Not many motoring enthusiasts will argue about the game-changing influence of the Porsche 904 when it was unveiled in January 1964 – over 50 years ago.
It had several innovations that caused other great names in car making to actually copy; not an admission any of the other proud European makers brands can ever admit to lightly
The Porsche 904’s fibreglass body, was one of the new standards set. But above all, it was a car that you could drive to the race track, wind its speed up to near 250kph and then drive it home.
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, Ferry Porsche's son was responsible for the styling of the 904. After completing the Formula 1 and RS61 projects, Ferdinand had the confidence to use a new styling language with the 904.
Originally, the chassis of the 904 was designed to accept a number of engines and specifically the flat-6 from the upcoming 901 or 911 as we know it. Since the six-cylinder unit was slowly arrived at, a revision of the type 587/2 engine found in the Abarth Carrera was chosen for the original 904. This was Porsche's most famous engine at the time, featuring all-alloy construction, two spark plugs per cylinder and over-head cam shafts.
Porsche engineers, massaged the 587/2 and turned it into the 587/3. Most importantly, they raised horsepower from 155 to 180 at 7200 rpm. Another modification included larger cylinder fins as cooling to the engine was primarily executed with these fins and the large oil cooler.
Optionally, Porsche offered the type 771 eight-cylinder engine with the 904. It was again a two-litre engine, but offered 210 horsepower.
The start of the 904's unsurpassed racing career, began with Baron Antonio Pucci and Colin Davis taking outright victory at 1963 Targa Florio. They drove a standard specification 904 against competition including Porsche eight-cylinder prototypes, Shelby Cobras and Ferraris.
During the rest of the 1964 season, Porsche continued a streak of reliability which enabled them to be unchallenged in their class. The two litre manufacturer's championship was in Porsche's hands.
For the 1965 season, Ferrari posed a major threat with the release of their Dino 166. To match the Ferrari, Porsche modified the 904 to include more horsepower, wider racing tyres, larger brakes and lighter even fibreglass. Again, Porsche took the class wins at the majority of the 1965 events.
“Expertise gained while racing and developing the 550 and RSK Porsches laid the foundation for the 904,” writes Supercarz’ Richard Michael Owen.
“Motivation for the 904 project came after two fledging years of Porsche Grand Prix racing. After abandoning Grand Prix in 1962, development was focused on sports car racing. Specifically it was the 904 which would put Porsche at the top of their favourite game.”
At the time of the 904’s development, FIA demanded that one hundred examples had to be produced to meet acknowledgement as a registered design. So Porsche built 124 of the 904’s.
It was designed as a customer car with a full interior including a heater. This offering marked the first time a closed-top, mid-engined Porsche was sold to the public.
The limited run means that today, each of the cars now collects a seven figure sum, making them affordable only to the rich and famous. This, in turn, has given birth to a busy “replica” industry.
Among the first and still going strong, is Chuck Beck of the USA. And because of the passage of time and new technologies, Beck has created improvements to his replica models that were not available in the early sixties.
elocal contacted Chuck in the States, who stressed that he does not build exact 904 replicas, although the influence of Porsche genius cannot be ignored. His design is the “Beck GTS.”
We can only advise that if you can’t write a cheque for several million for an original 904, Chuck can offer the next best thing- with improvements.
Chuck builds his design for $75,000 USD as a turnkey with a 964 3.6L engine and a 915 gearbox. A right-hand drive model adds about $1500USD to the price tag.
“You can find cheaper products quite easily, and those who provide these alternatives are pleased to take your money,” he said.
The Beck GTS is offered in three optional stages:
1) The "deluxe pre-assembled body package", which is one of the most complete kits available today. This stage can be assembled by the end user in as little as one short weekend.
2) The "roller" package, which is ready to accept the engine of the buyer’s choice.
3) The "turnkey" package. Although Chuck does not directly supply engines or transaxles, it is still possible for the customer to receive a ready to drive car. The Beck GTS is designed for an air cooled flat six.
“For our 550 and 356 models, customers have also used several vintage air-cooled 4 cylinder engines, VW waterboxer, and the Subaru EJ series of engines,” said Chuck.
“For the 904, we had a few clients do their own 4 cyl Type 4 (VW and Porsche 914), one that I am aware of did a Subaru EJ25, no waterboxers that I know of.
“But most have used 6 cylinder 911 engines ranging all the way from a stock 2.0L to a Porsche factory race 3.8L.
Chuck’s personal race car is powered by a 2007 GT3 motor, and is the only factory water-cooled car to date.
The main contact point for Chuck’s World-wide sales is the manufacturing facility, Special Edition, located in Indiana. Chuck, now 78, still loves answering the phone, telling stories, and talking tech.
The cars are delivered with a 12 month/12,000 mile (19,200km) limited warranty, which covers the cars contents and workmanship. The drive train components, as well as a few optional components, are warranted directly by their respective manufacturers.
According to the Kelly Blue Book website, the average car in the US, loses 65% of its value in the first five years a figure which would not be much different in New Zealand.
“We have seen our products sell as high as 100 to 120 percent of their original value, 10 years down the road,” said Chuck.
So it seems the treasured history of the Porsche 904 is so powerful that it transfers to hand-made models inspired by the 904’s 1964 birth. Not a bad investment for anybody living within an hour of the Pukekohe race track. You can drive to the track, win a race and drive it home again!
“During the rest of the 1964 season, Porsche continued a streak of reliability which enabled them to be unchallenged in their class”
“You can drive to the track, win a race and drive it home again”