The fiberglass-to-metal body and chassis bonding worked fine for the
projected race life of a 904, then rust began to separate the two elements

With the proven 356 Carrera Abarth having served formidably for three seasons, the imminent arrival of the two-liter Simca Abarth meant that Porsche was going to have to raise the stakes for 1964.

Early in 1963 Ferry Porsche's son, "Butzi," finished a full size model of the new design. Although used already on the body panels of their Grand Prix car, this was the first time Porsche planned to use fiberglass on a sports car. In typical Porsche fashion, this new material was put to additional use on the 904 and it increased torsional rigidity by bonding the fiberglass to the steel ladder-frame chassis.

Not only was the fiberglass body to benefit structurally and in weight savings, but it was cost-effective as well. Rather than undertaking this aspect in-house, the fiberglass bodies were subcontracted to Henkel, an aircraft parts supplier.

The new design was a low-slung, slippery two-seater, and using all of their experience, Porsche created formidable technical specifications to ensure the new race car would possess exceptional handling characteristics. Thanks to the front-mounted fuel tank and mid-engine placement, weight balance was 48/52 when full, changing to 42/58 when empty.

The 904 evolved with the new six-cylinder engine and competition application was inevitable. However, it was clear that this all-new engine would not be ready in time for the 1964 season, so Hans Meyer (from the Grand Prix project team) was employed to entice more power from the existing four-cylinder, four-cam Carrera engine used to good success powering the 356 GTL (the L stood for lightness, about the only thing missing from the standard 356 upon which the chassis was based).

Designated Type 587/3, the final evolution of the 2-liter Carrera engine produced a very healthy 180 hp at an ear-splitting 7,200 rpm. The engine was mated to an all-new five-speed transaxle, known as the type 901 (and later used in the first years of the 911), and with a dog-leg first gear, it dispensed power through a ZF limited slip differential integral with the gearbox.

Inside the svelte 904, the seats were located in a fixed position, and Porsche designers gave the driver the opportunity to adjust the pedals to three separate locations. The steering column was telescopic.

In order to homologate the car, Porsche had to build one hundred examples. The company needed to fill order books quickly to meet the March 31 cut-off date, allowing the car to tackle the premier sports car races in the 1964 season. Henkel produced the bodies, which were painted, wired, and plumbed for fuel and oil tanks at a rate of two per day with deliveries starting in November 1963.
Meanwhile in Zuffenhausen, using the brand new factory-built for the production of the Type 901 Coupe (later forced to be named the 911), Porsche built one 904 per day.

As expected, the 904 GTS proved to be an outstanding race car and in 1964 alone a 904 came in first over-all in the Targa Florio, humbling machinery with far greater displacement. The 904 also recorded class wins at Le Mans, Sebring, Nürburgring, Spa, Reims, and many other courses in both factory teams and private hands. (Courtesy of Christie's)

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:120 approx.
Original List Price:$7,425
Tune Up Cost:$600
Distributor Caps:$65
Chassis Number Location:On horizontal bulkhead under front lid, forward of fuel tank
Engine Number Location:Just below fan input vane
Club Info:Porsche Club of America PO Box 5900, Springfield, VA 22150
Investment Grade:A

This 1963 Porsche 904 GTS Prototype sold at Christie’s sale in Monterey, August 17, 2006, for $565,000. I judge this to be market correct, and a good measure of current values for first-tier Porsches.

As the Porsche 904 is one of the true collectibles of the Porsche world, it has ascended the value chain, along with the 550 Spyders and the 917, to represent “the head of the market” we often write about. If you want to take the temperature of the high-end collector market for Porsches, watching 904 prices is an excellent way to do so. That market has done very well over the past several years, and continues to be strong.
Compared to other vintage machines, the 904 is relatively roomy and user-friendly. The final version of the Carrera four-cam engine has plain bearings and is reasonably reliable. Even the $50,000 rebuild cost isn’t out of line with the value of the car. But 904 owners have another option if they want to use their cars, and that is to slip in an early 911 engine, which can be made to produce much more tractable power and, when set up correctly, is as reliable as a tractor.

The same can’t be said of the innovative fiberglass-to-metal chassis bonding technique, which worked fine for the projected race life of a 904-say three years-and then began to cause problems. Any bit of corrosion between the fiberglass and the metal will cause the body to separate from the chassis. There is a small cottage industry in Europe that rebuilds 904s from the inside out, and it can make owning one more costly than you can imagine.

As a first-tier collectible built in very small numbers, everyone on earth knows the 904 is highly valued. This is one of the trademarks of a true first-tier collectible-that the word is out, and finding a great one cheap is about as likely as winning the lottery. But when it comes time to sell, your investment should, like any broad-based stock index fund, mirror the movements of the overall market.

So what does your crystal ball say about where vintage car values are headed? If values go higher, a 904 is a great way to get there. If they stagnate, the 904 is very unlikely to lose value. If they crash, the Porsche 904s won’t crash as hard as less desirable cars that have become overvalued. And no matter what happens, if you bought your 904 to campaign it, regardless of its current value, you will have a machine that is extremely capable, will be well received in nearly any event in the world, and will certainly make you the envy of historically-aware Porsche owners everywhere.

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