In the summer of 1971, I was 12 years old, and in the previous year I often watched ABC’s Wide World of Sports. Coverage of the Can-Am Series races had been part of the show, and at that time I couldn’t begin to tell you what Can-Am was. All I knew was watching wedge-shaped cars with bold wings simply looked cool and I wanted Hot Wheels replicas of them to go with my collection. “Collection” is a term I can use today, but back then it was my nifty carry case full of my cars. I suppose you could say those where the first cars I counted as my possessions, and I was fiercely protective of them.
One of the Can-Am cars that struck my imagination deeply was the McLaren M8D. While many other cars on the track boasted large aluminum wings, the M8D seemed to flow from nose to tail, and it wasn’t until later in life that I learned the testing of this sleek design was what claimed the life of the legendary Bruce McLaren. To this day, I have longed to see one of these cars in person, because in my view it is the epitome of an open cockpit sports car. I have a lovely diecast replica that I cherish, but I fear it will be a close as I ever come to seeing one…and actually driving one would only be a fantasy.
While the McLaren and other Can-Am cars certainly had their impact on me, the summer of 1971 was when my Dad hauled the family out to the drive-in to see “Le Mans.” I knew nothing of the daring race across the French countryside, but one thing was certain, the howling Porsche 917 etched itself into my very soul. The sound and look of that car at speed was intoxicating and those images have never left my mind.
At that age, I had already been fascinated by WWII aircraft, both fighters and bombers, and I gobbled down all manner of literature and movies about them. To this day I am still enthralled with powerful military aircraft, and I assume it has its linkage with the ethereal man and machine connection.
Maybe this was the connection between the two, as “Le Mans” depicted a dogfight of sorts with men and machines battling for victory. I have read a great number of texts telling of how post-WWII, many former pilots found their places in racing machines, and many fans regarded them with the same kind of daring and bravery.
All of this reflection came roaring back this morning as I watched a short documentary about the Porsche 918 hybrid supercar. The 919h (hybrid) racer was developed from the same concepts, and it was the car that returned Porsche to the top step of the podium at the Circuit de La Sarthe. While the 919 comes nowhere close to the 917 in sleek beauty, one cannot deny the technological marvel the car represents. However, to harness that technology and put it into a car capable of being driven every day is nothing short of miraculous.
Supercars like the 918 have always been produced in notoriously small numbers, and with prices approaching (and sometimes exceeding) a million dollars it’s easy to understand why. So when Porsche announced they would build 918 copies of their shiny new toy, many in the industry thought them mad.
Of course, history has proven Porsche made the smart move, but let’s give them credit where it’s due, because if the 918 were not such an amazing machine those numbers never would have been reached.
Just a few of its highlights include; a 600hp naturally aspirated 4.6L V8 engine that weighs no more than the turbo six in the vaunted 911 Carrera. Three electric motors that can add up to 397 more horsepower if needed. A car equipped with the creature comforts of a/c, sound system, and a not-so-barren interior still only tips the scale at 3600lbs. A battery pack that can propel the car up to 90mph for 19 miles, but is constantly regenerating every time your foot is off the power, effectively stretching that range until the engine automatically comes on to charge the battery while still in electric mode. A plug-in feature allowing home charging on either 110v or 220v systems, all combining to give a supercar a 70mpg e-rating.
Supercars were never intended to be practical, but Porsche has reached beyond those limits. I learned long ago the race at Le Mans is far more than a motorsports event. The race has challenged automakers of every stripe to push technology in order to build a machine to survive the brutal pounding of 3000 miles of racing non-stop, to withstand the weather conditions, and cross the finish line in victory. Those are no small feats, and automakers quickly learned what survives at Le Mans is potent research for production vehicles.
Today, there are many places across the country where you can go and pay the price to drive exotic sports cars for a day. I have yet to experience this but its most certainly on my Bucket List. While I doubt the Porsche 918 will ever be one of the choices to select at such locations, the modern interpretation of Porsche racing heritage will join my fantasy garage of cars I dream of driving someday.
Bravo, Porsche, for never giving up.
T. August Green.