1969 Porsche 917LH #45 Test Car Pilots: R. Stommelen, H. Herrmann Team: Porsche System Engineering Race: Le Mans Test in 1969 Spark - S9249 (resin)
With the FIA changing the rules for the Sport 5.0 class in 1968, the time had come for Porsche. Ferdinand Piëch, Porsche’s head honcho, believed it possible to win Le Mans. However, the small manufacturer would have to come up with a new car, and build 25 of them. The whole endeavor would not be easy, yet Piëch was confident. So Piëch officiated the decision in July 1968. Orders signed, he gave the engineering department only 10 months (!) to come up with a Le Mans-winning prototype. The project was extremely ambitious, since the base of the project was the 908. The 908 was a relatively simple and orthodox car, with a typical Porsche engine. However, they went from the 908’s 3 liter 350 hp flat-8 to a monstrous 580 hp 4.5 liter flat-12. Engine, chassis, brakes, everything in the 917 was overly ambitious.
In other words, from the 908 to the 917 the technical gap was immense. Yet, somehow and against all odds, the engineering department pulled it off. With the new car ready, if homologated, Porsche had a solid shot at the 1969 24 Heures du Mans. Or at least that was what they hoped… Overcoming all the technical difficulties, Porsche managed to build the needed 25 cars. However, even before the sanctioning by FIA, Stuttgart was busy testing the car. As soon as the first prototype rolled off the assembly line, on March 10th, Porsche started testing it. They needed to hurry if they wanted the 917 in the 1969 Le Mans race. After all, just a couple of weeks later, on March 30th, the official Test Day would take place.
Porsche arrived at their customary Le Mans headquarters at Rue du 8 Mai, in Teloché, with two 917LH. They were chassis #917-002 (917LH #45) and #917-003 (917LH #46). At the time, the 917 was basically an experimental vehicle, since it was not even homologated yet. Piloting duties would be handled by Hans Herrmann (#46) and Rolf Stommelen (#45 and #46), both Porsche works pilots. On that Sunday Stommelen’s #45 was the fastest car La Sarthe, reaching an impressive 352 km/h on the Mulsanne. With the test over, Porsche hauled both cars back to Stuttgart. Soon after, in April, FIA arrived at Zuffenhausen to inspect the 25 units of the 917, per the rules for homologation. That day, #917-002 was the second and #917-003 was the third car in the famous inspection line-up photo. On May 1st, FIA officially approved the 917 for racing.
Unfortunately though, the Le Mans test was the only time chassis #917-002 was on a race track. Porsche did not elect to race it at the 1000 Km of Spa, in May, nor at Le Mans, and kept it at Zuffenhausen as a test mule. Some time after, Porsche subjected the car to what they called a “Long Distance Life Test”. These tests occurred on some 917s to check the fatigue rates of major components. After this was over, chassis #917-002 was scrapped. What an inglorious end for the first 917 to roar down the Mulsanne in anger…😥
When I heard that Spark would issue the 1969 test 917s, I was ecstatic. Being the 917 fanboy that I am, I had to get at least one the W-143 Garage. A few months ago I scored the #46, and now I got the 917LH #45. Perhaps an overkill to have them both for most collectors, yet for me it was a must buy. Both cars are the regular Sparktastic good, however #46 is more unique because of the tail. So if you only need one, definitively get the #46. However, if you’re a 917 nut case, get both… Just don’t take too long, since these models will certainly become rare.