Last One Made: 1981 Porsche 917 K-81

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While rule changes in racing are frequently met with groans and protests, some of the greatest cars ever created have been born of such shifts. The Porsche 917 is one example: it was developed as a response to a hike in engine displacement allowed by the FIA in 1968 for its World Sportscar Championship series. Suddenly, smaller-motored cars were not competitive. Porsche responded to the new 5-liter limit by bringing its fabulous 917 to the game, eventually sweeping the podium in race after race. The car was so successful that it was essentially banned by the FIA in 1972, though its spiritual successor – the 917/30 – went on to dominate Can-Am. Fast forward to 1981, when another keyhole opened in the competition landscape: the FIA relaxed its criteria for that year’s Group C series, with rules set to tighten again in 1982. Race car developers E&M Kremer of Cologne, Germany took full advantage of this opening, collaborating with Porsche to bring one more 917 to the track. This one, built with a stronger chassis and huge rear wing, was rushed to the line at LeMans – and turned in a resoundingly disappointing performance. At Brands Hatch, stripped of sponsorship but benefitting from more suitable gear ratios, it performed well on the twisty circuit, before retiring as a DNF (suspension). Now offered at auction by RM Sotheby’s is the 1981 Porsche 917 K-81 built by Kremer, to be sold in Monaco on May 10th. The estimate is €3,500,000 – €5,000,000. Thanks to Aussie Dave for this fabulous tip!

While its ignominious performance was doubtless embarrassing, there’s no question the car will make a fine vintage race prospect for a capable amateur. Porsche supplied the rear mid-mounted, fuel-injected 5.0-liter flat-twelve engine; as tuned by Kremer, the motor was originally capable of 570 hp, but a rebuild in 2019 tested out at something north of that. This monster of an engine is mated to a five-speed Type 920 transaxle. At LeMans in ’81, the car could barely make 300 kph, in a field of 340 kph performers. That will not stop invitations from arriving at the doorstep of the new owner. Goodwood’s Revival, the Monterey Motorsports Reunion, or any number of concours events should be pleased to welcome this unique Porsche.

The interior is all business. The only part I recognize other than the gauges is the Momo steering wheel. Otherwise, the instrument panel is saturated with electrical connections and electronics that the new owner can only hope are thoroughly mapped in the paperwork that accompanies the car. The configuration does allow for a co-pilot, but “comfort” does not come to mind when contemplating this cabin.

Diagnosing the car’s poor race performance largely came down to its rushed development, particularly in the aerodynamics arena, and the confused interplay of the chassis with modern tires. The car has not been tested at anything like race speeds and it likely never will be. It is a spectacular beast though not quite as desirable as one of the sixty-five 917s built during the heyday of Group C and Can-Am racing. With any luck, the new owner will bring it out to let that engine’s song ring out for the rest of us to hear.

Auctions Ending Soon


  1. Aussie Dave Aussie DaveMember

    I’d love to get a permit for one day to drive this on public roads.

    Like 7
    • Derek

      There are some road-legal 962s; I saw an advert for one that was for sale – in Germany – with very little information. Phone number, 962, taxed and tested, 414kph.

      Having been on the Autobahn and seen the speeds (155mph, limited) of the big autobahncruisers; could you imagine doing that kind of speed and being passed by something that’s travelling 100mph faster?

      I also remember hearing that the road-legal ones weren’t Porsches as such, but were built by someone like Kremer with help from Porsche.

      Like 1
      • Martin Horrocks

        I think there were 2 versions of non-Porsche 962. One by Dauer and the other by former 962 driver Vern Schuppen

        Like 1
    • Steveo

      Permit? I suspect it’s fast enough that you wouldn’t need permission.
      Banzai racing anyone?

      Like 1
  2. HoA HoAMember

    LeMans,,,the movie. While many movies defined the talent of Steve McQueen, his performance as Michael Delaney, driver of the #20 Porsche 917 K practically lived the character. He was custom made for the part. The crash blew most of us away. While it seemed criminal to wreck a 917, a radio controlled Lola T70 was used, made to look like a Porsche. We have some pretty boring stretches here out west( next tree 50 miles) and without flying, going 200 mph in this, would make short work of that. Leave those new LEO Chargers in the dust, but a radio still faster. Be a heck of a ride until they put those 2 dozers blocking the road,,,

    Like 16
    • HoA HoAMember

      Oh, one more thing, I realize Porsche/movie fanatics are racing to correct what I might have said about the movie or car, remember, I’m just a schmoe viewer, with little regard for actual facts.

      Like 11
    • Nevada1/2rack Nevada1/2rackMember

      FWIW there are 3 events in Northern Nevada that will allow you to LEGALLY go as fast as you can-though no one has shown up yet with a 917..

      Like 5
      • angliagt angliagtMember

        Virginia City Hillclimb – those guys are INSANE!
        Watch some videos of it.I’ve run many hillclimbs,but
        nothing like that.

        Like 0
    • Steve

      Plus helicopters!

      Like 0
    • Martin Horrocks

      One real Ferrari 512 went up in flames by accident ( while being driven by Derek Bell I think). Another Lola chassised fake 512 was destroyed in an explosive crash on screen.

      The remains of the burned but real 512 stayed in France for a long time afyer insurance settlement, until Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason bought the wreck. With the luck of a rockstar, Mason found that the damage was less than expected, rebuilt the car to his standards and owns it still.

      Like 3
    • schooner

      Kowalski never felt it.

      Like 0
  3. Howie

    At least it is not on Craig’s List.

    Like 7
  4. JoeNYWF64

    I immediately think of the Lola T70s in THX-1138.
    Who copied who?
    Worse driver ever in that movie, driving 1 just a few feet in a parking garage & hitting a floor support beam hard, destroying the car. Bang! lol

    Like 0
  5. angliagt angliagtMember

    There’s something about this 917 that just doesn’t look right –
    not sure if it’s the color,or the rear body work.917’s are one of my
    favorite cars,especially in the Gulf livery.

    Like 0
    • Martin Horrocks

      Rear wing is unique to this de elopment I think

      Like 2
      • Michelle RandAuthor

        Martin is correct. The rear wing was unique on this version, but of course if you look at earlier versions you will see a variety of bodywork. This particular choice of wing was partially to blame for the car’s poor performance.

        Like 2
  6. Hw426

    Did they copy the Laser 917?

    Like 1
  7. JamesHGF

    Complementing the author’s 1981 Porsche 917 K-81 article is this Historic Racing “David Piper” page which adds specific Kremer 917 replica info.

    Second photo in the right column shows Bob Wollek and Erwin Kremer sitting amongst the tubes of the Kremer replica 917 chassis looking at the pressure gauge.

    “The early 917 chassis suffered so badly from cracked tubes”, due to flexing…that the pipework was pressurized with a gauge mounted on the dash.

    Third photo in right hand column shows Steve McQueen “contemplating the devastation” of Piper’s 917 after the crash.

    Ref: Le Mans movie – search for crew and cast and imdb dot com provides all the drivers in the film and lists Loren Janes as stunt double for McQueen.

    Like 3
  8. yeapeaMember

    What a beauty

    Like 0
  9. Jack Quantrill

    Is this the most expensive car shown on BF? What is the least expensive? I’m not curious, but I’d like to know.

    Like 0
  10. Barry. Traylor

    Difficult to go to the grocery store n it.

    Like 0
    • Steve

      Plus the difficulty of getting in and out, especially as it’s RHD.

      Like 0
  11. John

    I’d always wanted to see one of these in real life, but figured I never would, then I went to the Brumos museum in Jacksonville, FL and they have one in Gulf colors. Stood there for awhile checking everything out and was surprised at how small the tires were. Looked like 13’s, should have looked closer but my lookers ain’t great these days.

    Like 2
    • EL Grecko

      Yes, 13’s in the front and 15’s in the back. It was all they had in those days in racing tires. Bigger wheels and tires didn’t come along for years later.

      Like 1

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