The nine-year odyssey to create the Icon Engineering 917K replica began with an eBay ad. Graham Turner advertised sale of a 917K body that had been copied directly from Dave Piper’s 1969 Porsche 917K, chassis #10, which meant the body for sale was a perfect replica of the 917K that Steve McQueen drove in “Le Mans.” Automotive industry engineer Dave Eaton saw an article for the ad on UK site Pistonheads, then took the plunge. Joining forces with another industry engineer named John Hartland, the two re-created the rest of the race car from scratch — a feat that included designing a new tube-frame chassis with 220 round tubes in five diameters just like the original. They even improved the body, which had an imperfection at the base of the right-side headlight pod that Hartland said was due to the original body getting dinged during “Le Mans” filming. The result is a 95% accurate replica that, at least in Europe, is road legal.
The deviations from the original are down to the use of modern technology, getting road approval, and cost. The chassis is made from T45 chro-moly steel instead of the aluminum found in the original. The steel weighs more, but is vastly stiffer, and even with that and the modern road necessities the Icon 917K weighs 1,984 pounds with fuel, only about 200 pounds more than the 917K race car. British transport authorities demanded a small crash structure and details like being able to adjust the side-view mirrors from the cabin, those mirrors aided by a rear-view camera, and proper gauges and warning lights. Eaton also designed a small heating element to warm the windshield and cabin.
The engine isn’t a 5.0-liter flat-12 as in the original, but a 3.6-liter flat-six taken from the Porsche 964-series 911. Flat-12s go for mid-six-figures or more on the open market, or a company in Germany makes them from scratch for about $1.5M U.S. Hartland rebuilt the flat-six mill with the flywheel from a 964-series 911 Carrera RS, six Jenvey throttle bodies and injectors, a BTB high-performance exhaust, and racing add-ons like high-pressure oil and fuel main pumps and low-pressure lift pumps. It now makes 295 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, instead of 250 hp. For install, he turned the motor around and mated it to a Porsche G50 five-speed manual gearbox that’s flipped upside-down. Eaton said he and Hartland can design a flat-12 from the ground up, but Eaton wants to sell some flat-six cars first.
Otherwise, we’re dealing with one of the finest replica jobs out there, and Eaton detailed the years-long process on the Icon Engineering site. He designed the jigs that lay up the tubing, with components built to a tolerance of two millimeters. Eaton designed most of the ancillary systems, spending six months on just the suspension uprights, getting help from motorsport firms like Simtek — which works with BAC Mono, Bowler, and Ginetta, among others — for the electrical harness. While in Detroit working for a U.S. automaker, he gave a talk about his project to a local BMW club, and a man in the audience said he had a coffee table that used an original 917’s 15-inch wheel as a base. Eaton measured the wheel for his replica, created them in CAD, and has his units cast in magnesium, fitted with Michelin road-legal race tires. Eaton then got BBS to make center-lock nuts that help address some of the wheel bearing reliability issues on the original race car. Not only is the story fascinating, the copy is so good that the Goodwood Festival of Speed used an Icon 917K for its automotive sculpture.
Icon had planned to sell the steel chassis and fiberglass bodywork as a rolling chassis for £95,000 ($110,295 U.S.), but the company will do turnkey cars as described for £200,000 ($232,200 U.S.). Upgrades like carbon fiber bodywork instead of fiberglass are available, and with so much room in the engine bay, more powerful, water-cooled Porsche engines will fit, too, including the turbocharged kind. Icon says it will build no more than five examples per year, capped at 60 units total, and order books are open now.