Few race cars have ever left the mark on the sport that the Porsche 917K did. Designed by Ferdinand Porsche as the ultimate endurance racer, the 12-cylinder monsters could hit 230 mph thanks to the 600 hp lurking just behind the driver's shoulders. In 1970 and 1971, Porsche won Le Mans back-to-back with the 917 and dominated circuits until rule changes outlawed its design.
Today, Porsche 917Ks have become one of the world's most valuable collector cars, and in a matter of weeks one could fetch more than $15 million thanks to its history with Hollywood and Steve McQueen
The car that Gooding & Co. will sell at its Pebble Beach auction this August has a long and winding history, although little of it involves racing. Chassis number 24 was one of the first two 917K to ever compete, running at the 1969 Spa-Francorchamps 1000 km where it had to retire due to engine trouble. A year later, racing boss John Wyer solved the 917's handling problems and used the same car to test for Le Mans, where it set the top speed and first wore the iconic Gulf colors. Factory driver Jo Siffert then bought the car, and when friend Steve McQueen needed vehicles to shoot his movie "Le Mans" during the 1971 race, Siffert loaned him his 917K. In the movie, Siffert's 917K takes the checkered flag after McQueen crashes.
The car would be shown in public again in October 1971, leading Siffert's funeral procession after his death in a British race, and shortly afterwards was bought by a French collector who parked it in a granary for 25 years. It's re-discovery in 2001 was a huge "barn find," and the new owner undertook a meticulous restoration of the car.
What this 917 lacks in competition history it makes up for in authenticity; many 917s were wrecked, thrashed or scavenged for parts, and weren't considered valuable for much of the '70s. Gooding isn't releasing a pre-sale estimate, but the McQueen touch has proven to be as important, if not more desirable, than a racing pedigree with other models. The most expensive Porsche auctioned to date was a 917 that brought $4.4 million in 2012, but a Ford GT40 that McQueen used as a camera car for "Le Mans" brought $11 million that same year. Other 917s in private hands have been valued at more than $10 million, and market trends have shown buyers willing to break all known records for a chance to own rolling pieces of racing, and Hollywood, history.