These Are the Stories Behind the Porsche 917’s Five Most Iconic Liveries
Be it Gulf or Martini, the Porsche 917 wore its colors well.
The Porsche 917 celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and as the company's first successful and arguably most iconic Le Mans racecar, its birthday was not forgotten. But what many remember about the 917 besides its track record (pardon the pun) were the liveries it wore, the vibrant color combinations and massive sponsor decals that somehow gave a car with so much flair even more character. Porsche remembers those too.
In Porsche's latest episode of its Top 5 series on YouTube, the brand spotlighted the most recognizable liveries that decorated the 917. Most of these have clad more than just Porsche's first overall Le Mans winner, but few cars rock these paint schemes as well as the 917 does.
First on Porsche's list is indeed the car that started it all: 917-001. Under the FIA governing body's new homologation orders, Porsche was required to build 25 road-going versions before the machine could compete. Porsche had no plans to actually sell the 917 to consumers, but quickly built its 25 presumably street-legal cars to appease the FIA overlords. Legend has it that some of these vehicles even sported truck axles.
All 25 cars bore a simple white paint job, but the first of the flock, 917-001, was given special green accents. Having been used solely as a demo car at the 1969 Geneva Motor Show, 917-001 was never given a chance to actually race, but Porsche recently restored it and thrashed it around the Goodwood Motor Circuit as part of the 917's birthday festivities.
An attempt to blend the best aerodynamic characteristics from both the short-tailed 917 K and long-tailed 917 LH led to the weirdest and rarest of the lot- 917/20. The car's combination of a long body, stubby face, and wide hips gave it a pig-like look, which inspired Porsche designer Anatole Lapine to give the car a pink paint job with butcher cut lines covering the exterior. Dubbed the Pink Pig, 917/20 was a crowd favorite at the 1971 Le Mans race, but for more than just its porky looks. The car was the fastest in qualifying and nearly came in fifth place, before a brake failure caused it to crash before the finish line. The Pink Pig's legacy was restored at the 2018 Le Mans 24 Hours race, when a Manthey Racing Porsche 911 RSR won the GTE Pro class wearing 917/20's colors.
Drinking and driving should never go together, but Martini and the 917 LH are a match made in heaven. All was going well for the purple and green #3 917 LH "Hippie Car" at the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans when it suffered an engine failure and had to retire. The long-tailed 917 returned the following year in its shiny new Martini and Rossi Racing livery, setting the highest average speed at 240 km/h (149 mph). Sadly the car failed to finish here too, but at least it looked fantastic.
The 917 LH was developed as a low-drag, much more stable alternative to the terrifying 917 K, and was set up in particular to excel on the long Mulsanne Straight, where speed and aerodynamic slipperiness were key. Unfortunately every LH met a similar fate as the No. 3 Martini car, with none ever successfully crossing the finish line.
The sky blue and orange palette that denotes the Gulf Oil livery is every motorsport fan's favorite paint job for a reason. It was popularized by Steve McQueen's 1971 racing film, Le Mans, in which it starred alongside the man himself. While this livery was used on other racecars like the Ford GT40, its portrayal on the silver screen made Gulf Racing and the 917 an inseparable pair.
Porsche's list concludes with its most important 917, the No. 23 917 K that brought home Porsche's first overall victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The Salzburg red and white livery was made up of the colors of the Austrian flag, as well as those of Porsche Salzburg, Porsche's factory racing team at the time. At the 1970 Le Mans race, this car finished first ahead of just six other cars, with heavy rains turning the Circuit de la Sarthe into any 600-plus-horsepower racecar's worst nightmare. Even with the 917 K's improved handling and stability over the original model, it would be drivers Hans Herrmann and Richard Attwood's finesse that brought the No. 23 car its fame and glory.
Which livery is your favorite? Watch Porsche's video below to see why these are the company's top five.
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