We meet up with leg­endary Porsche race and test driver, Willi Kauh­sen, to learn the story be­hind 917/10-001, the test­bed for the mighty tur­bocharged Can-am Porsches

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Robb Pritchard Pho­tos: Mario Bok and Willi Kauh­sen

917/10-001 spent much of its life as a test mule – but what a life it had!

Cars in to­day's top line rac­ing se­ries are de­signed to a be­wil­der­ing list of rules and reg­u­la­tions de­tail­ing the mi­nut­est com­po­nents, but 50 years ago it was a very dif­fer­ent story. In the early 1970s, with the 917 hav­ing ef­fec­tively been banned from Le Mans for be­ing too fast, Porsche turned its at­ten­tion to Amer­ica and the un­lim­ited Can-am se­ries.

Un­bur­dened by strict safety re­quire­ments and lim­its re­gard­ing things such as engine size and power out­put, CanAm gave Porsche's en­gi­neers a free rein. What they came up with was an ab­so­lute mon­ster, one that put out an in­sane 1830bhp. The leg­endary twin-turbo 917/30 is to this day the most pow­er­ful car to have ever graced a race cir­cuit.

Be­hind the man­tle of glory the win­ning cars at­tracted, the main test mule for these beasts was 917/10-001, which was the first car Porsche ever ran with tur­bocharg­ers. It had a hard life, cov­er­ing a mas­sive 10,000km in test­ing at dif­fer­ent venues around Europe. It was then raced, with an in­ter­na­tional vic­tory to its name, and saw duty at the Nür­bur­gring with no less a driver than Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi be­hind the wheel.

And now, three full re­builds later, with the 917 Langheck nose it once ran with for com­par­i­son pur­poses, it's up for sale. But be­fore it gets whisked away into some­one's col­lec­tion, the au­thor spent an evening with its for­mer driver and long-time owner, Willi Kauh­sen.

In a leafy sub­urb of Aachen in west­ern Ger­many, the sprightly form of Willi, be­ly­ing his oc­to­ge­nar­ian sta­tus, came to shake my hand in a warm greet­ing be­fore lead­ing me to the back of the house. The room he led me into, with walls cov­ered in pho­tos and cab­i­nets full of tro­phies, is a shrine to his rac­ing years. 'Here, look at this,' he smiled, tak­ing an old bot­tle of cham­pagne off the top of the fil­ing cabi­net. 'Do you know what this is?' I had to ad­mit that I didn't. 'It's from sec­ond place at Le Mans in 1971!'

Ar­guably Willi's place in Porsche his­tory is as the main de­vel­op­ment driver of the 917/10, but he is per­haps bet­ter known for rac­ing two of the most iconic Le Mans Porsches: the so-called 'Hip­pie' 917 with its psychedelic paint­work, with which he took that sec­ond place with part­ner Ger­ard Larousse, and the ar­guably more fa­mous, es­pe­cially as it has pride of place in the Porsche Mu­seum, Pink Pig. But Willi's personal 'baby' is chas­sis #001.

The 917 was de­signed with only one pur­pose in mind, vic­tory at Le Mans, which it fa­mously achieved in 1970 and 1971, but a lot of changes were needed to make the car suit­able for the much tighter and twisty tracks of north Amer­ica. The chas­sis was short­ened (at first) and widened, and both the huge 4.5-litre engine and driver were moved fur­ther for­wards to get as close to the ideal 50/50 weight dis­tri­bu­tion as pos­si­ble.

The body also had to be com­pletely re­designed, as not only was the roof re­moved but there was also the need to gen­er­ate a lot more down­force. Willi tells us that they man­aged to get the car into the Mercedes wind tun­nel to try some dif­fer­ent nose de­signs but they didn't re­ally get too much in­for­ma­tion from the ses­sions. 'The tun­nel was de­signed for road cars so they couldn't get it to blow fast enough,' says Kauh­sen. Back then the es­tab­lished way to dis­cover if some­thing worked was to bolt it to the car and get Willi to see if it was an im­prove­ment in any way – or not, as the case may be. Mclaren M8s with 850bhp V8s were the cars Porsche would be com­pet­ing against, so power was the key. And lots of it.

The first ex­per­i­ment was to lengthen the chas­sis to fit a huge 6.9-litre flat-16, which was es­sen­tially an ex­tended ver­sion of the flat-12. This was rated at 760bhp but they soon found that the in­creased weight off­set the ex­tra power. The ex­tended wheel­base had a detri­men­tal ef­fect on han­dling, too, so that idea was dis­carded. Tur­bocharg­ing was the an­swer… But the project had to re­main top se­cret, so no out­side con­sul­tant could be brought



in to ad­vise the team, and that left the in-house en­gi­neers to de­vise their own sys­tems from scratch.

The first pair they had to work with were from a boat engine which, of course, has very dif­fer­ent per­for­mance pa­ram­e­ters to a race car. Af­ter a cou­ple of ma­jor blow-ups, the en­gi­neers duly learnt you don't need to put all the ex­haust gases through the tur­bines all the time. They then de­signed a rudi­men­tary waste­gate to of­fer some con­trol and, step-by-step, they got the power of a 4.5-litre engine up to 850bhp, and by the time Willi came to see what it could do they had a 5.4-litre engine with two huge tur­bos rated at a stag­ger­ing 1200bhp.

'I knew what a priv­i­lege it was to be driv­ing that car, that I was the first to see the fu­ture,' he said. But the rad­i­cal new ma­chine needed a com­pletely new driv­ingstyle. 'The main thingabout the car wasn't the power it­self, it was the ter­ri­ble lagthe tur­bos had that you had to drive around. The way to do it was to brake a lot be­fore the cor­ner and slide the car around on the throt­tle wait­ing­for the ex­plo­sion of power just as you hit the straight. And it came in fast.'

Mark Dono­hue was the driver Porsche chose to spear­head the Amer­i­can as­sault, but Willi wasn't dis­ap­pointed. 'I never saw any­one else in my life who could drive a 1200bhp car like he could. Ev­ery cor­ner on a track is dif­fer­ent, of course, and how he could drift the car around each one with perfection while an­tic­i­pat­ingthe turbo boost was amaz­ing.

'In fact the first time I saw him drive “my” car I knew I could never be as good as that and was ready to give up be­ing a rac­ing driver right there and then! The en­gi­neers had to stop me leav­ingthe track and go­inghome.'

The first time the race car saw action was at the first race of the 1972 Can-am se­ries at Mosport Park. Dono­hue fin­ished sec­ond, which wasn't bad con­sid­er­ingthat three laps were lost while a turbo was fixed, but a bad crash that broke his legruled him out for the rest of the year.

Team-mate Ge­orge Follmer stepped up, won on his de­but and went on to take the ti­tle in em­phatic style with ex­actly

dou­ble the points of the sec­ond place fin­isher. The fol­low­ing year in the even more pow­er­ful 917/30, Dono­hue and Follmer won ev­ery race be­tween them. And this suc­cess was in no small part down to the many de­vel­op­ment miles put in by Willi Kauh­sen.

In 1973 917/10-001's test­ing life was long over and, with the 10,000km on the chas­sis, it didn't ex­actly han­dle like a new car, but when Willi wrote-off #002 (there's a nice photo in Willi's room of him stand­ing in its smoul­der­ing wreck­age) chas­sis #001 was the only other avail­able as a re­place­ment.

With the engine and gear­box com­pletely over­hauled, the lat­est fac­tory spec­i­fi­ca­tion 'shovel' nose fit­ted and painted a strik­ing bright yel­low with red Bosch liv­ery, Willi en­tered the Euro­pean equiv­a­lent of the Can-am, the In­ter­series.

In the first race, at Hock­en­heim, Willi fin­ished sec­ond be­hind his Porsche team-mate Leo Kin­nunen, who would go on to claim that year 's cham­pi­onship – but Willi had slightly big­ger ideas. Chas­sis #001 was shipped to Amer­ica for him to race in the Can-am round at La­guna Seca. It didn't go quite to plan, though, as he re­tired with a blown turbo and could only man­age eighth place at the next race at River­side.

Af­ter that he took up an of­fer from the Fit­ti­paldis to race in the Coppa Brazil at In­ter­la­gos. Willi won the first race, giv­ing #001 its only vic­tory, re­tired in the sec­ond heat, but the friend­ship Willi made with the Fit­ti­paldis was the best thing he took away from that trip. For 1974 Willi bought the brand-new #015 chas­sis to race with and kept the now tired #001 to rent out to pay­ing driv­ers, al­though none were of the cal­i­bre needed to ex­tract the full level of per­for­mance from the car. 001's last race was the 1974 Nür­bur­gring ADAC event.

Willi took the wheel again and let Emer­son Fit­ti­paldi drive the new #015 car which his­tory re­lates he amaz­ingly, in such an un­wieldy car on the world's most chal­leng­ing cir­cuit, man­aged to put on pole.

That's not quite what hap­pened, though, and Willi knows the true story. The reign­ing world cham­pion wasn't too im­pressed with his times in the #015 car com­pared to what Willi was achiev­ing in the much older #001, and in­stead of


com­pli­ment­ing the man who knew the car in­side and out and how to han­dle it, he as­sumed that there was some­thing wrong with his mount.

To check, he swapped cars with Willi and while the Brazil­ian was out in #001, Willi slipped his seat into #015 and headed out for a lap…and duly put in the fastest lap. The time­keep­ers were un­aware of the switch so cred­ited Fit­ti­paldi with the pole po­si­tion.

With 1200bhp, 600 of which came in af­ter a few se­conds' de­lay, and a locked rear dif­fer­en­tial, the 917/10s weren't ex­actly suited to the con­tin­u­ous curves of the Nord­schleife, es­pe­cially in the wet as they had wheel­spin in fourth gear at 300Km/h. Fit­ti­paldi man­aged to fin­ish sixth but Willi lost a cool­ing fan at Brunchen and had to re­tire.

The car was then given an­other full re­bu­lid and put into dry stor­age where it re­mained for 22 years un­til, in the late '90s, Willi de­cided it was per­fect to show to an ap­pre­cia­tive pub­lic at clas­sic events such as the Good­wood Fes­ti­val of Speed. For ten more years he kept it as a driv­ing demo ver­sion un­til a well-known clas­sic col­lec­tor, Dr Ul­rich Schu­macher, made an of­fer for it he couldn't refuse.

Four years later it was sold on to an en­thu­si­ast from Monaco who ac­tu­ally wanted to drive it, so he took out the 1200bhp engine and re­placed it with the much more man­age­able nor­mally-as­pi­rated 4.9-litre flat-12, the same as it ran with at one point in the early test­ing phase. In 2015 Jan Juelin bought it and, as he wanted it to be el­i­gi­ble for FIA sanc­tioned clas­sic events such as the Le Mans Clas­sic, it needed to have lights.

With the open cock­pit and Gulf-liv­er­ied Langheck nose it looks very strange. There is a pho­to­graph from, pre­sum­ably, the Mercedes wind tun­nel with the same setup and Jan pored over that with a mag­ni­fy­ing glass to get the lengths and an­gles of the tape around the lights cor­rect… 'It looks like a real hy­brid,' he smiled. 'And that's per­fect for a car that ran in literally dozens of dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions.'

But is it the same car that Willi drove for months in the early '70s? Pro­to­types and test cars, by their very na­ture, can't pos­si­bly be 'match­ing num­bers' cars. Be­fore its first race, #001 ran with three dif­fer­ent en­gines, even a dif­fer­ent length chas­sis to ac­com­mo­date the pre-turbo ex­per­i­men­tal flat-16, as well as mul­ti­ple dif­fer­ent tur­bos and their set ups – plus of course many dif­fer­ent body­work changes, both in test­ing and as a race car.

So maybe it's bet­ter to pic­ture it, as it has been for its en­tire ex­is­tence, as a mish-mash car cob­bled to­gether with many off the shelf parts, one that looks like no other 917 in the world and has a his­tory un­like that of any other Porsche. CP

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