Porsche 917LH #46 1969 Le Mans Test Car – Spark

917LH #46
1969 Porsche 917LH #46 Test Car
Pilots: R. Stommelen, H. Herrmann
Team: Porsche System Engineering
Race: Le Mans Test in 1969
Spark - S1974 (resin)

Published 08/06/23

The story of the development of Porsche’s 917 is quite colorful. After their first class victory at Le Mans in 1951, Porsche was set to one day come in first overall. Yet, if nowadays Porsche is an automotive powerhouse, in the 50s and 60s they were actually small fry. Therefore, the investment to build a car strong enough for an overall win was, in practical terms, basically impossible. That’s because the manufacturer had to invest not only in research, but also fabricate a minimum number of cars. And at the time, that minimum was 50 units, something out of the question for a small brand. However, that changed in April of 1968, when FIA altered the homologation rules. Starting in 1969, a manufacturer only needed to produce 25 cars instead of the customary 50 for homologation. Ferdinand Piëch, Porsche’s chief engineer and CEO, jumped at the opportunity. 

917LH #46
Just 10 months between idea and working prototype – that’s no small feat.

As an added incentive, Porsche’s current “top” car, the 908, was no match for the competition. At Le Mans in 1968, for instance, the 908 finished 6 laps behind the winning GT40 #9. Therefore, a new car would be welcome. With everything ready, the work on the new car began in July of 1968. On March 10th of 1969 they had their first working prototype. Two days later, on March 12th, at the Geneva Salon de l’Auto, Porsche revealed to the world the new 917. With the 917 ready (at the time called 917LH), it was time to take it to the track. Just in time for the 1969 24 Heures du Mans, to happen on June 14 and 15. That year, the official track tests would be on March 30th. So Porsche arrived at La Sarthe with two brand new 917LH, chassis #917-003 (917LH #46) and #917-002 (917LH #45). 

The weirdest aerodynamic appendage I’ve ever seen on the tail of a Le Mans’ car.

Piloting duties for both cars would be split between Hans Herrmann and Rolf Stommelen, two very experienced Porsche pilots. Knowing the 917’s history, it is probable that Herrmann and Stommelen had a rough time with the cars. Even though I couldn’t find any official reference to this, nonetheless… 🤨 With the tests done, Porsche packed everything up and returned to Stuttgart. After that, Porsche took #917-003 to the Spa 1000 Km on May 17. It did not actually race, and only ran as a test mule, piloted by Brian Redman and Jo Siffert. Later that month, it did test runs for the Nürburgring 1000 Km, though once again no 917 actually raced. By that time Stuttgart was fully aware that their most advanced car had serious issues. In short, it was terrible at speed. That being so, for those races Porsche elected to use the old (and reliable) 908.

I wonder if Porsche was already aware of the aerodynamic issues of the 917 before the Le Mans Test Day?

In the end, neither #917-002 nor #917-003 actually raced. In fact, they only raced as “test cars”. Nonetheless, Porsche sent three works 917 (two raced) to Le Mans in 1969, plus one car for a privateer. And we all know how that race ended for Stuttgart… Being blunt, in the beginning the 917 was a disgrace. And the 917LH #46 is part of that early crappy history. Facts aside, I’m a HUGE 917 fanboy, and delightfully in early 2023* Spark released 917LH #46 in 1:43rd. And it’s a doozy of a model – your typical great model from Spark. Even so, I think this model will only be of interest to the 917/Porsche fan boys. Nonetheless, like the Geneva presentation model, I have the feeling this one will also become rare in the future. So don’t let it get away.

*Around the same time, Spark also released 917LH #45 (#917-002). It’s on my hit list, and I’ll try my best to also get one.

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