2018 marks the 70th Anniversary for Porsche. Although Porsche was involved with designing and manufacturing prior to 1948, the 356 born in this year is seen as the first production Porsche. Since then, an incredible history of Porsche sports cars has followed, including the iconic Porsche 911 and technical masterpieces such as the Carrera GT supercar and 918 Spyder hypercar.
Porsche and Le Mans
The German sports car manufacturer also happens to be pretty handy on the race track too, and throughout history has provided us with some legendary race cars. So much so that Porsche also happens to be the most successful manufacturer when it comes to the prestigious Le Mans 24 Hours. They have taken the top spot an impressive 19 times between 1970 and 2017.
As well as the yearly Le Mans 24 Hours, this year Le Mans Classic is also taking place, just a couple of weeks after. With this in mind, we thought we would take a look back at some of our favourite classic Porsches to have ever graced the famous Circuit de la Sarthe.
5. Porsche 917/20 ‘Pink Pig’
In 1971, a year after the incredible Porsche '917 K' won Le Mans, Porsche caused quite a stir by entering the 917/20 - aka: Pink Pig. There are many variants of the 917, usually accompanied by a letter, such as the 917 K. The 1970 Le Mans winning 917 K - K, meaning Kurzheck, was German for 'short tail'. There was also the 917 L, meaning 'long tail'.
The 1971 917/20 combined high downforce and low drag to create a different looking 917. It looked different to the 917 K of 1970 due to a wider chassis and a lower nose - thus reducing front end lift. Martini and Porsche have a history of creating iconic liveries sporting the classic Martini colours. The 1971 team was indeed Martini racing, however, rumour has it that due to the car having porcine looks, Martini didn't want their iconic livery on the car.
Instead, in a strong and humorous nod to the pig-like design, the livery resembled a pig butcher chart, complete with pink pig colour. It certainly stood out. Unfortunately, whilst racing in the Le Mans 24 Hours, it crashed out of fifth place after 12 hours. Despite its shortcomings, it still resides as a legendary racer in Porsche's history.
4. Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo
Porsche may be the most successful manufacturer at Le Mans, but there are also a fair few Porsches that didn't finish on top, which are still achingly cool. Another incredible Porsche that also didn't take top spot at Le Mans, but came ever so close, was indeed the 1974 Porsche 911 Carrera RSR Turbo.
The RSR makes our list because of its approach. Generally, Le Mans winners tend to look nothing like road cars. Most are sports-prototypes which are not meant for road or consumer use. They resemble f1 cars, only with more bodywork. They are also lower and sleeker. The 911 wasn't. Porsche decided to see just how far they could push the 911.
The RSR looked like a '70s 911 that had been putting in some serious overtime at the gym, with a spoiler that dominated the rear of the car along with wide arches and an iconic Martini livery. Pushing out over 500bhp, it had all the power too, and was the starting point for the legend that is now the Porsche 911 Turbo. It was the perfect foundation as the first production 911 Turbo appeared a year later in 1975. The RSR finished second overall in the 1974 Le Mans 24 Hours, beating all expectations, and looking ultra-cool in the process.
3. Porsche 919 Hybrid
It may be nowhere near the classic age of some of our cars in this list, yet the Porsche 919 Hybrid has become a legendary racing car thanks to its recent dominance in the Le Mans 24 Hours. It has taken top spot three years running, winning in 2015, 2016 and 2017. The 919 nomenclature is a nod to the legendary 917, which won Le Mans in 1970, and the Porsche 918 road car launched in 2013, meaning the 919 joins some impeccable Porsche creations.
This state-of-the-art racer is amazing in every detail. Despite being able to top 210mph along the famous Mulsanne Straight, the 919's engine is pretty humble. There is no huge power unit here, amazingly the 919 uses a 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo, enhanced by a battery hybrid system to generate a total output of over 900bhp. The 919 is wonderfully light however, tipping the scales at 875kg (pre-driver and fuel load). This is thanks to the chassis and body being made with carbon fibre and aluminium ensuring for strength and lightness.
The 919 is the very pinnacle of prototype Le Mans racers, and is even more special with Porsche concentrating on Formula E for the 2018 season, meaning we probably won't see a Porsche racing car like this for some time, if ever again. For that, the Porsche 919 has established itself as a racing car legend.
2. Porsche 956
The Porsche 956 of 1982 became an iconic racing car after legendary racing drivers Jacky Ickx and Derek Bell took the famous Rothmans-liveried example to Le Mans victory in the same year. The Ickx and Bell pairing has become legendary, with the 956 and 962 cars following suit. After 1982, the Porsche 956 went onto win Le Mans in '83, '84 and '85 before the 962 (twin of the 956) won in '86 and '87, heralding a massive Le Mans 24 Hour dominance for Porsche.
The Rothmans livery became an iconic racing car livery, thanks to the dominating success, and of course the banning of cigarette sponsorship in motorsport, meaning the 'old school' sponsorships on racing cars are now seen as rebellious as they promoted 'unhealthy' lifestyles, which of course back in the day, were seen as cool. How times change.
Another reason the 956 was so cool was the legacy which it sparked. British racing driver Derek Bell is one of the most successful Le Mans drivers ever, taking top spot in '75, '81, '82, '86 and '87. All '80s victories were at the wheel of a Porsche and today you can buy a 911 GTS road car British Legends Edition signed by the man himself. The 956 then, started an important partnership with Porsche and one of Le Mans' greatest ever drivers.
1. Porsche 917 K
Taking victory for Porsche for the very first time at Le Mans in 1970, the legendary Porsche 917 had to take top spot in our list. The 917 came in many different versions. We have already mentioned the 917/20 'Pink Pig', but the 917 K was the spark for Porsche Le Mans dominance. In the now famous red livery with white detailing, the 917 K was driven to victory by German racing driver Hans Hermann and British Racing driver Richard Attwood. It's worth noting that in the now legendary Steve McQueen film 'Le Mans', McQueen's character also drove a Porsche 917, in the signature Gulf livery.
Back to the Le Mans winner, the 917 K used a 4.5-litre Flat-12. A larger engined 4.9-litre 917 L had problems during the battle of Le Mans in 1970, leaving only 4.5-litre 917s in the race. Of the field of 51 Le Mans cars, only 16 were still running after 24 hours. Incidentally 12 of them were Porsches, including a camera car - this was the 70s after all. Just like the 956 tribute 911 GTS, another British Legends Edition is available to commemorate Richard Attwood's success in the 917. Whereas the Derek Bell version is blue, to match the 956's blue Rothmans livery, Attwood's is red, to match the iconic 917 K 1970 Le Mans winner.
So, there you have it. With Porsche concentrating on Formula E in 2018, how long will it be before we see another Porsche Le Mans winner? With this epic history, we doubt Porsche will be away for too long. You could however, see an array of Porsche Le Mans racers at the Le Mans Classic event, which will be taking place in July this year.