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Porsche 904 in the driving report: One like no other - the Patina Porsche

Frank Herzog
Porsche 904 Carrera GTS in the driving report
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It's unbelievable. This P orsche 904 Carrera GTS in pristine condition.

Porsche 904 - The first Porsche with plastic body

Lovers of original automobiles go into raptures, soak up the aura that this 48-year-old Porsche 904 Carrera GTS exudes and can't get enough of the patina that the Metallic silver paint on the outer skin with color number 6206 also adorns the two small seat shells covered in navy blue dralon fabric in the narrow passenger compartment.

An Porsche 904 Carrera GTS in itself like a high-dose stimulant for every car fan. Because the incredibly attractive mid-engine sports car, based on the design by Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, still triggers storms of enthusiasm among viewers today. Connoisseurs also celebrate the Porsche 904 as the beginning of a new era at Porsche.

The Porsche 904 should win races - in the GT class. But from 1964 onwards, at least 100 copies of every vehicle that wanted to start there had to be built. In view of this number of units, the Porsche designers did not choose the obvious solution of a vehicle with a tubular frame and light metal shell, because they found the effort to weld the frame and manufacture the body by hand to be too time-consuming. For the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS, they opted for a plastic body with a steel box frame in composite construction - a novelty in Porsche history to date.

Although breaking new ground is always fraught with many problems, the results are optimistic. The body /frame unit, built in the Heinkel aircraft factory in Speyer and weighing only 145 kilograms, proved to be significantly more torsion-resistant than that of a 550 Spider or a Porsche Carrera Abarth. The plan to put a competitive racing car on the wheels also succeeded with ease. A car of this type won just five months after the launch of the Porsche 904 Carrera GTSin April 1964 the Targa Florio. Many victories followed.

Reference car in authentic condition

Our Porsche 904 Carrera GTS with chassis number 904-050 probably didn't have any back then Sniffed racing air. It was delivered on April 7, 1964 - with a Webasto parking heater that hopefully lasted longer than the one in the pre-production car of Richard von Frankenberg, who had to freeze after 200 kilometers on a skiing trip to Kitzbühel due to a heating fault.

The first owner of 904-050 was Jim Hall, who lived in Texas and was the founder of the Chaparral racing car brand. His partner Hap Sharp started in Sebring in 1964 with a 904, but the race took place in March and therefore before our Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was delivered. Hall is said to have dealt intensively with the car's aerodynamics and, in addition to a relatively good drag coefficient, noticed a high level of lift on the front axle. That sounds plausible, especially since Herbert Linge had already noticed a rebound on the front axle of 45 millimeters at 220 km /h during test drives.

After a short time, Hall passed the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS on to a certain Burdette Martin who worked for the ACCUS (Automobile Competition Committee of the United States). In 1969, the Porsche enthusiast Leonard Turner bought the car, who drove it sporadically and competed in two races around 1980. The car was spared any modifications or major repairs, and so it turned gray in the care of Turner, i.e. in its original condition. Exactly such vehicles arouse the enthusiasm of Mario Linke from the Methuselah company in Cologne, who sees them as 'reference cars'. 'What fascinates me is the authenticity. Nothing has been falsified by a restoration, but you can feel how the car left the factory', explains Linke.

He brokered the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS to Daniel Maier, who is very active in historical motorsport and whose family drives and collects historical automobiles with great passion. It goes without saying that Maier also drives the 904, but not in tough races, 'but with consideration and a lot of respect for originality at suitable events'.

Porsche 904 Carrera GTS as an honorable, aged total work of art

The test day in Methuselah on the Porsche run-in and test track in Leipzig offers such an opportunity. After a few laps, Daniel Maier comes back to the pits, opens the car door and offers the classic engine the driver's seat in the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS. It immediately registers a slightly increased pulse rate, but who could stay calm with such an invitation? First of all, it is necessary to overcome the high sill section, some of which shows clear traces of the past.

In some places the paint build-up has flaked away, which at the time for an active reason,Nitro filler and nitro lacquer existed, sometimes some synthetic resin filler was used. Where the plastic Palatal P6 from BASF cracked, you can even see a piece of the glass fiber fabric, which is part of the roughly two millimeter thick plastic shell. But the small damage to the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS is insignificant and just another piece of the mosaic of a total work of art that is over four decades old.

The small doors reaching into the roof make it easier to get into the coupé, which is just 1.06 meters high and whose spartan interior clearly indicates that the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was intended as a racing vehicle. Racing drivers like Herbert Linge, Edgar Barth, Rolf Stommelen, Joakim Bonnier, Antonio Pucci and countless others fought for victory in such an environment.

You study the cockpit with enthusiasm and a certain emotion. But the many impressions cannot be processed in the short time, can only be saved in telegram style. The feeling of sitting in a tub because of the high side skirts in the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS, the large pedals offset to the right, the instrument panel cover deformed by the Texan summer sun, the mileage of only 16,700 miles read or the impressive Les Leston steering wheel 40 centimeters in diameter - all of these are hastily collected snapshots during the launch ceremony. Anyone expecting a bloodcurdling roar from the vertical shaft motor equipped with four camshafts is mistaken. Because currently the boxer engine in the rear of the passengers is doing its job in its civil version.

Despite its racing genes, the Porsche 904 can also be enjoyed on the road

That is why this Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was not only delivered with a roaring Sebring exhaust, but also with it an additional noise-dampening exhaust system and air filters for the carburetor battery, which incidentally comes from Solex in this example, while Weber carburettors were installed on most of the cars. In the castrated street version, the two-liter engine produces 155 hp according to the brochure, which in view of the vehicle's curb weight of 650 kilograms still provides considerable performance. But even better, downright hellish, is the version with sports exhaust, which mobilizes 180 hp at 7,200 rpm. For that version, Paul Frère determined an acceleration from 0 to 100 km /h in 5.5 seconds. An Opel Rekord 1500 at the time took four times as much time for this exercise.

When the 904-050 recently came to Europe from the USA, it wasn't running. Turner had probably not ridden it in over 25 years. 'The clutch was downright rusted up,' recalls Linke, who was facing a major challenge. Because the lover of the original had to be very sensitive and keep as many original parts as possibleget the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS ready to drive.

What it had to replace despite the low mileage were, for example, the engine's connecting rod and crankshaft bearings, which had suffered from the long service life. Renewing the age-old tires, overhauling the shock absorbers and replacing the brake pads and worn-out chassis parts were of course part of this delicate mission. So you don't have to worry about your safety when you thunder across the track with the plastic rocket Porsche 904 Carrera GTS.

The Porsche 904 can be directed playfully

And not least thanks to the ZF steering, which is very direct at 2.1 turns from lock to lock. The Porsche 904 Carrera GTS doesn’t look uncomfortable - it’s astonishing how well it has survived the years. There is hardly a crackle to be heard from the 54 body parts glued together. The five-speed gearbox, however, does not belong to the kind that can be shifted quickly and easily from the wrist, on the other hand, the willingly rotating four-cylinder engine, which increases in performance in the upper speed range and drives the plastic racer quickly, is a delight.

'Driving this car is something very special', enthuses Daniel Maier, 'I'm fascinated by how exactly it still reacts and how sensitively you can handle it.' There are other reasons for the pleasure that a Porsche 904 Carrera GTS brings: 'It's this lightness, you feel like the heaviest part of the car,' says Maier. He took his Porsche dearly to his heart. And he makes it clear: 'I want to save him over time in this state.' Many will be grateful to him.


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