It may be the most recognizable ignition key and switch in motorsport history.

It was captured in a few frames of Michael Delaney—aka Steve McQueen—sitting in a 917 K awaiting a fictional start at Le Mans. Against an overcast sky, the clock counts down to 4:00 pm, an official prepares to drop the flag, and Delaney moves his left hand to grip the round key with a Nomex glove. The clock hits straight up, the flag drops, and bam, staging meets the reality of the actual race start from 1970.

The switch was ready for its cinematic debut three years earlier. By 1967, Ferdinand Piëch’s mantra of saving weight wherever possible had been embraced by Porsche’s experimental and racing departments. By then, the norm was to evaluate individual components for additional savings without sacrificing reliability. While the 904, 906, and 910 all used a simple combination ignition switch with a removable key, the new 907 called for a more basic switch as it was being planned. A removable key, which could easily be misplaced, was no longer necessary. After all, Porsche was no longer building race cars that could be considered road legal. 

The perfect switch was sourced through the firm of Kirsten. It was extremely light and had a fixed key that was drilled out, as if to indicate its intended use was purely for competition. The wild ride that carried Porsche from class winner to overall champion, from 907 to 917, coursed through a turn of this key. 

By kind permission of 000 Magazine

Kerry Morse
Kerry Morse

000 Magazine