a parked Alfa Romeo. The 917 was returned to Porsche and was rebuilt using chassis 031 before resuming its career with JWAE. It is this new car, albeit with an old chassis number, that is described in this album.
The newer car won its first two races, driven by Brian Redman at Imola in 1970 and then shared by Jo Siffert and Redman at Zeltweg in October. The following season, Siffert shared in with Derek Bell at Sebring and finished fifth, after which it was driven by Richard Attwood and Herbert Müller at Le Mans, finishing second. This was the best result by a Gulf-Porsche at Le Mans.
The car was then converted to open Spyder form and then sold to Erst Kraus to be used in the interserie championship. In 1973 it was sold to Vasek Polak in the US and remained with him until sold to Jeff Hayes in 1988. Hayes had the car restored to its original coupé from the Gulf livery.