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Porsche 917K used in filming of “Le Mans” sets marque record at Pebble Beach

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Porsche 917K, chassis 917-024, sells for a hammer price of $12.8 million, $14.08 million with fees. Photo by Jensen Sutta, copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company.

Porsche’s legendary 917K is a racing car that needs no introduction, but oddly enough one of the most famous examples never actually won a race. Instead, chassis 917-024 was instrumental in the filming of Steve McQueen’s 1971 epic, Le Mans, serving as both a camera car and a featured racing car. On August 18, 917-024 achieved yet another victory when it crossed the stage at the Gooding & Company sale in Pebble Beach, selling for a fee-inclusive $14.08 million and setting a new benchmark for a Porsche model sold at auction.

Chassis 917-024 began its competition career at the Spa 1000 kilometers in May of 1969, where Gerhard Mitter and Udo Schütz started from eighth on the grid but retired early with engine trouble. Later wrecked in testing and scrapped in February 1970, the chassis number was reused when Porsche needed a “K” variant for testing at Le Mans in April 1970, and evidence suggests the “new” 917-024 was applied to the first 917 frame ever produced.

In April 1970, the car was entered into the Le Mans test with drivers Brian Redman and Mike Hailwood. Additional development testing at the Nürburgring and Ehra-Lessien in May 1970 followed, and in June 1970, chassis 917-024 was sold to Jo Siffert, a Porsche works driver with a better than average sense for business. When Steve McQueen’s Solar Productions came looking for a variety of racing cars needed to film Le Mans, Siffert was happy to lease them, including chassis 917-024.

Following the conclusion of filming, the car returned to Siffert’s collection and was driven by its owner to his 35th birthday party. Three months later, Siffert was killed when the suspension of his BRM collapsed during a race at Brands Hatch. Chassis 917-024 led Siffert’s funeral procession, and the car remained with his estate for the next several years, ultimately selling to a French collector circa 1978.

The 917 remained off the radar until 2001, when it surfaced in a warehouse outside of Paris, France. A year later it was sold to a Swiss collector, who ultimately made the decision to restore the car, which was then missing its 5.0-liter air-cooled flat-12 engine. A period-correct replacement (917-021) was sourced from the United States, and since the owner planned on racing the car, a replacement frame was built to preserve the original, which showed stress cracks and signs of corrosion.

Later, when the decision was made to sell the car, the original frame was restored and bonded to the bodywork, finished in a Gulf livery with white meatballs, but no numbers. The reproduction frame accompanied the sale in California, as did original frame tubes deemed unsafe for continued use and assorted original pieces of bodywork. Extensive documentation accompanied the car, clearly illustrating its history to the satisfaction of the high bidder.

1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C

1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, selling for a hammer price of $13.2 million, $14.52 million with fees. Photo by Mike Maez, copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company.

Other lots in the top-10 at Gooding & Company’s sale included a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTB/C, which sold for $14.52 million, setting a new auction record for the model; a 1959 Ferrari 250 GT Series I Cabriolet, which sold for $4.84 million; a 1956 Maserati A6G/54 Berlinetta, which sold for $4.4 million; a 2015 Ferrari LaFerrari, which sold for $3.52 million; a 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Series I, which sold for $3.16 million; a 1958 BMW 507 Series II, which sold for $2.75 million, setting an auction record for the model; a 1965 Ferrari 275 GTB, which sold for $2.59 million; a 1966 Ferrari 275 GTS, which sold for $1.7 million; and a 1955 Mercedes-Benz 300 SL Gullwing, which sold for $1.68 million.