In the opinion of many an aficionado, the 904 was the greatest road-going Porsche of all. It certainly set the pattern for a whole generation of racing Porsches, but its beauty cloaked the fact that it wasn’t as aerodynamically perfect as it might have been, and it was overweight, too. Moreover, as caution dictated that the intended but untried 911-based engine be scratched, it used the aging but reliable 180 horsepower Carrera fourcam unit. The 904 was undeniably tough, with its svelte glass fiber body bonded to a sheet steel double-box chassis, and it was certainly effective enough a performer to put Porsche back in the hunt for two liter class domination.
The 904 made its racing debut at Daytona in February 1964, where a single car finished sixth overall and won its class. Another 2-liter prototype class win at Sebring followed, though this time the 904 – the actual car shown here, driven by Briggs Cunningham and Lake Underwood – came ninth overall. Homologation as a GT class racer followed, once the obligatory 100 units were produced.
A 2-liter flat-eight prototype 904 appeared at the Le Mans test weekend, and a few weeks later led the Targa Florio for three laps of the 45-mile Piccolo Madonie circuit. But its suspension failed, and a four-banger 904 driven by the Sicilian Baron Pucci and Colin Davis, son of Bentley Boy Sammy, crossed the line in first place, with another 904 second.
In all, the standard 904 notched up an encouraging total of class wins and overall placings during the remainder of the 1964 season, taking the two liter GT Championship for Porsche.
The 904 had a lot of untapped potential, said its designer “Butzi” Porsche, but the 1964 launch of the 911, whose completely new six-cylinder engine and modified MacPherson Strut front suspension represented a clean break with Porsche tradition, rendered the 904 obsolescent. By 1966, it had been swept out by Porsche cousin Ferdinand Piëch and his Carrera 6.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Briggs Cunningham imported the first Ferrari to race in the US and you can see it in the museum. Learn more