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World’s most famous 917?

Winning Porsche in Steve McQueen’s film Le Mans trades hands

Le Mans, the movie

This Porsche 917K was immortalized as the race winner in Steve McQueen’s 1971 film Le Mans, and was the Gulf-Porsche works entry for Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs in the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. An icon among icons, this 917K is an incomparable example of one of the greatest race cars ever.

Starring the great Steve McQueen, the Le Mans film ignored cost and danger to capture McQueen’s vision of what motor racing was all about – dramatizing the real-world triumph of the Porsche 917 in a case of art imitating life. This 917K with race number 22 crosses the line first driven by co-star Christopher Waite, after McQueen’s haunted character Michael Delaney sacrifices his own chances to ensure a team victory.

“I’ve always wanted to shoot a motor racing picture, because it’s always been something close to my heart,” said McQueen. “I don’t think there’s any race driver that can tell you why he races, but I think he can probably show you.” The film does show you – shot on-site at the 1970 Le Mans, the film’s exacting authenticity produced a cult-classic for racing fans and a monument both to McQueen and endurance racing alike.

Wearing the most famous racing livery ever, this 917K was one of three Gulf-Porsche entries in the 1970 Le Mans by John Wyer’s JW Automotive Engineering, who accepted an offer to run the Porsche factory team after their GT40s edged out Porsche a final time at Le Mans in 1969. Our car 917-026 in 4.5L form was entered for David Hobbs and motorcycle champion Mike (“the Bike”) Hailwood, alongside 917-016 for Pedro Rodriguez / Leo Kinnunen and 917-017/004 for Jo Siffert / Brian Redman.


  • The 1970 Le Mans 24 Gulf-Porsche works entry for Mike Hailwood and David Hobbs
  • Starring role and race winner in Steve McQueen’s ultra-realistic 1971 film Le Mans
  • After Le Mans, rebuilt by the factory to Spyder specification for European Interserie racing
  • Just four long-term owners after period racing career
  • Heroic restoration to 1970 Le Mans spec under current ownership by Lanzante

Gulf Oil & John Wyer

The combination of Gulf Oil sponsorship, Porsche engineering, and John Wyer management delivered many successes in the 1970-71 seasons. However at the 1970 Le Mans the gods conspired to see all three Gulf entries knocked out. After Hailwood refused to pit for wet tires, 917-026 made an unplanned exit, aquaplaning in heavy rain at the Dunlop curve to encounter the stationary Alfa T33/3 of Carlo Facetti. Nevertheless, a pair of rival 917s secured Porsche’s first overall victory at La Sarthe, a triumph repeated the following year – starting a run that would see Porsche eventually secure the most Le Mans victories of any manufacturer.

Along came a Spyder

After Le Mans, 917-026 was dismantled at JW Automotive, and the original chassis rebuilt by the factory in Spyder form and designated 917-031/026. Thus reborn with a 5-litre engine numbered 917-031 retained today, she enjoyed three further period seasons in the European Interserie Championship, with Team Shell Heckersbruch, then latterly the Gelo team of Georg Loos. In this second coming she saw much success in ’71 with champion Jürgen Neuhaus driving, before reluctantly giving way to the turbo-powered onslaught.


Since retirement from front-line racing, 917-031/026 has been held in just four private collections befitting its superstar status. From 1974 she was in the ownership of the Chandon family of Champagne fame and kept at the Mas du Clos museum of French collector Pierre Bardinon. From 1987 she was for 22 years held and raced by Florida collector Michael Amalfitano at U.S. events, restored and prepared by Bill Bradley racing and the engine rebuilt to 5.4L. Under present ownership since 2012, the renowned Paul Lanzante Ltd undertook a major restoration to the very highest standards, reinstating the iconic Gulf-liveried enclosed coupe bodywork (whilst retaining the factory Spyder body for posterity).

Utterly awe-inspiring, the Porsche 917 is of course an epoch-defining sports racing car truly among the pantheon of the immortals. Experts at lightweight design, the 917 represented Porsche’s first attempt to build a big car, spotting an opportunity in changing CSI championship rules – limited production sports cars of up to 5 litres qualified where just 25 were produced. With a thunderous new air-cooled 4.5L flat 12 later stretched to 5L and beyond, 25 duly appeared by April 1969, and after 15 championship wins, 917s twice delivered Porsche the World Sports Car Championship in 1970 and 1971.

World-class centerpiece

Presented just as it appeared at the 1970 Le Mans and in the 1971 Steve McQueen film, 917-031/026 is the totemic common thread linking the inauguration of Porsche’s long line of Le Mans victories with the cinematic dreams of Hollywood’s King of Cool. Certain to draw adoring crowds at any of the world’s greatest motoring events, this 917K would be the centerpiece and unsurpassable last word in any of the world’s very greatest collections.

Above content © 2024 Fiskens Ltd. reviewed and edited by Rex McAfee