Car of the Week: The Last Porsche 917 to Race at Le Mans Could Fetch $5.4 Million at Auction

Porsche’s 917 was one of the most dominant cars in motorsport during its era, and to showcase an example of the model in a Porsche collection today is akin to a natural history museum possessing a fossilized Tyrannosaurus rex. And as with the Tyrant King, the 917 was imbued with power and performance that was nothing short of fearsome.

A unique Porsche trophy will be featured at the upcoming RM Sotheby’s Monaco auction, held at the Grimaldi Forum on May 10 and 11. Offered for the first time in more than a decade, this 917K—which could be considered the ultimate iteration—affords a serious collector or institution the rare opportunity to acquire one of the most historically significant examples of Porsche’s renowned race car. And its career may not be over; if the new owner is so inclined, chassis No. 917-K81 would be a highly competitive entry in numerous historic race series.

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The last Porsche 917 to race at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The 1981 Porsche 917K being offered through RM Sotheby’s.

In 1969, Porsche launched its 917 with eyes set on the World Sportscar Championship, initially building 25 examples for homologation. Exploiting the 5.0-liter rules, Porsche developed a 4.5-liter, flat-12 engine and persevered through the 1971 season, by then with the 917K (Kurzheck, German for “short tail”) running a 5.0-liter engine, which made up to 630 hp. Later 917s, developed for the Can-Am series, were altogether different beasts, such as the 917/30, which made 1,100 hp.

Chassis No. 917-K81 is not only notable for its provenance and condition, but because it’s the last of the 917 series to compete in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Following a decade-plus hiatus from endurance racing, the 917 reappeared when Le Mans regulations allowed it to run in the 1981 event, enjoying a brief window of eligibility before the introduction of Group C regulations in 1982.

The cockpit of a 1981 Porsche 917 that raced at the 24 Hours of Le Mans  that year.
The cockpit shared by drivers Bob Wollek, Xavier Lapeyre, and Guy Chasseuil during the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1981.

Cologne-based Kremer Racing built the car with Porsche’s full sanctioning and factory support. That support included chassis schematics and a pair of Type 912 flat-12 engines developed for the 917. The decade separating chassis No. 917-K81 from its predecessors also made it the most competitive 917 ever, as its engineers availed themselves of the latest tire technology and aerodynamic advancements.

A Porsche 917 competing in the 1981 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Chassis No. 917-K81 competing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

At the 1981 edition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, drivers Bob Wollek, Xavier Lapeyre, and Guy Chasseuil ran near the top, in ninth position, before retiring after seven hours following a collision with a back marker that led to a loss of oil. The car went on to compete at the 1981 Brands Hatch 1000 Kilometers with Bob Wollek and Henri Pescarolo—a winner of multiple Le Mans races—at the wheel. Wollek took the lead mid-race, before retiring nine laps later. The 917’s official career was over, but not without having written some truly exciting chapters in motorsport. While it’s anyone’s guess where the auction hammer will fall, this 917 carries a high-end estimate of about $5.4 million.

Click here for more photos of this 1981 Porsche 917.

A 1981 Porsche 917.
A 1981 Porsche 917.

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