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Legends at the Porsche Museum: Porsche’s 917 One-Hit Wonder

Submitted by on July 12, 2021

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

During a visit at the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart (Germany), Motorsport Retro’s European correspondent Marcel Hundscheid came eye to eye with Porsche 917 KH chassis number 053, winner of the 1971 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Dutchman Gijs van Lennep drove this unique car alongside Austrian Helmut Marko, nowadays more widely known as Red Bull Racing’s Formula 1 advisor, in the great race. The pair maintained an average speed of 222.3 km per hour and set a distance record that would stand for almost 40 years. A fact made more impressive by the 917’s notoriously difficult high speed handling.

917-053 is the only 917 to have raced using a tubular frame built from magnesium and pressurised with gas to have raced and persist through to today. Porsche engineers pushed the boundaries in their quest to save weight and alongside the use of the magnesium tubular frame, a balsa wood gear knob was prominently displayed on the gear lever. 917-053 triumphed during its one and only entry and was retired after the race by Porsche.

Dutchman Gijs van Lennep won the 24 Hours of Le Mans twice driving for Porsche. As mentioned earlier he won the 1971 edition with Helmut Marko, followed by a second victory in 1976 with Belgian Jacky Ickx before he retired as a racing driver.

Besides racing sportscars, van Lennep also raced in Formula 1 for SAN, Williams and Ensign. Between racing sportscars for Porsche and his eight starts in Formula 1, he grabbed the European Formula 5000 championship in 1972.

Helmut Marko raced in 10 Formula Grands Prix for BRM and the non-works McLaren team. His biggest success was the victory at Le Mans in 1971 with Gijs van Lennep. Marko’s racing carreer came to an abrupt end in 1972 when a stone thrown up by Emerson Fittipaldi pierced his helmet visor during the French Grand Prix. As a result he became permanently blind in his left eye. Nowadays Marko is Red Bull Racing’s Formula 1 advisor.

By Marcel Hundscheid / Speed-O-Graphica

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