A Unique Kind of Replica

            Back in 1978 Larry Mertens got the chance to purchase a kit car. But this car was unlike most kit cars out there. It was a Laser 917.
            Built by Elite Enterprises in Okalo, MN, the Laser 917 was built as a replica car to look like the Porsche 917. Porsche built the 917 to be their marque racer at the time and it made its debut in 1969. While it didn’t fare very well in its first season, the next two years, 1970 and 1971, saw the car win at what most consider the ultimate endurance test for a vehicle, the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

            The Laser 917 was designed and built to look like the Porsche racer but to be more street friendly. Like many kit and replica cars from the early ‘70s, Elite based their 917 on a Volkswagon Beetle chassis. It was the classic Beetle chassis used during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, not that of the Super Beetle which was too long for the fiberglass molded body.
            While the original 917 was powered by a monster flat 12 engine that, over its life ranged from 4.5 to 5 liters of displacement and could launch the car from zero to 60 in just over two seconds, Larry’s 917 has a VW Porsche engine producing 185 horses sitting behind the cockpit.
            “It can go from zero to 60 in under six seconds,” Larry said, adding that the car is incredibly light. “It has a curb weight of only 1900 pounds.”
            Mostly Larry drives his car to shows but will take it out and run it every once in a while just for the fun of it.
            “It’s not the kind of car you want to drive to the grocery,” he said. “You’d never get it out of second gear.” He then pointed out that “the engine doesn’t really work well until you hit 100.”
            Not that he ever sees that number being pegged on his speedometer. “Well, not often,” he smiled.
            There’s no paint on a Laser since the colored fiberglass was injected into the mold during manufacturing. In the case of Larry’s car, it is a metal flake teal.
            Larry is only the second owner of the car, purchasing it in Fargo, ND. “I think it was made in 1973,” he said. “There’s really no way of telling but based on the registration number I’m pretty sure that’s when it was made.” His registration number is 308.
            Yes, that sounds like a low number and it is. These cars are pretty rare. According to information Larry has been able to find there are only about 200 of these amazing cars registered in North America.
            “We don’t know how many are actually on the road. That number includes the cars that are sitting in barns or in warehouses somewhere,” he said.
            The car, according to Larry, is fun to drive if a little different. “You pretty much lay down to drive it,” he said, adding “You won’t fall asleep because the engine is too loud.”
            Still, beyond it being a rare car, its sheer look, with its racing inspired lines and dramatic gull wing doors, is enough to attract attention and turn heads. When he was driving it back from North Dakota right after he bought it, Larry found that out right away.
            He had stopped at a restaurant to eat and when he came out, he said, there was a throng of people hovering around the car.
            “One guy said ‘It looks like it’s doing 60 even when it’s parked,’” Larry grinned. “I told him, you should see what it looks like when its moving.”

           Yes, Josh and I took a turn in the cockpit. Unfortunately, we didn't get a chance to drive it. This time.


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