A ’70s Le Mans racer and the term ‘road legal.’ I know, I know…
First off, before anyone says something, of course it’s not an original Porsche 917, but I can guarantee you that this is a pretty damn good replica. Built by Bailey Cars in South Africa, a company that creates the highest quality replicas for customers all over the world, it was modeled from original plans, with just some modifications to optimize running costs and modern safety aspects.
I don’t think there is a single thing that looks cooler than having a race car in your home garage. Well, there is actually, and that’s seeing one driving on a public road.
The old school Le Mans racer bug first bit when the owner bought a Lola T70 Mk111 B in 2012, a car which was built by Bailey Cars and first raced by multiple South African champion Hennie Groenewald. Then in late 2012, the owner decided the Lola was just not radical enough as a road-going car. He wanted something truly epic, something iconic.
Following extensive discussions and research, plans to have Bailey Cars build a road-going 917 K began. The chassis was ordered without the owner knowing what would be the ideal engine to fit, but he did know the spec six-cylinder boxer engine would not do it for him.
Having read almost every detail there is on the 917’s original flat 12-cylinder engine, it was decided that at least a V10 would have to go in there. As luck would have it, he stumbled upon a Dutch exotic engine dealer that had an essentially brand new R8 V10 engine amongst their inventory.
A holiday had been planned to visit Holland that year, so he asked the dealer if they would keep the engine so that he could inspect it and then hopefully conclude the transaction. As it turned out, the engine had been purchased by the dealer from the test crash program when they slammed the entire car into an obstacle to test the results. RIP Audi R8.
An automatic gearbox just wouldn’t feel right for this car, so the R Tronic transmission was swapped for a 6-speed Lamborghini Gallardo box that was retrieved from the outside yard of the same dealer.
The owner says that he had his doubts about the gearbox given that it was in used condition, but the dealer assured him it would be just fine. When it arrived at their race shop it turned out to be very neat and he’s been loving it ever since.
The engine and box were sent over to Bailey Cars, where they attempted to hoist it into the now completed chassis as it sat in the welding jig. The owner says he truly believes if Porsche would have had such an engine in the late ’60s they would have grabbed it with both hands.
It fitted as if it was made for the chassis, with only the slightest modifications needed to the complex exhaust system.
It took close to 10 months to fully assemble the car with weekly visits to the very small and dedicated workshop where one man worked full-time to hand-build almost everything. Quality control is of highest importance at Bailey.
For engine management, a full MoTeC system was chosen and fitted to the car, with a big deciding factor being that MoTeC was willing to dedicate an engineer to the project. It all worked perfectly; the engine fired up with no hesitation and the owner got a surprising call from the shop while on holiday, with the only sound being the revving of the now alive V10.
Weighing 990kg (2,182lbs) dry and with what David Piper would call “prodigious horsepower,” the 917 is an absolute monster. The rev limit has been set to 8,200rpm, and to hear it scream is such a delight.
When the V10 concept was originally considered, they thought about mounting two very large cooling radiators in front of the rear wheels, which would then be fed by two large NACA ducts from the top and two smaller ones from the bottom in the sills, but this proved to be inadequate.
The engine temperature would rise very slowly all the way to the point where the ECU would go into limp mode – not an ideal situation at all. They then opted to fit an additional radiator in the nose where the original oil cooler would have been, and interlinked them in series with the other two, while also fitting an electric water pump to assist the flow.
The pipes used are rectangle stainless steel 50mm x 25mm pieces, which are fitted under the floor. The car can now be driven in almost any type of driving condition with ease and reliability. The only problems occur on hot summer days, say like 34°C (93+°F), where the high pressure fuel pumps suffer from heat soak. This can easily be solved by just switching to the secondary pump.
The brakes in the front are locally manufactured VARI six-piston units, and in the rear there’s an AP Racing four-piston setup. The car is also fitted with adjustable bias from the twin master cylinders, allowing great tweaking abilities.
The original pedal assembly from Bailey Cars was also changed to a Tilton setup with an electronic throttle control unit, as the loud pedal is fly-by-wire.
The car is now already five years old and it’s been on track twice in its life so far. Once on the Phakisa Freeway circuit in the Free State, and once in 2017 at Zwartkops Raceway, purely so that the owner could have some epic racing footage of the car for his own enjoyment.
He admits that he does not have the skills to race, so instead has always relied on competent drivers to pilot both the 917 and Lola and do them full justice. He was always afraid the 917 would sustain damage and withdrew the car from more racing so that he could bring it back to the full road version it was intended to be from the start.
The Penske race shocks were retired and in their place went shocks from – believe it or not – a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. They also replaced the racing wheels with an 18 inch road-going setup, running super-wide 335-profile rears.
The car is now way more drivable than when it was set up for racing. No jokes, the owner said with the race setup it would shake his false teeth out of his mouth on the road. But even with the more comfortable setup, the state of most South African roads is so bad that he really has to look for a nice highway to truly enjoy the drive.
The owner does not drive it often, as he feels he wants to be in what he calls his “Steve McQueen mood,” and when that moment arrives he will take the car out and try to share it with anyone that wants to climb on board. When a child sees the car they just gape in awe at such an incredible machine, and are just blown away when he invites them to share the passion.
On the shoot day, half of the time we had to wait to get our shots as we had people roaming around the car wherever we stopped. It was really great to see how an iconic machine can make almost anyone – whether they’re a petrol-head or not – have the biggest smile on their face.
The cockpit of this beauty has been kept pretty simple, as it should be. There’s an integrated roll cage, and keeping the driver and passenger secure in their seats are SQP racing harnesses. The steering wheel is an Alcantara-covered OMP item, and to the right of it sits an aluminium manual shifter. A MoTeC display shows you all the vitals you’ll ever need and more.
The one thing you might have been wondering throughout this article is how the owner got it fully road legal. Obviously it had to have everything like working indicators, mirrors and DOT-approved road tires, but to get it registered they used the VIN number from a smashed Porsche 911. Then they just had to go through all the necessary processes needed by the Department of Transport.
Is this the best road-going Porsche you could possibly have? Well, when it comes to comfort, ease of use, road visibility, fuel consumption and inconspicuousness it’s definitely not, but who cares about that.
What it is though, is damn exciting to drive. It oozes character, looks iconic and draws attention like nothing else on the road. Let’s not forgot how insane it sounds with the V10 in the back and it can fit under parking booms. So clearly it’s a winner in my books.
Just don’t try go through the McDonalds drive-thru with it.Cutting Room Floor