In the early 1970s, the most powerful road-racing cars in the world performed in North America on the Can-Am Challenge circuit. At a time when Formula 1 cars were making around 450hp, the unlimited Group 7 cars from Can-Am were putting out well north of 1,000hp and none were more famous or so dominant as the Porsche 917/30s campaigned to great success by Team Penske and driver Mark Donohue in 1973.
And now, if you’ve got a spare few million bucks lying around, you could get your hands on an example of the last factory-built Porsche 917/30, a machine Donohue called “the perfect race car,” when it crosses the block at Gooding & Company’s Amelia Island auction.
Winning the last six of eight rounds contested (including lapping the field in the penultimate event at Laguna Seca), Donohue finished the 1973 Can-Am Challenge with more than double the points of his closest competitor. Developed by Porsche with heavy input from Donohue and Penske, the 917/30 featured a turbocharged, 5.4-liter, flat-12 engine that reliably produced 1,100hp and 810-lbs.ft. of torque in race trim and allegedly 1,500hp during testing on the dyno. Everything about the so-called “Panzer” Porsche could be categorized with some sort of superlative; it was that much more than the competition in so many respects.
At Donohue’s request, the wheelbase was lengthened for 1973 (as compared to the already dominant 917/10 from 1972) to give the fiberglass-bodied car more stability. This change also allowed an increase in the fuel capacity from 86 to 106 gallons. Unladen, a Porsche 917/30 weighed about 1,800 pounds, but its wet weight, fully loaded with fluids and ready to race, was closer to 2,700 pounds. Massive amounts of power were enough to overcome what was a pretty hefty car in race trim, enabling the 917/30 to reach 245 MPH in testing, though that test was likely conducted with less than a full tank.
The car offered by Gooding was originally intended to be Penske’s 1974 Can-Am entrant, but with virtually no competition in Can-Am in 1973 and a growing backlash against racing from the fuel crisis that started late that year with the Arab oil embargo, the organizers re-wrote the rules in such a way that the Porsche could not readily be made compliant. Porsche instead sold the car to Australian Porsche importer Alan Hamilton. Eventually, it ended up back in the factory’s hands, where it received the Penske sponsor Sunoco’s signature blue and yellow paint job and now is part of the Drendel Family Collection being offered for sale.
As the last of four factory-built 917/30s (two additional chassis were purchased by privateers and later bodied outside Weissach), it is one of two such cars in private hands. Although this car has no Can-Am race history, it remains a very significant piece of auto racing history. Gooding estimates the 917/30 to be worth $3.25 to $4 million.
That collection, assembled by Matthew Drendel, who passed away in 2010, includes an incredible array of significant racing Porsches, such as a pair of Lowenbräu-liveried 962s very successfully campaigned by Al Holbert Racing when they won a trio of driver, team and manufacturer titles from 1985 to 1987. Other significant Porsches include the very first 935, an early, experimental 1974 RSR Turbo Carrera, a 1997 GT1 Evolution as raced at Le Mans and a bevy of front-engined, water-cooled race and street cars, including Le Mans veteran 924 Carrera GT and GTP cars, the factory prototype 968 Turbo RS and trio of 944s.
Gooding’s Amelia Island auction takes place March 9. For more information, visit GoodingCo.com.