Motorsport: FIVE More Porsche 917 Liveries

FIVE More Porsche 917 Liveries

James Gent By James Gent
January 13, 2020
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Recently, Porsche released an official video detailing five of the best liveries to have adorned its most famous sports car, the 917. Naturally, the red and white ‘Salzburg’ flashes, the Gulf Racing colours and even the original green and white motor show colours were all front and centre.

But – gasp! – where the subtler Martini colours of 1971? The dark green of legendary British privateer David Piper? Or the limited edition Rothmans slot car (calm down, we didn’t actually include that…)?

Here then are five liveries / colour schemes we feel Porsche might want to include should its ‘Top 5’ video receive a sequel.

1. 917-001 – Genesis….sort of

How fitting that one of the simplest designs on this list also had one of the shortest shelf lives. Following its global debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1969, and after a quick stop-off at Zuffenhausen for that famous homologation shot, chassis 917-001 was on-stage again that September at IAA Frankfurt boasting a tweaked colour scheme. By now the green highlights on the nose and rear wheel arches were gone, replaced by a new Shell logo, and flashes of orange down the ‘spine’ and across the alloys in deference to new sponsorship. Even the ‘917’ had been replaced with new race number ‘3’.

Not that the new look lasted long. Less than a month later, Porsche announced a new partnership deal with John Wyer’s two-time Le Mans-winning race outfit, JW Automotive Engineering. In deference to the Briton’s backing from Gulf Oil, the 001 donned blue and orange for the press announcement at Carlton Tower Hotel in London and, two months later, its third motor show in Vienna.

Ironically, having called upon Wyer after a disastrous maiden campaign with the 917 in 1969, none of the ‘JW’-entered Porsches would cross the stripe at Le Mans in 1970.

The livery changes didn’t stop there though. To celebrate Porsche’s decisive first win at Le Mans, the 917-001, a now fully converted 917K, was given a red/white livery identical to the example taken to the chequered flag by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood. Even the flanks and nose bore the Le Mans-winning ‘#23’ in tribute when 001 took to the stage at that year’s Paris Motor Show.

And so the livery remained for 48 years before work began to restore the 001’s original white/green livery, though by this point, the white and orange had long since been forgotten.

*Images courtesy of Porsche

2. 917-010 – ‘Piper Green’

A design long-time readers of Petrolicious will already be familiar with, given our extensive chat with David Piper back in 2017. Though not adorning the 917K Piper and teammate Gijs van Lennep drove at Le Mans in 1970 – chassis 021 wore the yellow and red of AAW Team sponsor Shell – the synonymous ‘Piper Green’ has been a team staple, of sorts, since his very first charger, a dark green Lotus 11 with red stripes, was acquired in the early 1950s. Indeed, it’s worn proudly not just by the 917K but also the Ferrari 250 LM, P2, and P3 that monopolise the Briton’s garage (seriously, you need to check out THIS article). “I liked picking a color and sticking with it” he explains, a decision made easier, oddly, in the aftermath of the 1956 Suez Fuel crisis, during which Esso pulled their team funding, and Piper, suitably miffed, began a new working relationship with BP.

As for chassis 010, which Piper has owned from new since 1969, its first race came at that year’s 1000km Zeltweg in Austria, future Le Mans winner Richard Attwood and sports car legend Brian Redman collecting an impressive 3rd first-time out. The still-all-white 917K’s first victory was secured just three months later at the 9H Kyalami, Piper partnering Attwood on driver detail in the ‘Team Perfect Circle’ entry that now bore dark green accents across its headlights. Brutally, despite its strong start, chassis 010 would record only two more wins – both at Thruxton in 1970 and 1971 – before the glorious ‘Piper Green’ was finally confirmed upon the, by now, heavily modified 917K after the ’71 9H Kyalami, at which the Lucky Strike-entered Porsche lost the lead following a clash with Clay Regazzoni’s Ferrari 312 PB.

A stunning colour scheme though is far from the only impact the 917K has had on David Piper, both physically and financially. In 2013, Piper successfully sued British motoring journalist Mark Hales for the cost of a brand new flat-12 that expired under Hales’ watch during a run at Goodwood. In 1970, while filming rolling shots for Le Mans (at full chat, per Steve McQueen’s request), the 917’s left rear tyre let go on the approach to Maison Blanche, sending Piper into the barriers at close to 275kph. The Porsche was snapped in half in the impact, and Piper’s heavily shattered right leg would later have to be amputated below the knee. Despite this, ‘Piper Green’ remains a headline of the historic racing scene in Britain to this day.

*Images courtesy of Ted Geshue, Dave Rook at Motorsportinpictures

3. 917-021 / 043 / 044 – ‘The Hippie’

The first of two Martini-entered cars on this list, the backstory behind this psychedelic ‘Hippie’ livery is so convoluted, an entire book was dedicated to it in 2012. It’s also one of the most famous 917 designs in history, and as unrepresentative of the gin and vermouth blend as it’s possible to get: upon seeing the finished product way back in 1970, Ferdinand Piëch himself, father of the 917, apparently said, “You know, a race car just has to be white.” Ouch!

Particularly galling, given the herculean amount of work that had gone into creating the latterly dubbed ‘Hippie’ by designer, Anatole Lapine. Having been provided a 917 (chassis 043) by Martini Racing’s Hans-Dieter Dechent, Lapine burnt through the best part of a week and close to 1,500 spray cans creating the distinctive look in June 1970. Despite Piëch’s comment, the Latvian’s efforts were rewarded when Willi Kauhsen and Gérard Larrousse piloted the #3 917 L to 2nd place.

Now, this is where things start to get tricky.

So popular was the psychedelic purple and green design with white highlights, the organisers of the Watkins Glen Six Hours requested their own ‘Hippie’ a few weeks later. But with development work on 043’s long tail still on-going, that role instead went to the AAW Racing Team-entered 917-021 piloted by David Piper and Gijs van Lennep at Le Mans before the Dutchman’s hefty impact.

It didn’t stay purple, green and white for long though, a second ‘Hippie’ livery, this time incorporating the yellow and red of AAW sponsor Shell, was on chassis 021 before year’s end. 917-043 meanwhile, following its conversion to ‘long-tail’ trim, bore Gulf Racing colours during an ill-fated return to Le Mans in 1971, one brought to an end by falling oil pressure. Thereafter, 043 was retired from competition altogether, though the chassis and bodywork was eventually sold to Vasek Polak in 1975, albeit erroneously as chassis ‘044’. Like 021, whose own history we’ll come back to, 043/044 has since received a full restoration, complete with Lapine’s original design.

So, that’s one livery encompassing three / five colours, used across two cars boasting three different chassis numbers, restored by two different owners. Ow, my brain…

*Images courtesy of Porsche

4. 917-053 – ‘The other’ Martini

“How can a former Le Mans winner be considered ‘underrated’ James, you blithering halfwit?” I head you ask. “Quite easily”, I riposte, given that the ’71 winning 917K was omitted from Porsche’s recent ‘Top 5’ list altogether in favour of the admittedly more eye-popping, silver Martini ‘Langheck’.

Galling, perhaps, but understandable. Resplendent in its silver/red/dark blue colours, the #22 Martini car (chassis 042) may have two duck eggs to its Le Mans resume, but modifications to its fibreglass bodywork, its rear deck and spoiler, and its newly enclosed rear wheels meant the 917LH was capable of taking the Mulsanne Straight’s fearsome right-hand kink at 380kph. Though it never saw the chequered flag at Le Mans, the ‘silver Martini’ became the first sports car to record a 240kph average speed around the near-14km La Sarthe circuit.

The story of ‘the other’ Martini International Racing Team entry though – chassis 053 – is pretty remarkable. The last of the 917 coupes to be built, #21 romped to victory at the hands of Gijs van Lennep and Dr-soon-to-be-Mr-Red-Bull Helmut Marko, doing so with an average speed of 222.3kph and having completed 397 laps / 5,335.3km with only a busted headlight to show for it. It was a performance that decimated the previous record – 388 laps / 5,232.9km for Ford in 1967 – and remained unchallenged until Audi Sport’s R15 went 75km further in 2010.

A pure weapon, though ironically, a beautifully clean all-white design bar some Jackie Stewart-esque ‘flicks’ across the front wheel arches languishes almost hysterically under the radar in terms of looks, given the silver Martini long-tail and ‘Pink Pig’ examples that also raced at Le Mans that year.

Fun fact, Le Mans 1971 – the car’s debut, no less – was the last time chassis 053 turned a wheel in anger until the Goodwood 74th Members’ Meeting 45 years later, a decision based primarily on #21’s ultra-lightweight, magnesium-built tubular chassis that was also highly combustible!

*Images courtesy of Porsche and Simeone Foundation Museum

5. 917-030 – Road Legal

Cheating? Nope. Well, okay, yes, but in terms of looks, the utterly gorgeous 917-030 deserves its place on this list.

Few 917s have a competition history as thin as chassis 030, a puncture-related DNF at the 1971 1000km Zeltweg the result of its only race to-date. Not that the 917K needed a strong on-track career to cement itself in the history books, given that it is one of only three 917s to ever be converted for road use, and one of only two still running that configuration.

With engine sizes capped at 3-litre for 1972 onwards, and with many of its heavily modified brethren starting a new life in North America, 917K began a 12-month tenure as a test mule for Porsche’s anti-lock braking system before being purchased in 1975 by Count Gregorio Rossi de Montelera. I.e. CEO of Martini & Rossi and thus the driving force behind Martini’s tie-in with Porsche.

One again, life began anew for 030, albeit this time with a brand new leather interior, carpet, wheel arch-mounted wing mirrors, a remodelled rear end, a strong muffler, and stunning all-silver paintwork, save a couple of cheeky Martini lines beneath the dihedral doors. Kept as close to race-trim as possible, it looks, I’m sure you’ll agree, glorious, and a reminder that sometimes simplicity – and a step away from sponsor decals – truly is the secret of a great ‘livery.’

Not that the Count managed to pour much mileage into 030 before his passing in 2003. Famously, all European applications for a collector’s registration were rejected, and Alabama only granted one in 1975 on the proviso that the Porsche would never be driven in the State.

For the completionists among you, the other two road-going examples are/were chassis 021 – yep, one of the original ‘Hippies’ – and chassis 037. The former, having been converted for road use (also in 1975, oddly), was slowly restored first by Don Marsh in 1996 and later by Vincent Gaye in 2007. Chassis 037 meanwhile was modified and registered for the road in Monaco in 2016 by Claudio Roddaro, and only after Monegasque authorities were satisfied that 037 and its 030 pioneer were identical in every technical detail. Robb Pritchard actually had a catch-up with 037 in December, and you can read about that HERE

*Images courtesy of CM-Arte and Jeremy Garamond. Full article HERE

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