The situation we have here is a tricky one. Technically, there are two 917 with their chassis numbered 917-021. Both are recognized by Porsche as having existed, and both have had their histories intertwined. You see, Porsche built number 21 as part of its initial run of 25 chassis in 1969, and the car was originally raced in Shell livery at Le Mans in 1970. Campaigned by the Finnish AWW team (Antti Aarnio-Wihuri) for David Piper and Gis Van Lennep. The car was damaged in the race when Piper ran it into things and was repaired at the track. Later in the race, Van Lennep was forced to retire with a burst tire caused by rubbing on the bent frame from its previous shunt. This is where the water begins to muddy.
The chassis was sent back to the Porsche Werks in Germany for repair, but as there was no time for it to be properly repaired. As Porsche was under a time crunch, they simply took a spare frame laying around the shop and grafted all of the mechanicals and bodywork from 021 onto 012, and reissued serial number 021 to chassis 012. Yeah, I’m sensing there will be confusion here.
On the 28th of June, 1970, the car was campaigned in the European Interseries race at the Norisring, it’s rear half resplendent in it’s Shell Le Mans livery, and its front quarters donned with newly finished white fiberglass. After that race, the car was loaned to Martini Racing who repainted it in the Green and Mauve swirled “Psychedelic”-style livery they had made famous at Le Mans. When it was returned to AAW, they retained the swirled livery, but replaced the Mauve with Yellow, and the Green with Red to retain Shell sponsorship, as well as additional help from Martini.
Finishing out the year standing on the second tier of the podium at the Kyalami 9 hour endurance race, Oh-Twenty-One was then returned to Porsche’s shop. Again, confusion ensues. AAW wished to have an open-topped 917 constructed for the 1971 Interseries season. Porsche unceremoniously yanked the flat 12 cylinder out of 021 and installed it in …wait for it… 917-01-021. Yeah, I told you it was hard to follow.
From this point forward, the story splits in two directions. The first direction goes the way of a quiet death, and the second continues in the competition arena for another ten years. As the competition route is more interesting, we’ll start there.
Some contend that 021 was rebuilt from pieces and parts by Piper racing, using the bits that Porsche didn’t use for 01-021. This car returned to the Kyalami 9 Hours for 1971 where is missed the podium, yet finished a strong fourth overall painted in Lucky Strike cigarette livery. Then, the car was painted a dark shade of green and run in a handful of 1972 interseries events with less than promising results. In 1973, the car was fitted with an updated finned tail section, but saw no further competition and was mothballed until Piper sold the car to Peter Norman.
Norman gave the car another coat of paint, this time in Silver. With a change of the rules in 1981, the 917 was relevant again, all-of-a-sudden, and was returned to competition in a 1981 Silverstone Grand Prix support race for sports prototypes. Norman kept the car, but chose not to compete with it any further, as 10 years of racing is a lifetime, and the 917 was no longer competitive. In approximately 1984, Norman sold the car to the Rosso Bianco Museum where it was repainted again in a coat of white paint and put on display until the museum closed in 2006.
Gunnar Racing claims to have this car, as they have restored the “Sandemans” car. In fact, the entire restoration project was filmed and uploaded to youtube in a 20 part series of videos. They purchased the car from the Rosso Bianco Museum, though its chassis was supplied without any sort of identification number. During the teardown phase, Gunnar Jeanette discovered several layers of paint that lay credence to the fact that they have the one-and-only 917-021.
At some point in the hustle, bustle, scrape, and shuffle, 917-021 appears to have split itself, or created a doppelganger. German Joachim Grossman claims to have purchased chassis 021 from a scrap metal facility and rebuilt the car as a roadgoing vehicle. Purchased for 20,000 DM, Grossman built his own supercar of the 917, and continued to drive it on the street. Having begun the project sometime in 1975, Grossman registered 917-021 for the street two years later, in June of 1977. His modifications included a proprietary heating system, indicator lights, and noise reduction, all of which were done without help from the Porsche factory.
Beyond this point, the trail goes cold. I have not been able to dig up any information on what happened to the car after it left Grossman’s care, other than the fact that there is now a book in the process of being published. 917-021.com purports to have all of the answers to all of my questions in an upcoming tell-all 300+ page picture filled book. As it would seem, Grossman’s car has received a thorough restoration, and has been returned to it’s early 1970 Psychedelic Martini livery. So, who is lying, and who is telling the truth? Like the Highlander, there can be only one 917-021…or can there be? It seems to me that there could be a 917-012/021 as well as a 917-021/012. If that does turn out to be the case, the Grossman car could have been painted in a livery in which it never raced, and the Gunnar Racing car could have suffered the same fate. I guess we will find out exactly what happens when the book is released later this year. I’ll be first in line. In a bit of self promotion, the publishers of the book “Porsche 917-021: The Fabulous Story” have released a teaser film. It doesn’t give any insight into the car’s past, but it does showcase the car in an artistic fashion, as well as allow you to listen to a 4.9 liter Porsche flat 12 at full chat! That alone is worth the entry fee!
To confuse yourself even further, check out this graphic…
A tip of the hat to Vince at 9Magazine for the heads up! He produces a great Porsche magazine, and in the interest of full disclosure, he graciously publishes my ramblings in print every month. I still have no idea why.