‘What’s the story behind the silver 917? It almost looks like it could be street driven?’
It started with a comment on one of my stories from this year’s Goodwood Festival of Speed, that sent me well and truly down the rabbit hole researching the history of this rather plain, but curious-looking 917.
It turns out, it is, or rather was, or maybe still is street-legal, and has quite an interesting backstory.
The reason that this car exists is because heir to the Martini & Rossi distilling fortune, and the man behind Martini’s now legendary racing partnership with Porsche, Count Rossi di Montelera decided that he fancied his own Porsche 917, but with a twist – he wanted it to be road legal.
Convincing a manufacturer to create a one-off road-legal version of its most famous race car is something that you can’t really do unless you have 1. a lot of money, and 2. a lot of clout. Thankfully, for the Count and for all of us, he had plenty of both. So, following a visit to Porsche in Stuttgart in 1974, the wheels were set in motion.
Porsche pulled chassis 917-030 off the shelf and set about doing everything necessary to legalise it, which it turns out wasn’t very much at all. Chassis 030 was painted silver, had a couple of aerodynamic fins removed and was fitted with additional exhaust silencers.
You might also notice the all-tan leather interior, which isn’t a feature on other track-bound 917s. The Count had this added after finding the ‘OEM’ finishings a bit harsh.
The car itself has a pretty interesting history prior to the Count’s acquisition – chassis 030 only ever found its way onto a racetrack once prior to its conversion, qualifying third in the 1971 Austrian 1000km before suffering a suspension fault, putting it out of the race from what was a very competitive position.
The car was then returned to Stuttgart where it became the test mule for Porsche’s early experiments with ABS. After testing it was retired into storage, until the Count’s request a couple of years later.
It turned out that converting the race car to road-legal specification was the relatively easy part. Actually registering it to be used on the road was the real test. The Count’s efforts in Europe were rebuffed – he didn’t stand a chance of getting the 917 past Germany’s strict regulations, and France wanted to crash-test the car before it would agree to register it, which obviously wasn’t possible.
The solution came from an unexpected location – the U.S. state of Alabama agreed to register the 917 on the strict condition that the car would never turn a wheel within, or anywhere near, the state.
An odd accordance, but one that worked.
The Count was then able to use the Porsche’s now road-legal status to legalise the car in Europe and, legend has it, drove the car all the way from Stuttgart back to Paris. Since the Count’s passing in 2003, the car has remained in Europe under the custody of his son, although it now bears Texas plates as the Alabama registration has since expired.
The car is rolled out on occasion for special events, but hasn’t been used on the road in recent times. I’d like to think it will return to the road at some point in the future – can you imagine seeing this come past you in the outside lane at full pelt?