A Porsche for all occasions – 904 Carrera GTS

Nowadays, Porsche is known for numerous race victories with specially prepared prototypes. In the early 1960s, things looked quite different. In addition to the road sports car 356, there was the 550 Spyder and the 718 RSK, but both were still made of metal and only suitable for wins in the small classes. However, Porsche wanted to change this circumstance. The small brand from Stuttgart Zuffenhausen strove for overall victories in major sports car races, especially the 24 Hours of Le Mans. To this end, various new vehicles with plastic bodies were built from 1963 onwards, starting with the 904 Carrera GTS. This was intended to replace the 718 and also became the brand’s last racing sports car with a four-cylinder engine designed by Ernst Fuhrmann. To be allowed to compete in the GT class, 100 examples had to be built. Porsche therefore also homologated the new model for road use and attached great importance to ease of maintenance.

100 were required, 116 were built

In this way, the vehicle could be sold to private racing teams and drivers as well as to collectors. However, the road registration also led to the nickname Carrera GTS. Peugeot had already secured all three-digit numbers with a zero in the middle as the designation for passenger cars. Thus, as with the 901, Porsche had to either change the model numbering or find another sales designation.

As is well known, the 901 became the 911. With the 904, they went a different way and officially referred to it everywhere only as the Carrera GTS. Customers were found all over the world. This was also due to the comparatively low sales price of DM 29,700. A total of 116 cars were built by 1965. The factory team itself ultimately also used vehicles with six- or eight-cylinder engines.

First plastic Porsche

For the first time, Porsche didn’t use a body made of sheet steel or aluminium in its vehicle design. However, for cost reasons, the decision was made not to use a tubular steel frame, as was used by some other sports car brands. Instead, a lightweight box frame consisting of two longitudinal members with various cross braces served as the basis for the body made of polyester resin reinforced with glass fibers. Heinkel-Werke in Speyer converted this BASF material into the shape designed by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. The body parts then arrived at Zuffenhausen and were bolted and bonded to the frame. This further promoted torsional rigidity. The initial two-liter four-cylinder engine was located directly behind the two occupants, while the transmission sat behind the rear axle. Meanwhile, the 110-liter gas tank, spare wheel and oil cooler added weight to the front axle.

Including spare wheel and trunk

Yes, you read that right. On board the Porsche 904 was actually a full-sized spare wheel. This was mandatory in the regulations for GT cars at the time. Likewise, there was a trunk in the large rear-opening trunk lid with the dimensions of 65*40*20 centimeters prescribed by the motorsport authority FIA. To keep the center of gravity relatively constant between the axles, the seat shells were firmly attached to the chassis. The steering column and pedals could be adjusted to the size of the driver. For the chassis, Porsche relied on independent wheel suspensions and disc brakes all around. The development also drew on experience from the Formula 1 program, which ended in 1962. In addition to racing, the 904 also made a famous appearance in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally.

Chassis no. 904012, previous owner: Robert Redford

Bonhams is now offering a Porsche 904 Carrera GTS that has a lot of racing history in it. It is the car with chassis number 904012, which left production in silver metallic in January 1964. This made it the second 904 ever to go to a private customer. The 904 was ordered by Steve Earle through Precision Motor Cars in California. Only a few days after completion, the car was already on an air freight pallet and was flown from Stuttgart to the USA. There is no information available to prove that Steve Earle ever raced his 904. Instead, he soon sold it on when he received a Ferrari 250 LM instead. The Porsche was now owned by Steve Berg and ran under the Precision Motor Cars team in eight races during the 1964 season. For 1965 it received Le Mans brakes and a repaint to blue with a silver nose. Steve Berg now raced the car under his own name.

When the new 906 Carrera 6 approached in the spring of 1966, Mr. Berg sold his 904 to the celebrated actor Robert Redford, who kept it for about a decade.

He was followed by Danny McLaughlin and Jim Tidwell and Nelson Rath as owners. In 1982, the sports car moved back across the Atlantic and into the garage of the Belgian Stefan Talpe. He had an extensive restoration carried out. Since no engine had been installed in the car for some time, Mr. Talpe had an early two-litre six-cylinder boxer engine from a 911 installed. Apal also repainted the car in Irish green. In 2016, the car went to Denmark for just under 7 years before being released for auction. Bonhams offered the Porsche together with extensive documentation, numerous pictures and invoices as part of “Les Grandes Marques du Monde 2022” in Paris. The 904 Carrera GTS went over the auction table for around 1.4 million euros.

Photos: Bonhams, Dennis Noten Photography