Porsche 904 GTS

An all-round champion

Homologated in 1964 to race in the GT class, the 904 opens a new chapter in Porsche's history by being the first model of the brand to have a mid-engine.

Dans l’évocation cinématographique de cette course prestigieuse, la réalité et la fiction se croisent sans cesse et les séquences réalisées à bord d’une voiture qui a réellement participé à la course apportent vraiment un réalisme incomparable à l’histoire qui est racontée à l’écran. Une impression renforcée par le fait que Steve McQueen, qui interprète le héros du film, est un pilote chevronné et talentueux.

At the Coupes de Paris held at Montlhéry on 19 September 1965, private driver Robert Buchet came 5th overall and 1st in the GT 2 Litres category. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©  Dominique Pascal Archives & Collections

At the end of 1962, after two mixed seasons in Formula 1, Porsche decided to devote most of its sporting activities to the Sport and Grand Touring categories. To do this, the engineers of Zuffenhausen designed the 904, a resolutely modern model capable of winning both on the racetrack in sprint and endurance, as well as in rallying and hill climbing. A successful gamble for this multidisciplinary car that dominated the 1964 and 1965 seasons.

To meet the homologation standards of the Grand Touring category in force at the time, the Project 904, whose official name is Porsche 904 Carrera GTS, must be built at a minimum of 100 units in twelve months. To be profitable, it is also necessary that this car quickly attracts a sporty clientele, which explains the technical and economic solutions chosen for its design. The 904 was presented to the press on November 26, 1963, at the Solitude circuit near Stuttgart. That day, the company’s test drivers, Edgar Barth and Herbert Linge, gave such a breath-taking demonstration that 20 of the 90 cars available for sale were ordered straight away: the factory kept the first ten units in reserve. 

At the 1964 12 Hours of Reims, an event counting for the International Brands Championship, the Annie Soisbault-Claude Dubois team finished 13th overall. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Dominique Pascal Archives & Collections

An immediate success! 

Finally, about 20 additional chassis were produced, 4 of which were not assembled and were later used as spare parts stock.  The first 100 cars were built in just 4 months in a new factory where the new 901/911 were also produced. The first "customer" copy was sold in the United States in January 1964. By the end of 1965, the 904 still offered such potential in racing that Porsche considered building a second series of 100 units. However, Ferdinand Piëch, the head of the racing division, was against it, preferring to concentrate on the development of the future Carrera 6. The chassis was designed by engineer Schröder's team under the direction of Hans Tolmala.  Alexander "Butzi" Porsche, Ferry Porsche’s son, was commissioned to design the bodywork of the two-seater Coupe, which had outstanding aerodynamics (Cx: 0.33), thanks to the particularly reduced frontal area. The first tests of the prototypes took place on the private track of the factory in Weissach at the end of August 1963. 

For the overall body design, Alexander Porsche took his inspiration from the Le Mans Coupé 718-RS 61, which he refined and streamlined to perfection. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo © Dominique Pascal Archives & Collections

Innovative technique 

For the 904 GTS, Porsche adopted an avant-garde technical design that was to become the standard for racing car chassis in the future. It is a mixed construction comprising welded steel casings and spars for the steel platform. The latter, weighing barely 55 kg, is much more rigid in torsion than the tubular structures normally used. 

The body, produced by the Henkel aircraft manufacturer, is made of polyester resin and layers of superimposed glass fibres. Much lighter, it is also less expensive to manufacture than the traditional shaping of aluminium sheets. The whole is assembled by special bonding and screwing, so that the body plays a major role in the rigidity of this semi-monocoque structure. The Porsche 904 received three types of engines, four, six and eight air-cooled flat cylinders. Most of the models (106 in all) however, were equipped with the 1.9-litre four-cylinder engine with double overhead camshafts developed by Ernst Fuhrmann for the 356 Carrera.

The 904 GTS is the first Porsche to have a mid-rear engine and disc brakes. © IXO Collections SAS - Tous droits réservés. Crédits photo ©  Dominique Pascal Archives & Collections

An impressive track record

The agility, solidity and exemplary stability of the Porsche 904 will allow it to become the queen of international circuits and rallies, winning many victories and taking the 1964 and 1965 International Championship for Manufacturers in the 1,300 to 2,000 cc GT category. From the start of the 1964 Championship, the 904 GTS proved to be extremely competitive and in the 2nd round, at the 12 Hours of Sebring, Briggs Cunningham and Lake Underwood came first in their class, thus inaugurating a long list of achievements as rich as it was eclectic. That year, the 904 GTS won 7 more times in the under 2 Liter GT category and took the first two places overall in the Targa Florio. 

The 1965 season began with a splendid 2nd place for Böringer and Wütherich during the Monte Carlo Rally. During the Manufacturers' Championship, the 904 won 7 of the 11 rounds contested. Finally, it won two more category victories at the start of the 1966 season. From 1964, some chassis were developed in parallel for the Prototype category. If externally these versions are remarkably close to the GT’s, under the bonnet the original 4 cylinders are replaced by 8 cylinders of 2 and 2.2 Liter with a power of 260 hp! Named 904/8, this model was then supported by a 904/6 version with a 2 Liter 6-cylinder engine (210 hp) inherited from the new 911.

Technical specification

Porsche 904 GTS (1964)

Engine: Type 587/3, 4 opposed flat cylinders, mid-rear  

Displacement: 1,967.7 cm3 

Bore x stroke: 92 mm x 74 mm 

Power: 180 hp at 7,800 rpm 

Power supply: 2 Weber 46 IDM2 double body inverted carburetors 

Ignition: dual igniter 

• Distribution: 2 overhead camshafts per bench, 2 valves per cylinder 

Transmission: Type 904/0, rear wheels, 5-speed + A.M. 

Tyres: Dunlop SP Sport 165 x 15 (front and rear) 

Brakes: discs (front and rear) ATE-Dunlop 

Length: 409 cm 

Width: 152 cm 

Height: 106.5 cm 

Wheelbase: 230 cm

Front track: 131.6 cm 

Rear track: 131.2 cm 

Weight (empty): 650 kg 

Maximum speed: 263 km/h

A Spider version

Le scénario du film Le Mans est très classique et ce sont surtout le réalisme des scènes d’action en course et dans les stands qui va intéresser le public. Et pour cause, la plupart d’entre elles ont été tournées au milieu des concurrents lors de la véritable épreuve. L’histoire raconte le retour du piloteMichael Delaney (Steve McQueen) sur le circuit des 24 Heures du Mans après un grave accident lors de l’édition précédente dans lequel son concurrent Pierre Belgetti a trouvé la mort. Durant l’épreuve, il affronte la Ferrari 512 n° 8 d’Erich Stahler (Siegfried Rauch) au volant de sa Porsche 917 n° 20 aux couleurs Gulf, tandis qu’une histoire d’amour se noue entre lui et Lisa (Elga Andersen), la veuve de Pierre Belgetti.

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