Join The World's Fastest Growing Porsche Community >>

Martini Porsche 917-042 – Le Mans record breaker

#21, Porsche 917 Long-tail Coupé, chassis no. 042, Martini Racing Team, at Le Mans 1971 driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford, here at Porsche Museum Stuttgart May 2017

#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042)
#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042) was driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford in the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hour race – DNF, lost engine cooling fan

From 1964 through to 1969, Porsche lifted its game from being a class winner to setting international lap speed and endurance records that were beyond the reach of other manufacturers, by quite some margin. In May 2017, I was afforded the opportunity of photographing eight race cars in detail at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart, and one of the cars on my list was the #21 Martini Porsche 917-042. She looked absolutely beautiful, resplendent in her stunning Martini colours in rich red, light/dark blue and silver stripery. The graceful lines of this race car are still perfect by today’s standards, and it is little wonder that these cars were so much faster than anything else on the grid in their time.

#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042)
#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042) was driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford in the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hour race – photographed at the Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, May 2017

The Porsche 917 is what I would call a ‘watershed’ race car, because it was a revolutionary model in so many ways. Through the 1960s, Porsche’s race cars grew from the 1.6-litre 718 RS 60 Spyder that produced 160bhp at the start of that decade and claimed mostly class wins, to the 600bhp 4.9-litre 917 in 1970, which utterly dominated the sports car racing world. A decade is really a long time in motorsport, but finally Porsche had established itself as a world-beater at the top of the global sports car racing pyramid.

#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042)
#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042) was driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford in the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hour race – photographed at the Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, May 2017

“I fell in love with the 917 when I went to the auto show at Geneva in March [1969]. It was up on the pedestal, it was big and gorgeous, a wonderful car, and I immediately fell in love with it. I then started lobbying Piëch to have one for Le Mans,” Elford told the author in an interview back in 2010. Eventually Elford got his 917 to drive in 1969, “Finally he [Piëch] and Bott gave in and said ‘you can have a 917 but it’s not going to last’. So, I got Richard Attwood to drive with me and we really treated it with kid gloves and it did last, and it went all the way through the night until we retired on Sunday afternoon after 21 hours, by which time we were actually leading by 70 miles, or about six laps. What it retired with was nothing at all like they originally thought, it was actually a split bell housing, which allowed the oil through and the clutch was slipping,” Elford added.

#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042)
#21 Martini Porsche 917 LH (chassis #042) was driven by Gerard Larrousse and Vic Elford in the 1971 Le Mans 24 Hour race – photographed at the Porsche Museum, Stuttgart, May 2017

The early 917s had shown great promise but equally they had shown their darker side in that they were inherently unstable at high speed. But by the start of the 1970 season, the Porsche 917 had been turned into a formidable racer, once the car’s aerodynamic instability had been sorted out.

1970 Le Mans 24 Hours

Ferry Porsche’s sister, Louise, was married to Anton Piëch, and their son Ferdinand Piëch, was the driving force behind the 917. Porsche Salzburg, the Austrian Porsche operation run by Louise Piëch, entered two cars in the 1970 race, one Kurzheck and one Langheck, thereby increasing their chances of success by having the best of both worlds. The red #23 917 K (Kurzheck, chassis #023) driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood, was joined by the #25 917 LH (Langheck, chassis #042), finished in white with red stripes for the race and piloted by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens. Whilst most of the other top drivers had given the 917 a wide birth because of its instability problems, Vic Elford’s enthusiasm for the 917 was by now reinforced with a good deal of experience behind the wheel of this formidable car from the 1969 race.

#23 Porsche Salzburg 917 K
Le Mans 24 Hours, 13/14 June 1970: The winning #23 Porsche 917 K of the Porsche Salzburg team was driven by Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood

If Elford’s and Ahrens’ capability in the 917 needed any confirmation, a look at the timing sheets from the 1970 Le Mans race would quickly settle any uncertainties. In qualifying that year, Kurt Ahrens posted the quickest time of 3:19.8 minutes at a speed of 150.798mph, while Elford recorded the fastest race lap of 3:21.05 minutes for a lap speed of 149.860mph. This was the first time that the Le Mans lap record had breached the 150mph mark! The then all-white #25 Porsche 917-042 LH from Salzburg had broken into the record books, and left its mark for all time.

#25 Porsche 917 LH
Le Mans 24 Hours, 13/14 June 1970: The #25 Porsche 917 LH of the Porsche Salzburg team was driven by Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens, but retired after 21 hours while leading

The 1970 Le Mans 24 Hour race was characterised by heavy rain, and although the 917-042 LH was significantly faster than the 917 K, it was the red #23 of Herrmann/Attwood that won the race. Gerard Larrousse and Willy Kauhsen were second in the #3 psychedelic 917 LH Martini car (chassis #043), finishing five laps down on the winners. Despite starting from pole position, the #25 Salzburg 917 LH of Elford/Ahrens (chassis #042) bowed out after 225 laps when the engine swallowed an inlet valve, resulting in a disappointing DNF.

#3 Martini Porsche 917 LH
Le Mans 24 Hours, 13/14 June 1970: The #3 Martini Porsche 917 LH was driven by Gerard Larrousse and Willy Kauhsen, finishing in a fine second place overall

Chassis #917-042 was returned to the factory where it was repaired, and put to work as a test and research racer for the remainder of the 1970 season.

Access to the full article is limited to paid subscribers only. Our membership removes annoying ads, lets enjoy unlimited access to all our premium Porsche content and offers you awesome discounts on Porsche related products.

See Membership Options

 

Become A Full Fledged Member
No Pesky Ads. Full Access to Featured Content. Awesome Discounts on Products