The Porsche 904 GTS was unveiled in 1963 as the German company’s primary sports racing car. It was powered not by their new flat-six but by the tried and tested four-cam flat-four, and it was built with a fiberglass body bonded to a steel ladder chassis.
Interestingly the fiberglass bodies were built by Heinkel – the same company that had built the Heinkel He 111, the primary bomber used by the Luftwaffe during World War II.
Fast Facts – The Porsche 904 GTS
- Also known as the Porsche Carrera GTS, the 904 GTS was developed by Porsche as they left Formula 1 behind the focus on sports car racing.
- The 904 made use of an unusual steel ladder type chassis with a fiberglass body bonded onto it for added rigidity. The engine was rear-mid mounted with power sent to the rear wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.
- Porsche had developed the 904 with a single purpose in mind – racing. The car wouldn’t be a disappointment, winning a slew of overall and class wins through the mid-1960s and starting the series of vehicles that would evolve into the all-conquering Porsche 917.
- The 904 GTS you see here was delivered new (off a Pan Am jet no less) in California in early 1964 to its first owner – Steve Earle. In 1966 the car was sold to Hollywood superstar Robert Redford, who would keep it for almost a decade.
The 904 – A New Kind Of Porsche
The development program for the Porsche 904 rose out of the ashes of the German company’s retreat from Formula 1. Even in the early 1960s the cost of constant development was high in the world of F1, and smaller automakers like Porsche tended to struggle.
The most notable successes for Porsche in Formula 1 occurred in their final season – 1962. They had developed the Porsche 804 specifically for F1, as well as an advanced flat-eight engine.
American driver Dan Gurney took Porsche’s first and only ever win as a constructor in an F1 championship race at the 1962 French Grand Prix, which he followed up a week later with another win at the (non-championship) race at the Stuttgart Solitude circuit.
Porsche had left Formula 1 behind in 1963, choosing to instead focus on the development of a new kind of Porsche, specifically developed for sports car racing in the under two liter class.
A new steel ladder type chassis was designed in conjunction with a load-bearing fiberglass body that would be built by former aircraft manufacturer Heinkel. Porsche’s famous Type 587 2.0 liter four-cam flat-four would provide the power, which was sent to the rear wheels by way of a rear-mounted 5-speed transaxle.
Porsche engineers had deliberately designed the engine bay of the 904 to be large enough to accommodate both the newly developed flat-six destined for the then-new Porsche 911, as well as the fire-breathing flat-eight engine they had developed for F1.
While most 904s received the four-cam flat-four, 10 were fitted with the flat-six, and six were fitted with the flat-eight.
Due to homologation requirements Porsche needed to manufacturer and sell 100 or more examples of the car so that they could race it. Between 155 bhp and 180 bhp was produced by the engine depending on the state of tune and the race ready cars weighed just 1,443 lbs (655 kgs).
The Porsche 904 On Track
The race victories for the 904 came thick and fast, taking a class win at Sebring in 1964 followed by an outright victory in the Targa Florio.
The 904 would then go on to take a slew of class wins and high placements at races from the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Nürburgring 1,000kms, the Reims 12 Hours, and the Monte Carlo Rally to name but a few.
The Porsche 904 was succeeded by the Porsche 906 in 1966, followed by the 910, eventually culminating in the Porsche 917 – one of the most successful racing cars of all time.
The 1964 Porsche 904 GTS Shown Here
The car you see here was delivered new at the beginning of 1964 to Californian Steve Earle who later went on to found the popular Monterey Historic Races at Laguna Seca.
Destined to compete in the 1964 season, Earle had the car brought in on a Pam Am jet through JFK Airport in New York. Shortly thereafter the car was sold to Steve Berg and promptly put to work, racing at circuits like Riverside, Laguna Seca, Willow Springs, and the Santa Barbara Road Races.
By 1966 Berg had placed this car up for sale in a 1966 issue of Competition Press as he had a Porsche 906 on the way. This classified ad was seen by Robert Redford, who bought the car and kept it for close to a decade.
In the years since this 904 has been restored and the original engine has vanished, replaced by a more powerful 2.0 liter Porsche flat-six engine – a common upgrade. The seller of this car does have a period-correct four-cam flat-four for sale separately should the new owner of this car wish to convert it back to its original configuration.
Bonhams will be offering this 904 GTS for sale on the 3rd of February with a price estimate of $1.5 – $1.7 million USD, if you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can click here to visit the listing.
Images courtesy of Bonhams
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