In an effort to inspire and teach Britain’s young engineers, Project 917 will give 6 lucky candidates the chance to assist in building a replica Porsche 917 with the aim of reminding people that motorsports is for everyone

 

Motorsport fans are renowned for their enthusiasm, their commitment to their sport. In all weathers they will stand bearing themselves against the elements for a sight of their heroes. Now a project run by Ian Howe employing young engineers, aims to fulfil a dream by meeting, or more specifically, building a hero.

The Porsche 917 is the most famous racing car in the pantheon of endurance racing. Winner of the 24 Hours of Le Mans two years running in 1970 and 1971 it became the hero of Steve McQueen’s cult film Le Mans. Today it has a large following and with it an undeniable joie de vivre that, combined with its pedigree, has made it a legend.

Talking with Ian Howe, the leader of Project 917 and a self-confessed motorsport enthusiast I discovered that the project was about much more than building a replica racing car. The aim of this project has a deeper implicit aim. Essentially, to wrench open the doors of motorsport engineering to a wider, younger audience who may have the ability and skills to go far in the business but have not had the same opportunities as others. Based on a ‘revolving initiative’ with Coventry and Warwick University, applicants that apply proceed through an ‘Apprentice style selection system’ down to a group of six that are given three months intensive training in machining, bodywork and design. Following this they will assist in the construction and development of the 917 over the course of a seventeen-month build time. Following this they will have hopefully fulfilled what for Ian is the, ‘Primary objective; an improved CV so they can ideally set up their own business’. Project 917 therefore, is about so much more than building a replica, it is about finding the future by inspiring young engineers to develop their skills.

But what about the car? The chassis and body come from Bailey Cars based in South Africa that has already supplied 15 917s to countries across the globe. The engine, a straight-six for cost and reliability reasons will replace the flat-twelve but still power the car, weighing in at just under 1100kg, to one hundred and eighty miles per hour. The build will take place at Advanced Manufacturing (ADV) in Coventry. What really increases the value of this project is the accessibility that the general public will have to the project itself, as every step of the process will be documented on a day-by-day basis through an e-portal provided by Puddle, the technology partner for the project. The final product of this will be a television documentary with an undisclosed and yet undecided broadcaster.

While the project aims to promote and develop the skills of young engineers, the car they produce will not be a vehicle that will be undervalued. The 917 they plan to build will be road-legal and so will need to be built to a standard that can pass the DVLA’s stringent tests and also be robust enough to handle the variable weather of the United Kingdom.

This vehicle will not just be a showcase of talent and technology, it will tour the country visiting events, promoting the project year-round. The car, and its interior that is being opened to creative minds across the country to design such features as the key fob and dashboard, will be open to the public. Members of the public will also be given the opportunity either to drive the car or be driven by a professional. Derek Bell, five-time Le Mans winner with Porsche, is the preferred candidate although this has yet to be confirmed. The car will eventually be sold at auction in August 2017 with all funds going directly into the next project that, Ian tells me, will not permanently be a 917. The aim is to diversify and over a period of time build up a portfolio of projects, each project becoming part of the portfolios of the prospective engineers.

Yes, it won’t produce a flat-twelve howl but a six-cylinder buzz for lowered cost and increased reliability. The point, however, is not what powers this car; it’s what it symbolizes. What will have been created is a road-legal 917 built by the people, for the people. This won’t represent the effect of a rich man’s cheque book, it will represent the return of motorsport to where it belongs, among the masses. Racing competitively is available to the few but it is often forgotten that it is the people who attend that create the revenue that allows those few on the grid to go racing in the first place. Project 917 reminds us that there is engineering talent in the United Kingdom; we can still have an impact on the world stage, impact that will be felt beyond the workshop. It will provide a level of inspiration that has been lacking somewhat in recent years and hopefully act as a much-needed catalyst to future generations of Great British Engineers.

The story of the 917 then, is not yet finished. Having left its tyre marks on the past it continues to inspire modern engineers of the present, inspiring them on to innovative and exciting projects in the future.