Porsche 904 GTS (1965) Review
Classic Metal: Porsche 904 GTS. Come for a ride in this wild 1960s factory special
Porsche 904 GTS
On any other day, it wouldn't be an easy task to recognise the origin of the low-slung silver streak sitting alone at the end of pit lane.
If you're weren't a Porsche trainspotter, from a distance it could be any number of generic kit cars from the 1970s, and even up-close, there's not an identifying badge anywhere on its petite body to lend more of a clue.
But on this day, with a plethora of Porsche crests flapping on flagpoles, and an assortment of jellybean-coloured Cayman Rs assembled at the other end of Mallorca's RennArena pit lane, its origins are as clear as the blue sky reflecting off its flanks. The little-known Porsche 904 Carrera GTS is part of the German carmaker's rolling museum and is here to showcase the company's heritage - forging a link with the past to today's lightweight and more powerful Cayman R.
The 904 GTS was developed after the company pulled out of F1 in 1963, but used some of the lessons it learnt from Grand Prix racing to introduce new technologies to its road-going stable. It's the first street-legal Porsche to utilise a lightweight tube spaceframe structure draped in fibreglass-
reinforced plastic body panels. It was also the first Porsche not to feature torsion-bar suspension - instead riding on coil springs with triangular arms - as well as four-wheel disc brakes.
It was only street-legal to meet the requirements for sportscar racing, with Porsche building 106 of them for customers, powered by a cracking 132kW 2.0-litre flat-four with hemispherical cylinder heads.
On top of that, there were two race-only versions with the 2.0-litre flat-eight from the 804 F1 car, but the car here creates the link to the Cayman R by being one of the six factory racers built with a 154kW version of the 911's flat-six.
As I climb into the 904's miniscule two-seater cockpit, dropping my date into the equally tiny leather seat and extending my feet diagonally into the centre of the offset footwell, I find I'm rubbing shoulders - literally - with two-time World Rally Champion Walter Rohrl. The 64-year-old Porsche ambassador is still whippet thin, but well over six-feet tall and the cabin feels like it's full of arms and legs, with not a seatbelt in sight to keep them from banging into each other.
As I tuck my hands down by my side and curl my toes into the firewall, Rohrl twists the key in the centre of the dash and the glorious little flat-six whirrs into life, initially sucking a deep sigh of fresh air before settling into a smooth, yet bass-filled idle that gently vibrates through the small of my back.
Rohrl dips the floor-hinged clutch, shuffles the stubby gearlever between our knees back-and-down to engage first gear and then clears the six's throat before we trundle down pit lane for a couple of laps on the tight and twisty Mallorcan circuit.
And he doesn't hold back! Rohrl nails it it out of the first hairpin into a flat-out, off-camber right hander that heads downhill. The highly-tuned flat six sounds gloriously rich as the tacho winds its way into the 7000rpm redline and its three 46mm downdraught Webers gulp down oxygen before being mixed with a mechanical melody from its internals and its raspy exhaust.
And, primarily due to the fact that the 904 GTS weighs just over 650kg and has a better power-to-weight ratio than a current 911 GT3, it feels pretty quick too!
What's most impressive, however, is the way it slices through the twisty stuff. Understandably, the German rally ace is pretty ginger on the old girl under brakes, but then his feet shuffle across the pedals as he double-declutches down through the gears before throwing the nose of the 904 towards the apex.
It points hard and fast and sits remarkably flat through the corner, but to maintain momentum approaching the exit, he jabs the throttle hard and the rear gently swings out, the rear tyres chirp and his elbow arcs from my knee across my face as he applies just enough opposite lock to set it up for the quick change of direction into the esses.
Both Rohrl and the 904 look and feel busy as they dance in unison, sliding and drifting, shuffling and dipping. Yet within two corners, let alone two laps, it's easy to comprehend just how the 904 scored back-to-back victories in the Targa Florio, and won numerous class victories in long-distance sportscar races on its way to claiming the 1964 GT World Championship for cars up to 2.0 litres. It even finished second in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally.
The 904 GTS also makes the Cayman R's genetic lineage a whole lot clearer.
1965 PORSCHE 904 GTS
ENGINE: 1966cc flat 6, DOHC, 12v, triple Weber carburettors
GEARBOX: 5-speed manual
TOP SPEED: 263km/h
VALUE: $900,000 (estimated)
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