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Porsche 917-021 The Fabulous Story

The fabulous story of this car’s life begins in 1970 with the construction of chassis #021, one of the first batch of twenty-five 917s to be built.
In April 1970, the newly completed chassis #917-021 was sold to the Finnish AAW team, finished in the red and yellow colours of its title sponsor. The car’s first race, the Monza 1000km, served as an extended test session, finishing down in eleventh place. The following race, the Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km, saw Laine/van Lennep coming home in an improved fifth place overall. However, just two weeks later, tragedy struck at the Nürburgring when Hans Laine was killed in practice in the AAW team’s Porsche 908/2 and as a result, the 917 was withdrawn from the following day’s race.

David Piper and Gijs van Lennep drove #021 in the Le Mans 24 Hours, but Piper crashed in pouring rain in the Dunlop curve while lying in third place. He brought the car back to its pit where it was repaired and van Lennep went back out but their race was over when a tyre blew on the Mulsanne straight due to excessive wear caused by the twisted chassis. The 917 was sent back to the factory for repairs, but given the lack of time available before the next race (Norisring), Porsche took chassis #012 from stock. All the mechanical components from #021 were grafted onto #012 and the chassis was renamed #021. This was not uncommon practice in those days and probably little thought was given to the car’s longevity, as race cars would normally be replaced after a season or two by the next model.

On 28 June, chassis #917-021 arrived at the Norisring for the Interserie race with a provisional decoration: a white front bonnet and a yellow engine cover. Hans-Dieter Dechent, the Martini boss, then rented this car. He had it painted in the psychedelic mauve and green livery seen on the long-tail 917 (chassis #043) that had finished second in the 1970 Le Mans 24 Hours. He entered it for van Lennep/Larrousse in the Watkins Glen 6 Hours in the USA and the Can-Am event the following day. On 23 August, the Porsche sported a new red and yellow psychedelic livery, the AAW team’s colours, for the Keimola Interserie race in which it scored its first win. On 20th September van Lennep then followed this up with a second victory in the Zandvoort Trophy.

In the Paris 1000km, #021 retired with blown valves while the 917’s last race for the Martini team was the Kyalami 9 Hours with Siffert and Ahrens. The car was fitted with a 5-litre engine for the South African event, where it finished in second place. Chassis #021 then went back to Porsche where its engine was removed and installed in the 917/01-021 Spyder for the AAW team in 1971. The original chassis and bodywork was sold to Manfred Freisinger in 1972.

Three years later, Joachim Grossmann bought and restored 917-021. He painted it white, detuned the engine and used it as his road car! In 1983, the car was sold to American collector Don Marsh and in 1996, he put it back in to its Watkins Glen configuration although the colours and detailing did not exactly correspond to the original livery. Bobby Rahal bought #021 in 2002, but sold it on to Juan Barazi the following year.

That in a nutshell is the story of the car’s journey from 1970 up until it arrived in the hands of current owner, Vincent Gaye, at the end of 2007. Gaye proceeded to carry out a full restoration on the car, and it returned to the track for the first time, in all its original psychedelic mauve and green Martini livery, in 2011.

The story of the car’s restoration is a fascinating one, as the owner, the author, a translator and various others undertook a journey to the heart of deepest Germany, Stuttgart, Hamburg as well as the Black Forest, the Moselle region and the Rhine! Gaye was insistent that the history was accurate, and in Stuttgart, none other than Porsche engineers Walter Näher and Herbert Staudenmaier were roped in to verify the details.
No stone was left unturned as piecing together the story of this car led to meetings with people including Gijs van Lennep, Bobby Rahal, Kurt Ahrens, Gérard Larrousse, David Piper, team managers Hannu Kahi (AAW team), Hans-Dieter Dechent (Martini Racing team) and others.

One has to be so careful today when restoring a car like chassis #021, which, because of its chassis swap with #012 in period, needs to be verified in great detail and with great accuracy. The book explains in a refreshingly open manner, all the potential pitfalls in this journey, and the owner and author are very frank about this. Due to the ravages of time and a hard racing life, a completely new chassis was constructed for safety reasons, and excellent photographs show the extent of the damage to this 48-year old chassis, which made this step essential. Of course, the old chassis has been retained and stored for the sake of authenticity.

The reader can see all the different layers of paint that were discovered while taking the body panels back to their base. This tells the story of the car as each layer of paint verifies the story of the car’s life, starting with the red and yellow Shell paintwork and finishing with the two psychedelic colour schemes that marked its 1970 racing career. The book also covers the chapter in its life when the car was owned by Joachim Grossmann, when he turned the car in a street-legal 917.
The book has been well written and is well supported with great imagery throughout. The photographs also capture the various meetings with those interviewed who were fortunate enough to have played a part in the extraordinary life of chassis #917-021.

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