1969 Porsche 917 Geneva Presentation Spark - MAP 02043019 (resin)
The first time a Porsche raced at La Sarthe, was in 1951. That year, the 356 Gmünd #46 crossed the line in first place in the S 1.1 class. That was the first true factory-made Porsche race car. After that, Porsche didn’t stop, and so did the victories all over the world. But then, as it is now, real glory only came with an overall victory in the 24 Heures du Mans. However, the only manner of an overall victory was with a big sport prototype car. Since the first 356, Porsche was all about light and nimble cars, that didn’t have to rely on brawny engines. So to have a shot at an overall victory at Le Mans, Porsche would need a very strong prototype. Nevertheless, development costs for such a project were very high. And worse of all, there was the homologation matter.
Up until 1967, the Federation Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) demanded the production of at least 50 cars for homologation. In other words, if a manufacturer wanted his car in a FIA-sanctioned race, they needed to build 50 units. For a small time manufacturer (at the time) like Porsche, that was impossible. But for 1969 to 1971, FIA changed the rules. Starting in 1969, there would be a new sports car class. This new Sport category was for sports cars with engines smaller than 5 liters and weighing at least 798 kg. But, the 50-car-minimum homologation rule persisted. Than, in April of 1968, the homologation minimum became only 25 cars. Some say that only happened because Il Commendatore wanted his new 250LM to be legal… Fact is, it’s one rule for everybody, and that was what Porsche needed.
Porsche’s motorsports department, headed by Ferdinand Piëch, started to work on the Typ 917 in July 1968. Even with huge expenses, the idea was to recover the investment by selling the surplus cars to privateers. They started from scratch, with a totally new and very light aluminum chassis. And the same went for the engine, the new groundbreaking Type 912 – a 4494 cm³ flat-12. Even for Porsche, creating a brand new prototype from scratch was no easy task. But to really complicate things, Porsche promised it would reveal the new car at the Geneva Salon de l’Auto. But that was in March 12th-14th the next year! And Piëch pulled it off – the first working prototype (#917-001) of the new 917 was ready on the evening of March 10th.
The car debuted at Geneva with a splash. You could even buy one for about DM 140,000 (~US$ 3.9 million today), roughly the price of ten 911s. But the drama didn’t end in Switzerland, since there still was the 25 car minimum for homologation. So the Geneva presentation car went back to Stuttgart and work continued on the other 24 cars. But when FIA came knocking, they found three completed cars, 18 assembled and seven still in pieces. “HELL no!”, they said, or perhaps something a little more polite. So, Piëch commanded everybody that worked at Porsche to finish the cars. And when he said that everybody should get down to the factory floor, he ment everybody – even office clerks worked on the cars. Impressively, just three weeks later, on April 20th, FIA inspectors found 25 cars ready.
That was not the last of the 917 saga, unfortunately, since the car would only get really good in 1970. But on June 14th, 1970, Porsche won at Le Mans for the first time, with the 917K #23. So this is quite a grail model to me. The Geneva presentation car, chassis #917-001, was the first of all the 917s, the car that started it all. And for me particularly, this is quite a milestone of a car. Because without this one there would be no “Le Mans” film and I wouldn’t be here writing this. My love of race cars began because of that film and Michael Delaney’s #20.
Consequently, I was overjoyed when Spark released the 1:43 version of the Geneva presentation 917. Model wise it’s a beauty of a car, a perfect rendition of the real thing. Spark did a fantastic job on it, and it shines. So if you’re a true 917 nut like me, this one is mandatory. Nonetheless, I have a feeling that this one will become scarce in the future. So if you fancy one, my advice would be to not wait long to get one.
Porsche just restored the Geneva presentation car, and made a short feature film about here. Just three minutes long, but very nice.