Agile handling and sharp steering made lightweight legend a track star
While the Cayman was created as a road car, the 904 was conceived with motorsport in mind. The Sixties legend was intended as a racer that could also work on the public highway, and is even more focused than the new Porsche.
Having withdrawn from Formula One at the end of 1962, the firm was once again looking to sportscar racing, and the famous Le Mans 24 Hours event. At launch in 1964, the 904 was tasked with taking the company to the top of the gruelling endurance racing tree – and it marked a radical change in direction, too.
Not only was it the first Porsche to feature a ladder chassis, it also pioneered a fibreglass body and coil springs for the suspension. Production of the body was entrusted to aircraft company Heinkel, which used a process that involved spraying shredded fibreglass into a mould.
This technique was far from accurate, meaning the thickness of every 904 shell was inconsistent. As a result, some examples of the car were lighter than others.
Despite these haphazard processes, the sleek racer was an instant hit on the circuit. In 1964, the factory team took overall victory in the brutal Targo Florio road race, where the nimble 2.0-litre flat-four 904 excelled on the twisty Sicilian roads, pulling away from more powerful rivals.
Later in the year, at the Le Mans 24 Hours, six privately entered four-cylinder 904s completed the race, with the leading runner taking victory in the 2.0-litre class. The stunning car in our pictures finished fourth in class, and 11th place overall the same year.
Porsche’s competition department wasn’t finished with developing the 904, though – it created flat-six and flat-eight versions as well. In 1965, a 2.0-litre 904/6 finished fourth overall at Le Mans, and was only beaten by a trio of much more powerful V12-engined Ferraris.
However, the story of the 904 isn’t just one of circuit success, as regulations dictated the racers be based on road-legal models. As a result, Porsche produced 106 cars, turning them out at a
rate of four or five a day.
Even in showroom trim, the 904 was fast. Its four-cylinder engine was tuned to 155bhp – compared to the 130bhp output of the version used in the firm’s rear-engined 356 Carrera 2. The racer boasted 180bhp. Better still, as it used an advanced coil spring set-up in place of Porsche’s traditional torsion bar trailing arm front and swing axle rear suspension, the 904 handled superbly. This was further improved by extremely sharp steering that required only two turns lock to lock.
And even by today’s standards, the car was quick, with the sprint from 0-60mph completed in only 5.7 seconds. If you wanted even more performance, there was always the six-cylinder version.
And fitted with this engine, the link to the Cayman R seems even more appropriate. But whatever powerplant you chose, with its undiluted chassis balance and optimised layout, the 904 shares a great deal with its rival here.
WHY: Classic mid-engined racer is similar in spirit to the Cayman R.
In this review
- 1IntroductionWe see if the extreme new Porsche Cayman R can live up to the reputation of its legendary, track-inspired forebear: the 904...
- 2Porsche 904 - currently readingAgile handling and sharp steering made lightweight legend a track star
- 3Porsche Cayman RFaster, lighter version of sensational coupé promises maximum driving thrills
- 4Facts and figures