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Always Start Your Porsche 917 With Brake Cleaner

It's a lot of effort to start the car's flat-twelve engine, but the sound is always worth it

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Gif: RM Sotheby’s

An example of the most iconic Porsche race car of all time, and arguably the most iconic race car of all time, a Le Mans-raced Gulf-liveried kurzheck 917, is coming up for sale next month at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction. It didn’t win the race in real life, but this is the car that is depicted as having won the race in Steve McQueen’s Le Mans movie, and that’s maybe even more important. It probably won’t set a record for the most expensive car ever sold, but it wouldn’t shock me to see this one clear 20 million.

The car is currently in the care of Paul Lanzante, world renowned as caretaker for dozens of limited-production racing cars and high-end street cars. The UK-based shop is known for its work with McLaren, Porsche, and Ferrari machines. As a way of promoting the car’s sale, RM Sotheby’s sent a video team to watch Paul go through the procedures of firing the car up.


Given that the car was designed in the 1960s, it’s surprisingly difficult to get up and running. While the 917 is started with a lightweight key in the dashboard ignition switch, there is a lot more to it than just hopping in and twisting the key. It’s not as complex as a modern F1 car, for example, but there are way more steps than I expected.

Lanzante makes a very good point about using brake cleaner rather than gasoline, because the gas might foul the spark plugs and you’ll mess the whole process up. If you’re using a highly evaporative substance like brake cleaner—and you want to make sure you’re using a non-chlorinated version or it won’t burn at all—which is a mixture of heptane and acetone, it’s far less likely to stay on the plug ends as a liquid. That’s one good piece of advice for making a cold engine make booms.


Well anyway, next time you need to start your twenty million dollar Porsche, you’ll have an idea what it takes.