The wild journey of Porsche 917-022 from Steve McQueen to Jerry Seinfeld
Jerry Seinfeld and Porsche go together like golf and marine biology. The host of the popular show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee has an incredible collection of Porsches, some with more… interesting histories than others. One such car in his stable is the Porsche 917K that was prominently featured in Steve McQueen’s 1971 racing flick Le Mans.
On a recent episode of Spike Feresten’s podcast, Spike’s Car Radio, Jerry and his car consigliere Sam Cabiglio recounted how the film-famous ride came to reside in Seinfeld’s collection. The story, as it turns out, was a lot more intricate than we expected.
In 1970, McQueen’s production company, Solar Productions, purchased 917K chassis number 022 new from Porsche for Le Mans. After the film, the car was owned by a litany of racers whose competition pedigree is enough to make any Porschephile’s eyes pop out of their head.
Reinhold Joest bought the 917 to race in 1971, but eventually had to sell the car, as a bank had put a lien on it. Luckily, Brian Redman picked up the check in 1975. According to Cabiglio, Redman paid around $15,000 (around $72,000 today) against the wishes of his wife. Then, the famous Richard Attwood bought the car in 1975 and had it repainted in the Salzburg livery to match the 917 with which he’d won the 1970 24 Hours of Le Mans.
In 2000, 022 crossed the block at RM Sotheby’s Monterey auction, selling for $1,320,000 including premium. That record smashed the previous auction record for a 917, which was set by a long-tailed 917LH that sold for $1,047,500 at Pebble Beach in 1998. (Fun fact: one of the other 917Ks—the short-tail variant— used in the Le Mans film sold in 2017 at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach auction for $14,080,000, a record for 917s and the Porsche marque as a whole.)
Auction reporter Rick Carey performed an evaluation of the car prior to the Monterey sale in 2000, noting that “Steve McQueen’s starring 917K from Le Mans was then sold to Joest Kauhsen who raced it with some success in the ’71 season, then to Brian Redman [and] Richard Attwood. Freshly repainted in Gulf colors, otherwise as last raced by Attwood. Dash covering [is] peeling.”
During the banter on Spike’s podcast, it comes out that Jerry and Sam (Cabiglio) were approached by Bill Noon of Symbolic International, a San Diego-based high-end competition and classic car dealership, to purchase 022. (Symbolic had helped Richard Attwood bring the car across the Atlantic prior to the 2000 RM sale.)
At the time, Seinfeld and his cadre decided against purchasing it. Instead, the car wound up in the collection of famous East-Coast Porsche Collector Frank Gallogly, who owned the car for just eight months. In April of 2001, Symbolic International acquired the car. Then, according to the podcast, a few things happened in quick succession that would ultimately set the hook for Seinfeld.
Right around that early April 2001 time period, Bill Noon again reached out to Seinfeld and Cabiglio, alerting them that Symbolic had taken delivery of 022. He asked if they’d like to come and have a look at the car—a private viewing of sorts. At the same time, Feresten also called up Seinfeld. He told Jerry that whether he believed it or not, Steve Mcqueen’s 917 was sitting in a showroom on La Cienega Boulevard. Obviously, the car’s visibility from street view was commanding attention.
After that, Seinfeld, Cabiglio, and Feresten headed over to the storage area (they describe it as more of a parking garage) to check it out. What was meant to be a 20-minute trip turned into two hours, as the three of them couldn’t stop staring at the long, low, and wide proportions that make the 917 silhouette so recognizable.
Seinfeld was unconvinced that, even as an established Porsche collector, he deserved to own this car, until Feresten turned to him and said, “I think Steve McQueen is about to get really hot.” Seinfeld says that line is a significant reason why he owns the car today. (It also helps that Feresten was dead-on in his prediction—just look at what McQueen’s other film-famous car recently netted at auction.)
Apparently, Seinfeld’s friend and fellow film star James Spader was always nagging him that “the one thing missing from your collection is a race car.” While Seinfeld didn’t think much of it, as Cabiglio recalls, race cars were just heating up as collectibles around the turn of the century, thanks in large part to growing interest in vintage racing.
Seeing the car at the racetrack would help tip the scales in favor of Seinfeld’s purchase. Symbolic invited Jerry, Sam, and Spike out to Willow Springs Raceway to watch a Ferrari 512 S (which also starred in Le Mans) stretch its legs. Symbolic also mentioned that the 917 would be there, and—lo and behold—Chad McQueen, Steve’s son, would be dropping by to run it.
Things didn’t all quite go as planned. At one point, one of 022’s front wheels fell off the vehicle mid-turn. Still, in Seinfeld’s eyes, the incident couldn’t outweigh the perfect amalgamation of nostalgia, celebrity, and fanfare—both for the car and McQueen. He had to have it.
Obviously we don’t all have the resources at Seinfeld’s disposal, but many of us know the feeling of the universe conspiring to bring owner and car together. That’s a sensation we can all appreciate. Do you have a great story behind a car in your collection or a collection you know of? Let us know in the Hagerty forums below.