Record Sale of the Week... 'The $4m World's Greatest Sports Car'

It's been called "The World's Greatest Sports Car" - and one of the rarest Porsche 917's added to its reputation, selling for a World Record price at Bonhams & Butterfields, earlier this week.

The flat-12 cylinder air-cooled Porsche 917 needs little introduction for race car collectors and enthusiasts, whose engineering matches its impressive race history...

Over three turbulent seasons of World Championship endurance racing, 4.5, 4.9 and 5.0 litre variants of Germany's Porsche 917 battled against Fiat-Ferrari in no holds barred competition.

Yet Porsche emerged triumphant against the latter's 5-litre V12 Ferrari 512s.

In particular, the 917k Coupes played a major role in securing the marque a hat-trick of World Championship titles between 1969-71.

It remains an iconic model: the 1972-73 Porsche 917 Interserie Spyder née 1970 Gulf-JWA Le Mans 917K Coupe, which brought the marque its first overall victories in the Le Man 24-Hours.

The 1972-73 Porsche 917 Interserie Spyder 917K Coupe

While its design is over 40-years-old, even today the 917K Coupe can, in the words of one former World Champion driver, "Still take the crease out of your trousers."

And, with speeds of 0-124mph in 5.3 seconds, it's easy to believe him. This, combined with notable driveability, tractability and controllability, has contributed to the car's high esteem.

During the car's debut race in June, 1970, driver Mark Hailwood drove the Porsche 917K - or "026" as it was known, after its chassis - around 17 laps at the Sarthe circuit, Le Mans, with an average time of 3 minutes, 48.9 seconds.

But 'Mike the Bike' made the mistake of choosing to race without rain tyres. During the car's final lap, it aquaplaned in the Dunlop Curve, leaving the car badly damaged.

A disgruntled Hailwood left the pits with team chief John Wyer's words ringing in his ears: "Don't ring us, we'll ring you."

Thereafter, a complete new frame was constructed around the chassis, "031", assembled by Gulf-JWA. This, in effect, made it a whole new car. (Although the car was later renamed "026" to save paperwork and complications with Customs.)

The legendary Porsche can accelerate to 0-124mph in 5.3 seconds

The historic automobile has since passed into Porsche lore as "031/026", as was later campaigned in the 1972 European race series by privateer Ernst Kraus.

Fast-forward nearly 40 years, and the car still performs flawlessly today.

Prior to Bonhams' sale, 031/026 had its muscles stretched at the Palm Beach International Raceway by Porsche racing legend Brian Redman, who gave the car a glowing review.

Still regarded as a high water mark in motor racing history, and often voted one of the greatest racing cars of all time by enthusiasts, this historic 917k Coupe raced to an incredible final price of $3,967,000 (including Buyer's Premium) at Bonhams & Butterfields.


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