After easing out of F1 Grand Prix racing in the early 1960s, Porsche refocused on sports car racing. The versatile mid-engined Porsche 718 had featured in various classes since its debut in 1958, and was briefly replaced by the flying silver Porsche 804, which secured the company’s only F1 victory in the 1962 French Grand Prix. But ending F1 involvement freed up funds to improve Porsche’s competitiveness in the GT class.
The current GT competitor was the 356 Carrera 2, a modified road car that was looking tired compared to shiny stars being introduced by the likes of Alfa Romeo and Abarth. A new car was required, with a road-going version to secure homologation. One hundred would have to be produced to meet the rules, and the Porsche design team started with a blank sheet of paper. Lead designer was Ferry ‘Butzi’ Porsche, the founder’s grandson.
His innovative solution was the first ‘plastic’ Porsche, with a very attractive fibreglass coupe body bonded to a steel chassis, which perforce carried a tuned four-cylinder engine from the Carrera 2, as the intended flat six was not ready. After testing, the stunning Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was revealed to the waiting world in November 1963. Waiting it was – Porsche’s canny plan to get a ‘free’ sports racer worked out perfectly, with the vast majority of 90 cars allocated for public sale ordered within weeks. This ensured that the homologation rules were fully satisfied by the following spring, leaving Porsche 30 cars with which to go racing.
This exclusive machine duly enjoyed considerable all-round track success – including outright Targa Florio victory, class wins at Le Mans and second place in the Monte Carlo Rally. Porsche’s 904 Carrera GTS remains the company’s only true dual-purpose road/race car and is rightly regarded as one of the finest cars they ever made.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1963 (until 1964)
1,966 cc DOHC Flat Four
Top speed of 160 mph (257 km/h);0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 5.3 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The 904 was the first in a line of sports racers that would culminate in the 917, which gave Porsche its first outright wins in the Le Mans 24 (1970 and 1971) – this awesome beast hit 60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 2.5 seconds on the way to a top speed of 255 mph (410 km/h). Phewwhatascorcher!