The Non-917: A Porsche Replica That Makes Sense

Story by Johan Dillen• Photos by Dirk de Jager unless otherwise credited

 

Hit start.

Yes, this is a replica, but one that makes an awful lot of sense. It’s probably the closest most mere mortals will ever come to driving a 917, but without having to worry about the original’s famously fragile flat-12 engine. Plus, it costs peanuts compared to the real thing.

And just as we did during our outing, you can pull this car to the track on a small trailer, press the start button, and take off to live your dreams of being Steve McQueen–or, in this case, Richard Attwood.

Team Salzburg

This Porsche is as much a poster car as the one wearing the iconic Gulf colors: No. 23, was the Team Salzburg 917K that won the 1970 Le Mans 24 hours with Attwood and Hans Hermann driving.

1970 was a high point for the 917. Up until then the car had been a bit of a troublesome kid in Weissach, requiring a lot of effort to achieve dynamic stability at high speeds and under braking. But once this was sorted out, the 917K variant took off like a steam train. It would have blitzed the opposition for years to come if the ACO hadn’t written a set of new rules effectively banning the 917 from Le Mans in 1972. Before the rule change, though, the 917K scored one more overall win at la Sarthe.

Despite its short run at the top, the car has been immortalized. Credit Hollywood for the extra help there.

For the average moviegoer, McQueen’s “Le Mans” is a little tough to swallow. Not much plot, not much dialog, not much direction.

But for gearheads, it helped further define the 917 as an automotive icon. Never before had race cars been shown so dramatically on the big screen. In “Le Mans,” the 917 seemed to waltz above the audience.

Today, the Porsche 917 remains one of the most iconic race cars of all time–and also one of the most notoriously difficult to run. Not only does a real 917 cost millions to buy, but its flat-12 boxer is also prone to breaking at any given moment. As a result, these cars are scarce, delicate, and best left alone if you don’t have the equivalent of Hungary’s health care budget in your bank account to keep it running.

That is precisely where this lookalike comes in. Are you one of the few to already own a real 917K? Then run this one and preserve the genuine article in the garage. Really passionate about the 917 but don’t have the budget? This one is attainable–well, more attainable than a real 917 in any case.

STREET-LEGAL 917?

So, can the 917 replica do more than just track day appearances? “Of course we get a lot of questions from people asking if it could be street-legal,” says Olivier Bosio, the European distributor, “but let’s be realistic for a moment here. It might not be impossible, but it is going to be one very tough process.”

In racing, though, there are more opportunities. “In France, we got it currently accepted in the Sport Proto Cup in the Historic Tour, with a maximum displacement of 3 liters and 320 horsepower max,” he continues. “This is also very interesting in the way we present it: If you really want one, it is best to come to us with your plans and then we can define the best engine configuration for it. You should count 200,000 euros before taxes for a project with engine. You can buy the car with engine with us or have your own shop install the engine.”

“The connection is instant the moment we grab that gear lever and push it forward.”

Modern Take

This is not the only 917 clone ever offered, but a very interesting take nonetheless. It comes from Bailey Cars, an outfit started in 2003 by South African brothers Peter and Greg Bailey. Their first replica was based on the GT40.

The Bailey Cars 917 uses a chassis that combines a carbon-fiber tub with tube-chassis elements. The body is formed in fiberglass. In total, the car weighs about 110 pounds more than the genuine article, a downside that is offset by better handling and, according to its builders, improved safety. It’s also about 4 inches longer, rides on larger 17-inch wheels, and sports a modern Bilstein suspension.

“The idea was to have a much more driveable car, making the 917 more accessible to common enthusiasts,” explains Olivier Bosio, the European distributor for Bailey Cars through his company, Racing Legend Car. Bailey Cars North America represents Bailey Cars in the U.S.

“We receive the finished cars without drivetrain,” Bosio continues. “It is no longer possible to receive this car as a DIY kit due to quality issues that have risen in the past.”

Now for the really interesting part–and why it’s possible to spend more on a new Porsche 911 or S-Class Mercedes: Instead of that insanely expensive and impossible-to-source 12-cylinder Porsche engine, Bailey Cars has developed this one to use the air-cooled flat-six found in the 911.

The car featured here, for example, has the 3.6-liter engine used in the 964, the 911 produced between 1989 and 1994. It has been bored out to 3.8 litres of displacement and produces about 350 horsepower, roughly a hundred more than stock. Factor in the 1875-pound dry weight, and things quickly get quick.

Also like the original, supply for the replica will be limited. “Bailey Cars said they will only make six 917s per year, since they only have limited capacity and other models to produce as well,” Bosio explains. “All liveries are possible, with most demands for a Gulf-themed car of course.”

Of course.

The cockpit of the Bailey 917 looks more modern than the original, while the body is slightly larger. From more than a few paces away, though, suddenly it's 1970 all over. 

BEHIND THE WHEEL

We drop our bottom into the tiny leather seat found in the Bailey Cars 917, and the differences from the genuine article are clear: different tubing, different dials and buttons on the dashboard, and a flattened-bottom steering wheel that’s no 917 copy. But like the original, this one gets a wooden ball on the gear lever placed to the right.

From the outside the cabin looks tiny, but inside we don’t feel confined. It just feels like an extra helmet over our head. Anything else is just us and the car.

The connection is instant the moment we grab that gear lever and push it forward. That is the moment the flashback to “LeMans” hits: We are there, ready to take off in our 917.

This is really happening. We turn on the kill switch–no ignition key here–and hit the starter button. Just as it does in the real 917, a beltdriven cooling fan starts wheezing over the engine note.

Tick, tick, tick….

This one uses a standard 911 fivespeed manual gearbox and clutch, so it leaves the pits graciously. We find plenty of travel in the clutch pedal, and the feeling is good.

The problem actually lies with the right two pedals. Due to the steering column’s intrusion, it’s difficult to heel and toe correctly–especially since the brake pedal goes quite deep before biting, something Olivier Bosio, the car’s European distributor, and his crew are still sorting out.

The final drive ratio well suits Circuit d’Albi, the club track in the south of France that’s our backdrop for this outing. Since this is one of the first times this car has been out on course, we stick to a self-imposed 5000 rpm limit.

The confidence in the Bailey car comes quickly. Because it comes with fat 17-inch wheels instead of the original 15-inchers, the Avon tires don’t have the slightest problem finding grip. The extra traction also makes for better braking.

Rear visibility is nearly nonexistent, though. The big rearview mirror on the inside only provides a view of the Gurney flaps, and the left rearview mirror turns out to be of limited use as well.

Albi poses a limited challenge to the 917, its low curbs making it easy to straightline the corners as much as possible. We quickly find ourselves opening up quite early in the corners.

As we build up speed, we feel that we can really attack a turn that’s marked by a slight dip, one known to unsettle the chassis. Here this 917 displays its best characteristic: utter predictability. We can feel the slide coming from miles away, and we have all the time in the world to calculate our options: Kill it by correcting, or keep our foot buried and enjoy the most glorious of power slides. This car has the ability to make you look like a hero.

There are some considerations, of course. Even though the braking capacity is impressive, the pedal still needs to be sorted out, along with the steering column issue.

The gearbox needs some time to warm the oil to allow for smooth changes. First and second gears are located really close to the driver’s leg, making them less easy to find. But overall, this car stands out as a very reliable track toy, not a widow-maker.

“The connection is instant the moment we grab that gear lever and push it forward. That is the moment the flashback to ‘Le Mans’ hits.”

Something else we learned during our test drive: The recreated 917 is quite easy to handle at the limit. 

SECOND OPINION: WHAT DOES A LE MANS CHAMP THINK?

Éric Hélary won the 1993 Le Mans 24 Hours on his first attempt. The Frenchman shared driving duties with countryman Christophe Bouchut and Australian Geoff Brabham in the legendary Peugeot 905 Evo 1 B. The podium at that year’s Le Mans was Peugeot-only.

“The 905 was such an amazing car,” remembers Hélary. “During testing in Magny-Cours, we put in exactly the same lap times as the Formula 1 cars. A stunning car.”

Today, Hélary is on hand to put the Bailey 917 through its paces. He knows Albi well from his racing days. “The triple righthander, which is now cut short by a chicane, was quite the corner,” he says. “It started flat out; it was less so near the end of the corner. One day in Formula 3, I lost it on the exit in just that corner. No room for error, the car was a mess. Next lap, my teammate Laurent Aiello does exactly the same thing at the same spot. There were not many happy faces in our pit.”

Hélary runs his own classic racing shop these days and was asked to help out with this car as well. “There are still some issues with the engine mapping that need sorting out, but first impressions are very good,” he adds. “You really get the feeling as a driver in the cockpit that you’re flying down the straight of Les Hunaudières in a 917.

“The handling is great, too. I think it actually handles better than a real 917 would have done in its days. The manual shift is fast, the engine has enough power for the car. Okay, it’s not a flat-12, but just imagine the costs involved in running one of those. For this money, this is a really good offer.

“If you’re a 917 enthusiast without the money, this will bring your dream within reach. And even if you have the money for a real 917, try finding one-and then running one.”

“Even if you have the money for a real 917, try finding one-and then running one.”

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Comments
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GLK
GLK New Reader
5/31/19 9:03 p.m.

Nice replica. Despite some noses in the air there are a few replicas and dare I say, kit cars that are quite legit and deserve respect. A few that come to mind in no particular order, Devin, Caterham 7, Ariel Atom, Meyers Manx, Superlite SLC, Nobel    GTM, Superformance, Factory 5, & Kirkham AC Cobras and Daytona Coupes. Beck and Intermeccanica made nice Porsche Speedster and 550 Spyders, too.

Don2001l
Don2001l New Reader
6/1/19 3:03 p.m.

Beautiful !!!

but still a lot of buttons to save, for a regular Cheap guy.

GLK
GLK New Reader
6/3/19 6:27 p.m.

In reply to Don2001l : True. I often wonder who the authors are speaking to when they point out an original collector car is worth seven figures but you can have the replica for only the low six figures. A deal comparatively, but still the price of a suburban home or summer cottage in most areas of the country.

 

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