Beautiful Danger: A Porsche 917 Gallery
Photos by: Steffen Jahn
by Zack Klapman
The Porsche 917/30 was one of the craziest cars ever built. It could hit 60MPH in under 3 seconds, and go beyond 240MPH. In Can-Am qualifying trim it made 1,580HP, but weighed less than 2,000lbs. It was before coal-into-diamonds down-force, so the first cars were scary, getting rear lift at high speed. I’ve only experienced truly bad aero once; going past 135MPH in an E.R.A. Shelby Cobra Replica. It suddenly feels like a wizard installed the power steering from a 1978 Cadillac in between 135 and 136MPH. I only had to learn that lesson once.
But in a car that holds the record for the highest speed at Le Mans (246MPH), in 1968, when “fire protection” basically meant “avoid fires”, driving these rocket-powered guinea pigs must have been such an event, such a feeling. You were a monkey in a new rocket. This rocket went on to become an icon, something photographer Steffen Jahn has captured beautifully. Jump for more.
The 917/30 was developed by Porsche to take the overall win at the 24 Hour of Le Mans. They wanted high speeds on the long straights, so they make it as slippery as possible. Understandable. But as we know from race cars, street cars, and (especially) Pagani’s Hyuara, aerodynamics are important; Just ask the Mercedes CLK GTR, after it climbs down from that tree. Slippery doesn’t mean best, or that it will stay on the ground.
It was 19 MPH faster at Le Mans than anything, but a lack of rear down-force made it seriously unstable. Some drivers refused to race it, or vocally expressed their dislike of it. Eventually solutions were found, at first by taping a bunch of aluminum together in the pits. Even with ample down-force it set (and holds) the record for fastest speed at Le Mans (pre-chicane) at 246MPH. Imagine doing that over and over for 3 hours, in a car where your feet sit in front of the front axle. Crumple zone? Yes, your tibia.
Eventually they sorted out that pesky “HOLY SHIT I CANT STEER!” issue, and the car was incredible, winning the overall for Porsche in 1970 and 1971. In early 70s Can-Am racing it got even faster. Expanded to 5.4-liters they made 1,100HP in race trim, and 1,580HP in qualifying trim, running 39 pounds of boost. The car weighs 1,800 ******* pounds. No HANS device, helmets as strong as a bucket, and fire suppression meant praying for rain immediately after impact. Crazy. Dangerous. Genius. Want.
With performance and power like that, I have to look at the Koenigseggs, Paganis and SSCs with a new eye. Their performance is equal to some of the fastest, most powerful race cars that ever existed, they’re gorgeous, and I love them. Kudos there. And they’ve found a way to harness that supernova of performance, stuff them with the skin of friendly cows, Bluetooth, and make them drivable on the street. It’s like the guy that invented the light saber. It can cut your hand off, but only when it’s on. Otherwise you can keep it in your pocket, right next to your schwartz.
But imagine being one of those racing chimps, sliding inside a car that’s half the weight of a Veyron, more powerful, RWD, no traction control, no airbags, your legs hanging over the front like an inner tube and blasting toward oblivion. Kinda makes the new hyper-cars almost seem soft. Yikes.
Go to http://www.steffenjahn.com/ and look at the rest of his 917 gallery, and the rest of his amazing work.
Source: Steffen Jahn