Heard the strange, paradoxical story about the car that broke all the records at the 24 Hours of Le Mans without ever managing to win the race? This is the tale of the Porsche 917 LH (“Langheck” or “long tail”). The 917 LH was the work of Ferdinand Piëch, a grandson of Ferdinand Porsche. Following the fundamental changes which made the short version of the 917 (the “K”) the star of the 1970 season, Piëch dreamed of a 917 with revamped aerodynamics. That dream became reality in the shape of the LH which achieved a level of performance that had never been seen before.
Vic Elford and Kurt Ahrens were the first to exceed an average speed of 240 kph (over 149 mph) at the Le Mans 24-Hour circuit and claimed pole position at the 1970 edition. While Elford and Ahrens failed to finish the race, Gérard Larrousse and Willi Kauhsen finished second in a 917 LH with a so-called “psychedelic” green and purple livery which became an immediate hit with fans and designers all over the world. In 1971, Piëch took his idea a stage further. On 18 April, during preliminary tests for the 24 Hours, Jackie Oliver completed the fastest lap in the circuit’s history in 3:13.6 (breaking the 250 kph (155.34 mph) average speed barrier) and set a new speed record of 386 kph (239.5 mph) in the Mulsanne Straight. This record was to stand until 1988. In qualifying, Pedro Rodriguez clocked the fastest-ever pole time for the race in 3:13.9, and yet none of the three cars entered reached the finish line.
Although it never won Le Mans, the Porsche 917 LH took the level of design and performance to previously unchartered territory, setting benchmarks that will probably never be beaten.
Jean-Philippe Doret / ACO - English translation by David Goward
Photo (D.R. - ACO Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), CIRCUIT DES 24 HEURES, 24 HOURS OF LE MANS, 12–13 JUNE 1971. At the wheel of a Porsche 917 LH, Pedro Rodriguez and Jackie Oliver became the two fastest drivers in Le Mans 24-Hour history.