Porsche 917/30: Too powerful to lose

One of the most powerful racing cars ever, with up to 1580bhp at its disposal, the 917/30 competed for only one full Can-Am season. But what a year it was…

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The Porsche 917 is one of the most iconic racing cars in all of motor sport. With historic victories, legendary drivers and many tales to tell, the model was developed throughout its career and entered into multiple disciplines of racing. Its ultimate form came in the 917/30 – a machine that refused to lose.

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This open-top car was designed primarily for the Can-Am series of the early 1970s, where fire-breathing monsters roared down the pit straight. Competition was tough, with a Penske Racing Porsche 917/10k finally breaking McLaren’s five-year winning streak in 1972. The 1973 turbocharged /30 was designed to keep the title in Porsche’s hands.

Featuring thoroughly revised aerodynamics and an extended wheelbase, the 917/30 was optimised for this series. The greatest weapon in its arsenal was a beastly 5.4-litre flat-12 engine that was heavily turbocharged. In race set-up the power unit generated over 1100bhp – but in qualifying trim that figure exceeded 1580bhp, making it one of the most powerful racers in history.

The reason for detuning the car for the race distance was to prevent the engine from disintegrating. It was an understandably thirsty machine that averaged around 2mpg during a race, meaning two 200-litre fuel tanks were required.

The Porsche 917/30 was dominant throughout the 1973 season in the hands of Penske drivers, and proved that Porsche had mastered the art of turbocharging — it’s first 911 Turbo would soon use some of this racing technology. In its first two races the car narrowly missed out on the top step, but the 917/30 didn’t take long to find its rhythm. Race after race, victory after victory, this car was so well engineered for the task at hand that it won every single race except those two.

In 1974 the Can-Am landscape changed as the oil crisis got worse and a minimum 3mpg fuel-consumption rule came into force. The 917/30 competed only once in 1974, where it came second in a series that no longer favoured this finely tuned creature. Various 917s continued in Can-Am, but they were forced to replace their turbocharged units for less powerful, naturally aspirated ones.

The Porsche 917/30… It came, it saw, it conquered.

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