Speed Week 2020: nine reasons you need a baby Porsche 917
Struggling with what should go on the top of your list to Santa? Let us give you a hand
It’s a titchy version of the most iconic Porsche ever
Let’s not beat around the bush, the Porsche 917 is one of the coolest, quickest racing cars ever made. If you’re too lost in the TikTok sauce to remember it (or not beardy enough to know) the 917 won Le Mans in 1970, and again in ‘71 - the same year it was immortalised in Steve McQueen’s film about the race. But the 917 didn’t just win - lots of cars have done that. It was the way it did it. In 1971 it set a record 138mph lap, which no car has ever beaten since the organisers plonked a chicane on the Mulsanne straight. And talking of the Mulsanne, Vic Elford drove his 917 to 240mph along the 3.5-mile straight in 1970, in the rain, at night, which pretty much blew the opposition far into the French countryside. Now, thanks to halfscalecars, you can replicate that in diddy form, down your driveway. Which makes it look even cooler. As shrunken cars are cool. Just ask Wayne Szalinski.Advertisement - Page continues below
It’s got a proper engine
The 917 was given an unusual 4.5-litre, flat 12-cylinder engine, good for about 520bhp, 0-60 in around 2.5 seconds and a top speed approaching 250mph. In 1970. Gulp. The engine was sunk into a chassis made from tubular aluminium (magnesium on later cars), and everything was wrapped up in lightweight glassfibre. This stays true in the miniature version. Kinda. There’s a 4.8bhp carburettor-fed 163cc pro-kart Honda engine in the back, a lightweight tubular chassis (definitely not made of magnesium) and – just like the OG – glassfibre bodywork.
It’s the ‘cool’ one
Over the years, the 917 morphed with a few different shapes and styles. Short and long-tail versions of the car were developed, but while the 917 long-tail is an elongated thing of beauty, the shape made famous by a flurry of victories is the short version, better known as the 917K, for “Kurtz.” On its public debut at the 1970 Daytona 24 Hours, John Wyer's Gulf-sponsored team finished 1-2 in the race, with the winning car breaking the distance record by 190 miles. This victory effectively began the 917K's domination of the World Sportscar Championship for the next two seasons. This is that car… in miniature.Advertisement - Page continues below
It’s not just for kids
You may think that a tiny car is made for people with tiny legs, malleable cartilage and weirdly double-jointed arms: kids. But this 917K is also adult-friendly. If you’re a little nipper, you can make use of the proper 917’s gullwing doors and sit in just like Richard Attwood. But just because you’ve successfully made it through puberty and got a mortgage doesn’t mean you can’t.
To make it fit a 'big-un' you just pop the top off, remove the steering wheel and slither in (we found taking our shoes off helps) while making all kinds of guttural grumbling, achy noises. Eventually, your bum will hit the floor as your nipples rest above the windscreen: you’re in. Then you simply reapply the wheel and grip it like Bowser, press the throttle and pop-pop your away around wherever you want to go. We can’t do anything about the odd looks from your neighbours though.
It’s built properly
Unlike those scratchy plastic wheeled Safari Barbie ride-ons, this isn’t some kids toy to crash repeatedly into the door of the garage. The 917’s cockpit is finished with bare aluminium panels, and there is a single leather mini bucket seat for the driver located centrally – just like a McLaren F1. It's even got working lights, a horn and a fan. So all the boxes to make it a daily driver are ticked.
You can get it in any livery you like
Aside from competition-crushing performance, what made the 917 stick in the mind was its crazy array of paint jobs. You can’t help but think of one in classic Gulf colours, like above. But there were others, including a mad, psychedelic ‘hippie car’ (designed by the guys at Martini Racing who were clearly on something) and a fetching pink car, nicknamed the ‘pig’. But if you buy one of these pocket-sized racers (we’re assuming you have Michael Jordan suit-in-the-90s sized pockets), they’ll slather it in whatever retro scheme you like.
It's easy to drive
The 917’s almighty engine was an immediate success – a stroke of genius. However, all 917s are famed for rather sketchy handling. Their unique aerodynamic profile, blistering speed and lack of development meant they were quite flighty and more than a handful. Drivers state that the car wandered heavily under braking and was diabolical in high-speed turns. So much so, none of the regular Porsche drivers wanted to race it. But the engineers at Porsche soldiered on, eventually adding wider rear wheels and a few other changes that made the 917 into a more controllable machine.
Thankfully, you don’t have to worry about that with this one. With a max speed of 28-ish miles per hour, it’s a lot more controllable. There are just two pedals, a centrifugal clutch you don't need to worry about, and it's got a solid rear axle and disc brakes so it's as simple as things can get. However, the bodywork does start to flap around at higher speeds, just like the original. And you’ll probably break your legs if you shunt it straight into a wall at v-max, just like the original. Thinking about it, it's really amazing how far they went to give you a miniature yet authentic experience.Advertisement - Page continues below
It’s a lot cheaper than the real thing
Recently, a 1:8 model of a 917K sold for £10,350. And this is a lot bigger than that and costs £15k. Yes, that is a lot of money for what you could argue is a glorified go-kart, but if you do some Top Gear maths and work it out by cost per square inch, this is a bargain. Especially as a real, full-size Porsche 917K will cost you over 10 million quid. So get it on your Christmas list now. Then build a bigger chimney for Santa to drop it down.
It’s Stig approved
At this year’s Top Gear Speed Week (out now) Stig was seen endlessly lapping the little Porsche around Anglesey circuit. Apparently, he was trying to get the lap record. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that with less than 10bhp he probably wasn’t going to get it. But that didn’t stop him trying. So much so, we couldn’t get him out of the thing. Mainly because we used all the Fairy Liquid on the washing up and needed some to grease him up and get him out. Rumour has it he’s still stuck in it to this day. So if you see him, please point him back to our office’s address.Advertisement - Page continues below