"Le Mans: El Film"  - Ver
Nota aparecida en la revista Corsa Nº 1847

"Le Mans: McQueen en Rojo" - Ver
Artículo de Dennis Asselberghs del Dossier Michel Vaillant:
McQueen, El Hombre que Amaba las Máquinas. 
Traducción de Gabriel Portos Minetti

"Steve McQueen at Le Mans"- Ver
Página publicada en el website  www.lastinterceptor.info/influencesbot6.html 
(Disponible solo en inglés)

" Le Mans"- Ver
Página publicada en el website http://www.automodelismomagazine.com/pagina_lemans.htm 

Steve McQueen at "Le Mans"

(The influence of a Porsche 917 the absolute best of the best)

Please note: The black and white pictures featured below are featured in the book "A French kiss with Death" written by Michael Keyser and Jonathan Williams. The pictures are courtesy of Derek Bell, Paul Blancpain and Lee Katizn. The publication is by Bentley Publishers and it deals almost exclusively with the making of the film "Le Mans".

Pictured above is the real 1970 Le Mans winner with drivers Herrmann/Attwood. This Salzburg 917k was offered for sale in July 2000, a tidy buy at just 3.5 million.

As you see, my love of fast cars goes back a while. As a kid, this passion was feed by the input of live motor racing. My father liked the sport, so he often took us out to the Phillip Island circuit in Australia. In the early 1970s television coverage of motor sport was nothing like it is today, it was either nonexistent or at midnight, I am not sure which, but I never saw it. International races were never, to my memory, covered at all.
So for international racing, all I had to go on was the colorless and motionless images meagerly displayed in the way-too expensive magazines lining the back shelves in the local shop. When first I heard of the movie "Le Mans", it was still in production, nevertheless, I was in heaven, I could not wait. I was a wide-eyed kid, and these were the living Gods of the mechanical world, international racing machines of legend and fame. And they were going to be up on the silver screen, where they had always belonged anyway. Information on the progress of the film was rare, but what information I could gather indicated that the "Le Mans" film was going to feature the greatest sports racing car of them all ... the Porsche 917. God as an automobile, that was the 917. As a thoroughbred purpose built race car the Porsche 917 was the highest example of the art, a symphony of rare metals and exotic materials, all wrapped in a gorgeous looking glass fiber body. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, so perfect , every line a purpose, yet still so seductive, and deadly. Twenty seven years later history still agrees, in 1997 the Porsche 917 was voted as the greatest race car of all time.
Steve McQueen's legacy is that he had both the love and foresight to use the 917 as the center attraction of his 1971 movie. McQueen was a car nut, and he loved the Porsche 917 above all. Being himself an accomplished racedriver (having finished second at the Sebring 12 hour the same year) McQueen elected to handle all his own driving, often at speeds exceeding 200 MPH. Then he leased many real life race cars to assist in authentication of the film, signing up professional race drivers to handle these cars, (well who else could). Today the car used by Steve McQueen himself still exists, so if you have a spare $2,000,000 or so you might like to have a bid for it. Car number 20 was a genuine "Gulf-Porsche", chassis number 917-017 to this day it is still painted in magnificent "Gulf-Porsche" blue, and now resides in Seattle USA.

Steve did not get to win even in his own film. His number 20 car crashed out of the race.. well you have to have a plot.
Local Police assisting with filming. The Porsche 917s being the front two cars, followed by a Ford GT40 used as a camera car.

In the early 1970s sports car racing was at its peak, hard for today's fans to conceive, but trust me, today it is a faded shadow of its heyday. But back in the 60's and very early 70's the sports racing class was well supported and big news, the duel between Porsche and Ferrari for supremacy at "Le Mans" was the high point of the racing year. In the golden age of the late 1960s and early 1970s, the sports cars were by far and away the fastest circuit racing formula, not only faster than the Formula One cars, but they ran for up to 24 hours. On the big circuits like "Le Mans" with its 3.2 mile straight they were simply awesome. All Steve McQueen had to do was get it all on film. Today in the year 2000 the film will seem dated. In fact, McQueen was criticized at the time for his final result. Many believed he was too much the racing driver and not enough a film maker to do the job. But to me the film remains as the most publicly accessible showcase of the 917, and I am just so glad for that, and the Porsche 917, ha ha ... it is like the interceptor, it will never grow old.
When the film came out, I went to see the movie as soon as I possibly could. I loved it, the film had me lost in wonderland. The mighty Porsche 917s stole the entire movie. They were magnificent, perfection on the racetrack, the blue and orange stripped cars moved with a speed, sound and style I had never seen, and the sound ... oh God the sound. The Porsche 917 used a flat 12 boxer that revved to 8000 or 9000 RPM, and it sounded like a low note humming top, no V8 rumble, just a succession of variations to the high-pitched howling scream. Motoring journalists from the time, (and still some today) comment that it was the greatest sounding race car EVER. If victory has a voice, it is the 917. The Porsche mechanics of the day recalled that the engines big flat fan could "suck clouds down from the sky".

The "Le Mans" film used much footage actually shot during the 1970 race. McQueen's "Solar Productions" had entered a car for the purpose of shooting film. In 1970 Vic Elford had become the first driver to break the 150 MPH average speed for a lap of the 8.408 mile circuit, Elfords 917 was a distinctive long tail car, and had been reaching up towards 250 mph on the 3.2 mile Mulsanne straight.

Vic Elford's long tail car, the first car to break the 150 MPH lap at Le Mans.
The movie recreation of the first lap, McQueens Gulf-Porsche 917k number 20 leads Vic Elford in 25. Note: Lights are taped to prevent dust damage before dark.

As for me as a kid, well I shall never forget that early movie scene, the White car so much larger than life, there it was, right up on the screen as Vic Elford blasted the opposition into the weeds during the opening sections of the race. Elfords real life runaway start was perfect for the film, and McQueen grabbed it all.
From my theater seat, all I saw was the white car streaking away from the rest, a beautiful low down shot as it howled up the straight visibly quicker that the finest cars of the works Ferrari and Porsche teams.
And Vic Elford ... I can't help but wonder what he felt, in first place, alone at the front, nothing but a clear French afternoon before him. He was driving the world's most important racecar, leading the world's most prestigious race, on the world's most famous circuit, and no one on Earth could catch him. I still wonder, did Vic Elford glance to his mirrors and see the legendary blue "Gulf -Porsche" cars fade into the background. As his long tailed car pulled away into the history books. Did he remember then that he, Vic Elford, had taken the hard road, and stuck with the long tail development, steadfastly following his belief in its potential, when others had gone the way of the short tail. McQueen attempted to show the bewilderment of the others, in his mock battle, he looked on wide eyed at the disappearing Elford car as it simply drove away into the distance, as it had done in real life.

In 1970 Vic Elford did not win at Le Mans, in the night he missed a gear, a common enough error by the 917 drivers. Anyhow, this overrevved the engine, and it dropped an inlet valve. The Gulf-Porsche juggernaut missed here also, John Wyer's resplendent blue cars failing for one of the few times that season. The luckless Jo Siffert was leading the race for Gulf-Porsche when he too missed a gear, just as Elford had done, and shared the same fate. As pictured at the top of this page a Porsche 917k did go on and win anyhow.

I saw the film many times. Then it disappeared for a decade or so ... till video restored the childhood memories.
The Gulf - Porsche 917s were perhaps the nicest of them all. In fact, each 917 was slightly different as they continued to improve the breed with each one produced, the "Gulf" cars always seemed to have the edge, both in looks and performance.

Long after the 917 finished its racing life, driver Vic Elford explained a few things about driving the 917 long tail. (Elford by the way was to describe the number 25 Porsche 917 long tail "The one from the McQueen film" as "a monster".)
Vic Elford went on to point out, "The long tail had to be driven like it was on rails".
I have a personal theory on why the 917 was considered so hard to drive. Many of the sportscar drivers of the day were used to sliding the shorter bodywork powerful cars, like in "Can Am" on the shorter USA tracks in a "Can Am" car they could drive and steer with the accelerator, this style was spectacular and flamboyant. But on the higher speed European tracks if a driver got a long tail more than a bit out of line, they would crash. And if a 917 crashed at race speed, drivers -more often than not- died.
Add to this the fact that no one had really driven at the kind of speed the 917 was producing, so the aerodynamic stability was new territory. However, with the 917 actually putting fear into many drivers, it can be understood how the car became known as "The Ulcer", or more often, "The Widow maker." Vic Elford also commented, "If handled right the long tail was devastating, I once took the kink at Le Mans at 245 MPH in the wet and the dark!" He then enlarged the statement with "Not exactly first go, it took a lot of practice till I had the nerve to even attempt it in the daylight. I honestly believe that only a few drivers ever came to grips with the 917's specific driving requirements, I believe I did, and as testimony I am still alive when so many are not".
On the short tailed car Elford commented, "the short tail was also a lethal beast, the tail section was just kind of cut off, we had no wind tunnel testing, so it was just cut the tail off, and away we went!" The result was that the car had huge lift at the rear, if you backed off suddenly from 220 MPH (in pure fright I presume!) the rear of the car would almost take off". From what Elford has said, any driver who survived the earlier 917s must have been good.
McQueen's car was one of the later models, more distinctive as it had the rear wheel arches "flared" to allow for the larger dry weather rubber, and had an airfoil positioned in the center of the rear tunnel section; Gurney tabs were also added. This effectively combated the lift issue.

Steve McQueens number 20 car, pictured in the late 1990s. Not a movie prop, but a genuine "Gulf - Porsche 917k" it carried chassis number 917-017. To me this car is the best example of the breed.

Even though the direct descendant of the 917 was the similar-looking long tailed Porsche 956. The 917 must still rate as the peak of the sports racing popularity, if not development. Sports car evolution was to follow the "all out" preparation style of the 917. By "all out" preparation, I really mean to say "no expense spared and logical thinking". In construction of the 917, Porsche worked with minimum weight as a prime directive. Porsche knowing that the secret of speed lay in the power to aerodynamic weight ratio. The 917 was therefore constructed using every trick previously unthought off, titanium where ever possible, lightness obsession right down to the balsa-wood gear knob, and the holes drilled through the center of the various locating bolts. With the 1972 season outlawing the 5-litre cars, the following years of evolution just served to remove the splendor of the class. Today's cars are just - well to me at least- boring and ugly. Back in the very early 1970s the big horsepower cars were considered just to fast. And drivers were dying. So the controlling body reeled it all in, and for the 1972 season reduced the engine capacity back to 3 Lt. The fantastic 917s could no longer race, and collectively they faded into history.
But they went out at the very top, as legends, and they have remained that way.
28 years on and the 917 still holds record for distance covered during the 24 hours of "Le Mans". Try 5335 Km (or 3293 miles) at an average of 222.3 KPH (or 137.2 MPH). Hmmm that is Melbourne to Perth and almost half way back.
Furthermore, I expect Pedro Rodriguez's magnificent 162 MPH lap of SPA conducted in a Gulf Porsche 917k is still amongst the fastest ever lap speeds on a road course. And Pedro's drive of the 917 at Brands Hatch in appalling weather is consistently rated by those lucky enough to see it, as the finest drive they have ever seen. On that day Pedro was so fast and the conditions so bad that a pit crew member was heard to ask manager John Wyer if "We should bring Pedro in, and tell him it is raining", and remember race crews have seen it all, they are hard to impress. John Wyer would later describe Pedro's drive as "virtuoso". It was the performance of two legends, the finest sports car driver of the time and the finest racecar of the time. On that wet afternoon both displayed their full ability. From the outset Pedro put the car in front, drivers changed, and later in the race when Pedro resumed control of the 917 it was right back in the pack, Pedro drove his finest drive, and won the BOAC 1000 by five laps.

At this stage it is worth mentioning that every race car is only built to operate within the maze of regulations and restrictions imposed on it. These restrictions can change from year to year. The 917 simply did the best job in the climate at the time. Actually comparing the relative performance of race cars from differing eras is really like comparing music from different eras. There is no yardstick for comparison, so truly, none can be made. The same with drivers; like athletes, they are the best of their time, and that is all that should be said.
Today in year 2000 rumor has it that McQueen shot hundreds of hours of film, that means there must be enough film in a file or vault someplace for a "making of" documentary. I sure hope so.
Nothing left to say but ...Thank you Steve McQueen, you captured their sound and functional beauty on celluloid . You may have gone, but because of your dreams, they get to live on.

A Gulf - Porsche at Daytona, note the roof cutout to enable the driver to see on the banking.
Photo thanks to Robin Thompson Art and Racing. Print title: "Gulf-Porsche 917k the ultimate weapon".

"When you are racing ... it's life. Anything thing that happens before or after... is just waiting". - Steve McQueen 1971.




"Le Mans: El Film"  - Ver
Nota aparecida en la revista Corsa Nº 1847

"Le Mans: McQueen en Rojo" - Ver
Artículo de Dennis Asselberghs del Dossier Michel Vaillant:
McQueen, El Hombre que Amaba las Máquinas. 
Traducción de Gabriel Portos Minetti

" Le Mans"- Ver
Página publicada en el website http://www.automodelismomagazine.com/pagina_lemans.htm 




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