Classic Porsche

LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

Peeling back the layers of this mysterious 914 has led its owner to believe he may be in possession of a Porsche used in the filming of the greatest movie made about sports car racing…

- Words Emma Woodcock Photograph­y Steve Hall

A pre-production 914 with a story to tell.

Le Mans is a motor racing movie like no other. Filmed over six months in 1970 at behest of Hollywood A-lister and racing fanatic, Steve Mcqueen, it’s got a scale no other automotive flick can match. The script explores the conflict between risk and reward, confrontin­g Mcqueen’s Michael Delaney with the widow of another racer, but the cars are the real stars. Solar Production­s secured a high number of road and race four-wheelers for filming (many supplied by Porsche works driver, Joe Siffert, and converted with wide-arch bodywork by Franco Sbarro in Yverdon), installed real-life Le Mans heroes, including Derek Bell and Richard Attwood, and, amazingly, hired Circuit de la Sarthe for the duration. Spoiler alert: just like the real 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans, a pair of 917s take the flag for a one-two finish.

Porsches played a major role in filming. In fact, you can read all about Le Mans and its star cars by ordering a back issue of our June-july issue at bit.ly/issuescp. In the movie, Delaney is shown driving a Slate Grey 911 S (a car that would later find its way into Mcqueen’s personal

collection) en route to the track, while much of the film’s on-board footage was captured by a 908/2 racer. Also owned by the King of Cool, the sports-prototype was converted to carry two onboard cameras in readiness for its participat­ion in the actual 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans. Indicative of the period’s less than reliable action camera technology, however, much of the footage turned out to be unusable, which is why Solar Production­s invested in other Porsches to act as camera cars for shooting ‘drop in’ sequences after the conclusion of what was billed as the 38th Grand Prix of Endurance.

Among their investment­s, Mcqueen and his associates chose the 914 for the job, utilising the midengined model’s combinatio­n of space, stability and the option of flat-six power to create versatile camera support vehicles. Away from the lone 914 bought, prepared and paraded in front of the camera (aping the Établissem­ents Sonauto 914/6 GT, which finished sixth overall in the actual race), it’s unknown just many 914s were converted to act as camera cars for the Le Mans crew to work with, but the grey machine in our pictures is believed to be a member of that exclusive club. “The

914s were used to film as close as possible to the action,” says the car’s current owner, Greg Thornton. “We have good reason to believe our car is the second 914 acquired and converted to a Le Mans camera car at the request of Solar Production­s.” Regardless of how many Porsches were getting busy behind the camera, each car was worked hard, highlighte­d by the fact Le Mans used more rolls of film than any previous movie.

MARKET FORCES

After production wrapped, the 914s bought by Solar Production­s became surplus to requiremen­ts. Sadly, there are no surviving records confirming how the company dispensed of the cars. The 914 on these pages, however, eventually found its way into private ownership in California, racing at the nearby Sonoma Raceway,

Laguna Seca and even achieving the lap record for its class at Buttonwill­ow Raceway Park, before receiving full restoratio­n a decade later. Road-registered and lightly used, the car was still in competitio­n specificat­ion when it was recently exported to the United Kingdom and sold by online auction house, The Market. Attracted by the Porsche’s rarity, but not yet able to confirm its possible past, Greg placed the winning bid.

Packing a flat-six, the car was promptly rolled into the workshop of race car preparatio­n specialist, Essex Motorsport Services (EMS), before being rebuilt to enable Greg to compete in historic motorsport competitio­ns. He intends to race the Targa-topped bruiser in the Historic Sports Car Club’s ‘70s Road

Sports category and in various tournament­s across Europe, which is why the EMS team had to make several

alteration­s to meet local safety regulation­s — a Cobra Monaco Pro driver’s seat accommodat­es Fia-mandated Sparco six-point harnesses, while the team has also installed a Lifeline fixed fire suppressio­n system (to replace the handheld extinguish­er fitted in North America) and replaced the car’s tired steering wheel with a new flatbottom­ed OMP item.

Long before any of these components could be fitted, EMS boss, Perry Tubb, stripped the car down to a bare shell. Structural condition was good, with the roadster showing nothing more than minor welding in known corrosion spots, but the passenger floorpan demanded further investigat­ion. “It had been reinforced, but not in any normal way,” says Greg. “The work was done beautifull­y, yet it didn’t add structural strength and hadn’t replaced rotten metal.” When superfluou­s holes and mounting points were uncovered beneath the passenger seat, the pair of Porschephi­les began to believe they were correct to assume this unusual 914 could be one of the Le Mans camera cars.

Perhaps they could find answers in the paper trail, using the chassis, engine and transmissi­on numbers to

FERRARIS, CHEVRONS, A STRING OF F1 CARS FROM LOTUS AND MARCH, TITANS AND EVEN A SURTEES

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