Porsche had been immensely successfully in sports car racing throughout the 1950s. Cars like the 550 and the 718 RSK had got the manufacturer consistent wins and had a distinct technological advantage over competitors. With the advent of Formula 1 racing in the early 60s, Porsche hoped to replicate this success in this form of motorsport as well. This shift did not go as planned and Porsche quit F1 after 1962. The Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was then developed to reassert the firm’s superiority in GT racing.
The Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was the first hard top, mid engined Porsche to have ever been sold to the public. It was also the last of the four cylinder Porsche cars up until the 924 of the mid ‘70s – the parallelly-developed 911 was to be fitted with a flat six as standard. The body, designed by Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche (grandson of founder Ferdinand Porsche) was composed entirely of fibreglass. Porsche took inspiration from Colin Chapman’s Lotus cars and hoped to emulate the benefits of lightweight construction that those cars enjoyed. The Heinkel Aircraft Company was roped in to manufacture the body, given their expertise in this field. The Porsche 904 was being designed to appeal to a wider customer base, to this end the expensive space frame chassis of the earlier 550s and 718s was ditched for a simpler ladder frame structure. The fibreglass body was bonded directly on to this for greater rigidity. The suspension incorporated double wishbones all around, a shift from the trailing arm front and swingaxle rear suspension seen on cars from the Stuttgart manufacturer before this.
The 904’s engine had been designed keeping in mind the flat six from the 911, but the slow development of that motor caused Porsche to use an updated version of the Type 587 flat four 2.0-litre from the 356. This 587/2 motor produced 155 bhp in road trim, but went up to 180 bhp when the race spec exhaust system was fitted. The 5 speed manual was derived from the 911’s gearbox, with changes to make it a better fit in the 904’s mid engined layout. This set up combined with the low kerbweight (1,443 lbs, 655 kg) allowed the 904 to get to a top speed of 160 mph (257 kmph) and do the 0 to 60 mph (96 kmph) sprint in less than 6 seconds.
The Porsche 904 enjoyed reasonable competition success even though its small motor was a limiting factor. The car’s most notable result was the 1964 Targa Floria, where the 904 beat out its six cylinder rivals to win the event. It also won its class in Sebring that year. Other notable successes include a 3rd place at the Nurburgring 1000 km and all five 904s finishing the 1964 Le Mans event, with the highest placed car at 7th overall. For 1965, there weren’t any endurance race victories for the 904, although the car consisted found itself on the podium in events the world over.
Given the FIA’s homologation regulations, only about 120 examples of the Porsche 904 were built. This included 104 examples with the four cylinder engine and 10 fitted with the Porsche 911’s flat six, while the last six came fitted with an F1 – Type flat 8 engine. This makes the car seen here of rarefied pedigree. Up for auction at Artcurial’s Retromobile 2018 sale, this flat six variant of the Porsche 904 was one of 50 built in 1964. The car saw competitive action between 1964 and 1969, appearing in 24 events. It won five of those outright, was first in class twice and finished 2nd in the Coupe de l’USA in 1969 at Montlhéry and sixth overall in the 1964 Tour de France Automobile. Originally sold with the flat four, this particular car was retrofitted with the 2.7-litre flat six. A restored period correct flat four is also available with this 904.
In the post 911 era, Porsches would become increasingly specialised in their roles, a clear demarcation would become visible between the out and out race cars and the more amateur friendly road going models. Easily one of the more desirable looking Porsches ever, the 904 was also the last in line of Porsches which could serve both as regular road going cars as well as race cars. Photos courtesy Artcurial Motorcars