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917L 1

Longtails Then And Now

In the most recent Top gear the luckiest man in the whole of the human race, aka, Chris Evans got to tool around in not 1 but 2 McLaren Longtails. First there was the classic F1 GTR Longtail. This gave a historical perspective to the new model, the 675LT. Thing is if you are at all familiar with sports car racing you’ll undoubtedly know that Porsche has been lengthening its tails since the late 1960’s. First there was the 907 Longtail followed by the 908. The benefit being that a Longtail creates less drag which leads to more straight line speed. This comes in handy when you consider the Mulsanne Straight at the time was 3.7 miles long. No chicanes, just one massive straight. So all the Manufacturers were looking to gain any advantage on the straight they could. Enter the Longtail.

917L 2

Probably the most famous Longtail not mentioned by Mr. Evans is the 917L (L for “Langheck” which is German for, Long tail). The 917 is one of the most legendary racing cars in history. Porsche enthusiasts get all tight in the pants at its mere mention. It won Le Mans overall in 1970 and 1971. In 71 it set a distance record that wasn’t broken until 2010. Yes the track went through some changes to slow the cars down but that is still hugely impressive. The car was immortalized by Steve McQueen in the movie “Le Mans”. It is one of the greatest things mankind has ever made and at its heart was a flat 12. Not a pure boxer mind you, a 180 degree “V” that created the flat 12.  Did I mention it sounded biblical? No? I am hard pressed to think of any racing car that sounded better. Don’t believe me, watch Patrick Long drop the hammer around Willow Springs.

Here’s the thing while the 917L was monumentally fast down the straight it was almost uncontrollable. At certain points it actually created aerodynamic lift. At the speeds these cars were going (well over 220) any accident was almost certainly a death sentence. An improved version was raced in 1971 and managed to capture pole position. However non of the 3 Longtails entered finished the race.

917L 1

Fast Forward 26 years and McLaren launched its Longtail in an attempt to compete with rule bending competition. See after a few years of getting their noses knocked in by the original F1 GTR the competition got creative. They began exploiting a loophole in the rules that only required a very, very small amount of production based cars be produced. So what they all did was build a pure bread racing machine, and make the minimal amount of modifications to make them street legal. McLaren took up the challenge and the end Result was the F1 GTR Longtail. Which brings us to today and the 675LT, loved by Jenson Button and officially (Spoiler Alert)… the new lap record holder around the Top Gear Test Track.


About Chad Kennedy

Chad burst from the womb wearing a racing suit and a helmet. Chad's passion for cars is in his very DNA. His father was a gear head and passed on the tradition through owning such classics as a '66 Mustang and a '59 Corvette all while taking him to various race tracks in the area. Chad likes to wrench on his rides whenever possible, forgoing the stealership. Chad is an avid motorsports fan with particular interest in endurance/sports car racing. When not online writing for Shifting Lanes, you can find him working at the local golf course teaching people how to swing or hooning a golf cart at impossible speeds.

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