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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

24/06/2021
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JWA Gulf and Salzburg 917Ks (Photo courtesy of Porsche AG).

Words: Tim Nevinson

The questions Tim was most regularly asked as a journalist and development engineer included: “What’s the best car you’ve owned?”, “What’s the best car you’ve driven?” and “What’s your favourite car?” For more amusement, a better question would have been: “What was the worst car?”

My stock answer to the first two questions is “Best at what?” because as an engineer you were always striving to make a product as good as you could within a very strict set of parameters and aims and, above all, be objective. As an automotive writer, it very much depended on what audience you were writing for.
I can tell you what my favourite car is without having to think through all of those things, and it’s a car I have never driven, and rarely even been near. My Dad bought Motor Sport magazine every month and I used to swallow it whole. It had a colour picture section in the middle and I used to wind him up something rotten by cutting photos out of the colour centre section and stapling them to my bedroom wall.
When I was about 14, Dad took me to the local cinema where we watched a film called Le Mans.
The Porsche 917 to me was a most aggressive-looking racing car, but up until that afternoon at the cinema I had no idea what it sounded like. I’m not sure if I was dribbling when we came out into the light afterwards, but I was smitten by the 917’s noise and always have been since then. Being powered by a 12-cylinder engine a great sound is a given, but this was a flat-12, and air-cooled, so it came with a lot more mechanical noise and a whining horizontal fan atop the inlet stacks. I’m not bothered whether a 917 is Gulf blue, Salzburg striped or in Martini mix, it is just one awesome machine – awesome in the old sense, not just ‘pleasant’ as the word is used today. I got a bit miffed later in life when people who were into films and those who worshipped Steve McQueen became familiar with the Gulf 917K through that movie because it was my little car enthusiast secret. I didn’t give a toss about film actors! I have since watched the film dozens of times and never get tired of it, even though the plot is weak and the dialogue virtually non-existent. It’s actually quite a difficult film to get any non-petrolhead to sit through.

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The author’s favourite car – the Porsche 917K (Photo courtesy of Porsche AG).


The fact that the 917 started with a fearsome reputation added to its intrigue for me, and when you look at one today without its panels on it makes you shudder to think of those brave souls barrelling down the Mulsanne at over 200mph in this scanty web of aluminium tubing. I say ‘look at one today’ because at the time we enthusiasts, or the drivers, didn’t give it a second thought – lightness and speed were all that counted. Having been through that era, we elders will look at the bare frame slightly askance, while the younger generation think we should be banged up as criminally irresponsible. The 917 in its original form was aerodynamically unstable, and very fast. It was only when the ‘K’ (for ‘kurz’ - German for short) was introduced that the 917’s reputation calmed down a bit, but those drivers were brave. It won many endurance races, including Porsche’s first 24 Hours of Le Mans victory in 1970 before they, and its ilk, were banned for being too fast.
So there it is, quite easy, no qualifications or experience required for ‘favourite’. I’ve not driven one, not been in a real one, but it’s still my favourite car.

Continue this story in our July-August issue (page 70-74)

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