Of all the Porsche 917s that hurtled down the Mulsanne Straight, none perhaps did it more famously than chassis 917-024, the Gulf-liveried Porsche that Steve McQueen drove in his 1971 classic, Le Mans. Though the Porsche 917’s Le Mans success itself wrote the paragraphs in racing’s history books, chassis 024 remains the one that truly matters, even without having ever turned a lap of real competition at the illustrious French racing circuit. It is expected that this chassis’ significance will come into play when the recently-restored 917-024 goes to auction at Pebble Beach this August.
The Story of Chassis 024
Chassis 917-024’s legend begins on a winding strip of hallowed black top in the Ardennes Forest. It was there, at the infamous Spa-Francorchamps racing circuit in Beligum in 1969, that chassis 024 made its debut as the first Porsche 917 to ever be raced competitively. It looked different from the car raced in the 1971 film. It wore a white coat and bore the number 30 on its flanks, while inside the likes of Gerard Mitter and Udo Schütz piloted the car only briefly before retiring early with engine problems.
Although chassis 024 never took on the grueling 24 hour race in France, it did make the rounds of the Circuit de la Sarthe in a testing session in April of 1970. There the car gave off a much more familiar sight to those who’ve seen the motorsport epic, as the 917-024, this time decorated in Gulf livery and wearing the number 22, was hustled around the racing circuit by Brian Redman and Mike Hailwood, the former piloting a Porsche 908 to victory at the Targa Florio race a month later.
Porsche then decided to use chassis 024 as a development car to spur the 917 program’s progress forward before selling the car to Porsche’s own factory driver, Jo Siffert. It was at this point that the 917-024 made its way into the lives of so many car and racing enthusiasts, as Siffert soon after leased the car to film company Solar Productions for the filming of Le Mans.
Following the conclusion of filming, the car was returned to Jo Siffert’s car collection, where it was to then wait before being called to racing action once more. Sadly, things did not go as planned.
Amidst the mayhem at the beginning of the non-sanctioned Formula 1 event at Brands Hatch, bedeviled by the rampant jostling for position common in racing of all sorts, Jo Siffert’s #5 BRM clipped the #4 March-Cosworth of Ronnie Peterson on the first lap . It appeared to have been a harmless run-in initially, yet 14 laps later the collision proved to be costly beyond all imagination. Siffert’s car veered across the track and slammed into an earth bank, rolling the car over before it erupted in fire. Jo Siffert, unable to escape, perished in the flames.
Over 50,000 attended Jo Siffert’s funeral, and it is believed that the 917-024, rather than leading a pack of racing cars, led the funeral’s procession. The car remained part of Siffert’s estate before it was sold to Claude Prieur, a French collector, in 1978, who would keep the car up to his death in 2002.
Chassis 917-024, inhabited by rodents for 23 years in a French garage, was in need of a massive restoration when Uwe Meissner stumbled upon it in 2002. The stock 5.0-litre flat-12 was missing upon its discovery, but otherwise the car remained largely intact, with the car even in possession of its original transaxle.
Restoration of 917-024 was intensive. Electron microscopes were used to examine structural integrity, a CT scanner was utilized to check the strength of the original magnesium wheels, and a period 5.0-litre flat-12 was sourced to complete the car’s restoration.
Pebble Beach Expectations
Although Gooding & Company have not provided exact pricing numbers for the car, David Gooding has reportedly said that he expects to “shatter” the $16,390,000 (£9,600,000) record set by the 1957 Ferrari 250 Testarossa in 2011, meaning that chassis 917-024 is expected to surpass $16.4 million and the $5.5 million (£3,200,000) paid for a Porsche 917/10 Can-Am racer that set the standard for the most expensive Porsche ever to be sold. Some expect the car to sell somewhere in the region of $20 million (£11,700,000).
The Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance kicks off on August 17, and the Gooding & Company Pebble Beach Auctions will take place on August 16 and August 17.
(Photos and Information from Hemmings Blog and Racing Sports Cars)