Without this car, Porsche’s total domination of Canadian-American Challenge Cup racing might never have happened. In 1969 Can-Am racing was popular in the United States; America was Porsche’s best export market; a Porsche Can-Am car followed naturally. Group 7 – a class constrained by almost no rules, neither a maximum engine capacity nor a minimum car weight being specified – was a playground at the time for the two mega-horsepower ultra-light Chevy-powered Team McLarens. Porsche’s first entry in this new venture would race as an underdog, a role the firm knew well.
The decision to enter the Can-Am series was made mid-season 1969. Porsche would provide the car, driver Jo Siffert and a full support crew; the new Porsche & Audi Division of Volkswagen of America would sponsor the entry. The contract signed, the only problem remaining was making a Group 7 racer out of the Group 5 917, and doing it fast. Work began after LeMans in June; the 917 PA (for Porsche/Audi) arrived in the States in August.
A makeshift solution, the PA was a 917 shorn of its coupe top and fitted with a body inspired by the 908/2 Flounder prototype. The 100 or so pounds saved were offset by the 56 gallons of fuel required to run these sprint races nonstop. The engine was strictly stock, all 4.5 liters of it. At the starting line of its first race at Mid-Ohio, the 917 PA gave away three liters, 200 pounds and 250 horsepower to the McLarens.
Five races had already been missed. In the six that remained, thanks to its endurance racing reliability, the 917 PA finished in all but one, took second once – and placed fourth overall in the Can-Am Championship. Naturally Porsche was encouraged.
The rest is well-recorded history. A full Can-Am assault with the 917/10 and 10 Turbo took the Can-Ams laurels away from the McLarens. In 1973 the 917/30 followed with such devastating dominance that the Can-Am series died for lack of competition.
Nineteen sixty-nine did not end the display car’s Can-Am competition. Acquired by Vasek Polak and gradually converted into a full 917/10 fitted with an 1100 hp turbo motor from the 917/30, the 917 PA raced in more Can-Ams than any other Group 7 car and remained competitive until its retirement.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more