1969 saw the world demonstrate its courage. Everything seemed doable, nothing impossible. If one had the will to do it. Neil Armstrong, the first human on the moon. The 747, the largest passenger aircraft to date, took off. The Concorde, the fastest flying plane to date, crossed the Atlantic in what seemed like a coffee break. The belief in the boundless potential of technology was matched only by the speed with which records fell by the wayside. Whether in politics, society, or technology: Here, a battle of systems, the ideological race for supremacy in space and the world of thought. There, a duel for dominance on the racetrack: pure provocation through physics. The “ultimate animal” is what Ferdinand Piëch called his journey to the edge, in which he aimed to bring Ferrari to its knees at Le Mans: a car the likes of which no one had ever imagined, let alone seen—his “greatest risk,” a “useful bit of lunacy.” At 387 kmh it was undrivable, really, but equally unstoppable. With it, Porsche catapulted itself to the head of the pack of sports-car manufacturers. Coincidence?

Rousing debut: June 1, 1969. The International ADAC 1,000 Kilometer Race on the Nürburgring’s famed Nordschleife (north loop). It’s the very first race for a Porsche 917. Frank Gardner (Australia) and David Piper (UK) ultimately take eighth place. Jo Siffert (Switzerland) and Brian Redman (UK) take victory in a Porsche 908.

To understand the year 1969, a look back at the decade that preceded it is indispensable. That was when the groundwork was laid for the radical, courageous thinking and action that rocked the western world at the end of the 1960s. In the US, the leading writers of the Beat Generation—Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, and Jack Kerouac, who dies in 1969—launched a radical break with the traditions of linear narrative. In France and Germany, young philosophers like Michel Foucault and the thinkers of the Frankfurt School shifted the perspective on the world, the self, and being. The pop art that emerged in the United States and Britain turned away from the intellectualism of the art world and idealized precisely the opposite: the trivial, the mundane. Completely new things had been bubbling forth everywhere since the 1950s, but it took a while before these niche occurrences found their way into the mainstream. Before more and more people not only dared to think the unthinkable but were actually prepared to experience it and break taboos. In short, to be bold, rebellious, ready to test the boundaries of the tolerable and even exceed them.

Truffle hunt: June 13, 1971. Le Mans could have been the big race for the 917/20. Driven by Reinhold Joest and Willi Kauhsen, the Pink Pig surprises one and all by winning the pre-training. In the race itself, however, the two German drivers don’t make it past the twelfth hour.

Tom Wolfe wrote that the naivete to assume the impossible could occur was what made the 1960s possible in the first place. And not only in the fields of science and technology. Disruption pervaded every corner of society. It affected statesmen and students, architects and activists, musicians and makers of fashion, hippies and hedonists. What they all shared was the insatiable hunger for freedom, the desire to shake off old conventions and break out of the torpor of the postwar years. The world of tomorrow was a place that must be made today. The old authorities lost their sway, the private became political, and the political became personal.

The rejection of the old was most pronounced in the hippie culture, which by 1969 had long since become a mass movement. In August, an estimated five hundred thousand people made a pilgrimage to a remote farm in the state of New York, where the Woodstock Music and Art Fair provided a stage on which to live out their vision of an existence free of constraints and inhibitions, to experiment with drugs, and to listen as Jimi Hendrix transformed the American national anthem into a plaintive wail with screaming feedback. While a powerful rainstorm pummeled the ground into a sea of mud, the singer of the band Canned Heat predicted through song that “a change is gonna come.”

Encounter on the racetrack: June 13, 1971. The long-tail version of the 917, driven by Jo Siffert and Derek Bell, meets the 914/6 of Gerd Quist and Dietrich Krumm at Le Mans.

But change was already well under way by then: the musical Hair became a global hit and spread the message of “make love, not war” all the way to communist Belgrade. In Ann Arbor, Michigan, four bored guys calling themselves The Stooges formed a sort of proto-punk act as a nihilistic reply to the escapism of the flower-power kids, raising the bar in terms of volume with the new generation of guitar amplifiers and providing a brute-force soundtrack for the revolutionary mood of the country, while at the other end of the musical spectrum were the unbridled improvisations of free jazz—total erasure of the old borders of musical expression and a departure from traditional harmony.

Class victor at Le Mans: June 14, 1970. Amid the celebrations of the first overall Porsche victory in the endurance classic at Le Mans, achieved by Richard Attwood and Hans Herrmann in the 917, another triumph is almost forgotten: in a 914/6 GT, the two Frenchmen Claude Ballot-Léna and Guy Chasseuil with start number 40 take victory in the class for GT cars with up to 2,000 cc displacement with a sixth-place overall finish.

The dream factory had to reinvent itself as well. In Hollywood, a new generation of writer-filmmakers rebelled against the aesthetic formulas and outmoded mores of the studio system, bringing sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll to the big screen. The directors were aided by the fact that film cameras had become less cumbersome and enabled greater mobility. Shooting outdoors at real locations engendered greater intimacy and authenticity than filming on studio sets. Arthur Penn’s gangster film Bonnie and Clyde channeled the zeitgeist of the moment. The film turns criminals into supposedly relatable characters who scorn the rules of the establishment. Neo-westerns like Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch or Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West recounted the story of the conquest of the west with unflinching brutality and in doing so reflected the fractures of the present. Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider, the story of two dropouts who set off on their motorcycles in search of freedom, became the cult film of the Woodstock generation. The Oscar for Best Picture went to John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, which dramatizes a love story between two men.

Confident women: The advertising images for the 914 in 1969 present an image of women that’s in step with the times: women are self-assured, independent, liberated—and have a thing for mid-engine sports cars.

Indeed, the taboo-breaking verve of the new Hollywood proceeded with unprecedented abandon. On cinema screens, theater stages, and advertising posters, there was suddenly lots of bare skin on display. Sexual liberation set a dynamic in motion that extended to the center of society. While the Stonewall riots on New York’s Christopher Street in June marked the birth of the organized gay rights movement, hippies were said to mistrust anyone who went to bed with the same person twice.

In the course of this liberalization, the traditional roles of men and women were brushed aside. French fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent put his models in pantsuits and created transparent tops intended to be worn without undergarments. The look initially caused a scandal, but was soon considered socially acceptable—not unlike the way Mary Quant had normalized the miniskirt a few years before. Vibrant worlds of color, coupled with materials like plastic and rubber, find expression in the furniture designs of Dane Verner Panton, who thereby distanced himself substantially from the sober tradition of Scandinavian wood furniture design, tossing the kidney-shaped table and shelf unit on the trash heap of interior-design culture.

Eight cylinders for Ferry Porsche: September 19, 1969. For his sixtieth birthday, Ferry Porsche (second from left) receives a very special birthday present in Zell am See: a street-legal 914 S with 260 hp.

The Porsche 914, too, could not have been created at any other time than the late 1960s. Not only because of its trendy and vivid paint jobs, but also because it stood, like no other car of its time, for emancipation behind the wheel and a new kind of social mobility: a sports car for everyman—and every woman.

Yet every time of change has its darker facets too. One manifestation of that was that the loudly proclaimed desire for change also met with a robust reaction from state institutions. In the western world, almost all the protests against the war in Vietnam were suppressed. Then there was the rise of terror. Sometimes the drive for liberation tips into the paranoid and sect-like. The grisly ritual murders by the Manson family shocked the entire western world. For the hippie movement, it was the end of innocence.

Despite, or perhaps precisely because of these contradictions, the final years of the 1960s continue to resonate to this day. Looking back, the dynamism and drama of this unfettered age may seem to be the result of a combination of belief in progress, audacity, and naïveté. But above it all is the seemingly limitless, boundary-testing, and all-encompassing desire for change that came to characterize 1969. For many Porsche enthusiasts, this zeitgeist is embodied by the 917. Courage changes everything.

Le Mans winner

March 12, 1969. At the Geneva Motor Show, the Porsche 917 makes its debut. Just over one year later, on June 14, 1970, German driver Hans Herrmann and Englishman Richard Attwood win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the Porsche 917 short tail with start number 23—pictured here. It’s the first overall victory for Porsche in the endurance classic and a milestone in racing history.

Leading the way

March 10, 1969. The car with chassis number 001 is completed just two days before its world premiere at the Geneva International Motor Show. It’s the first of twenty-five units of the 917 required by the regulations for the homologation of a Group 4 sports car. By September 1970 its appearance will have been modified and repainted three times. In 2019 the Porsche Museum returned it to its original condition.

The Pink Pig

The 917/20. One of a kind. And not only for its extravagant, pink paint job and decals. The idea comes from Porsche designer Anatole Lapine, that also gives the car its nicknames Pink Pig, Truffle Hunter, and Big Berta.

Porsche 917 "Gulf“

The 917’s cult paint job in light blue and orange, seen in the film Le Mans, has a commercial backstory. With the financial outlays for a motorsport presence shooting through the roof, Porsche opts for a partnership with the English racing team John Wyer Automotive Engineering Ltd.—and adopts the colors of its sponsor, the Gulf Oil company.

Porsche 914/6 GT

August 22, 1970. The Porsche 914/6 GT, of which just twelve units are built, celebrates its greatest racing success. After eighty-six hours of racing in the Marathon de la Route on the Nürburgring, the six-cylinder sports cars from Porsche hold the top three spots. The winner’s trophy goes to Gérard Larrousse (France), Claude Haldi (Switzerland), and Helmut Marko (Austria).

Porsche 914/4

The base version of the 914 features an air-cooled, 1.7-liter, four-cylinder boxer engine with 59 kW (80 hp). The first series sports car with a mid-engine was designed by Porsche and distributed in collaboration with Volkswagen. It’s available in two versions: as a 914 with four-cylinder engine by Volkswagen and as a 914/6 with a six-cylinder power unit by Porsche.

Porsche 914 S

The sports-car manufacturer builds a test vehicle with the Porsche 908’s engine for its head of development, Ferdinand Piëch. The 914 S combines mid-engine dynamics with the eight-cylinder engine used in racing. The result is a test vehicle with chassis number 111 and 221 kW (300 hp), whose exterior barely differs from the less powerful 914 variants.

Special Exhibitions at the Porsche Museum

The Porsche Museum is showing the special exhibition 50 Years of Porsche 914: Typical Porsche through July 7, 2019. Also running through September 15, 2019, is the exhibition 50 Years of Porsche 917: Colors of Speed, a special feature on what may be the most famous race car of all time. The first 917 ever built is also on display in Zuffenhausen, restored to its original condition.

https://www.porsche.com/museum/en/sonderausstellungen/

 

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