Sunday, November 9, 2008

Porsche Racer

Porsche Racer

Having axed its expensive Formula One program at the end of 1962, Porsche turned once more to sports car racing as a means of improving and marketing its road cars.

The Type 356-based Abarth-Carreras had flown the Porsche flag in international racing during the early 1960s, but an entirely new design was now deemed necessary to meet the strengthening opposition. A minimum of 100 road-usable cars had to be made to meet the FIA's homologation requirements, a stipulation that made a complex spaceframe design like the Type 718 RSK a non-starter, so Porsche's Technical Director, Dr. Hans Tomala, started with a clean sheet. In creating the legendary 904, Tomala opted for a chassis comprising a pair of steel, cross-braced, box sections, to which the fiberglass body shell was bonded.

Designed by Ferry Porsche's eldest son "Butzi," the body was manufactured by the Heinkel aircraft company and is widely recognized as one of Porsche's most elegant, while the Zuffenhausen firm's recent Formula One experience was reflected in the 904's state-of-the-art suspension, which featured double wishbones all around.

Delivered new in February 1964 to Robert Buchet, well-known privateer racer and French Porsche distributor in the 1960s, chassis number 021 participated in period in the 1964 Tour de Corse, 1965 Le Mans, 1965 Reims 12 Hours, 1965 Routes du Nord, and 1965 Coupe des Alpes, where the car was damaged by Buchet. Chassis number 021 was immediately returned to Porsche for repair, where at the same time it was deemed wise to "upgrade" the car to later Series Two 904/6 specification, with central fuel filler, higher door sills, and different engine mountings to the chassis. Subsequently, the car participated in numerous other French rallies with success and in style until it was sold in 1968.

It should be noted that this 904 has continuous history from new and is fitted since the 1970s with a later 6-cylinder, 2.8-liter RSR block with a Kugelfischer injection pump and twin ignition producing an estimated 300 hp. This combination is obviously a guaranteed recipe for exhilarating performance. Bernard Consten has owned the car since 1994. It has completed less than 3,000 km since a completely documented restoration and is today still in concours condition and on the button, ready to participate in the most prestigious track or lawn events.

This car sold for $888,465 at the Bonhams Goodwood Revival sale in Sussex, England, on September 19, 2008.

By definition, racing cars lead hard lives. They are conceived and built as weapons for a battle, to be used, abused, worn out, and thrown away when they break or the next, faster version comes along. In the real world, they take a terrible beating—that's their job. Finding "pristine" race cars is almost a contradiction in terms, like meeting an old boxer without a broken nose and cauliflower ears.

Of course, both noses and cars can be fixed after the fact, and the collector world is filled with old racing cars far more beautiful than they were when they were working for a living. A serious collector often has to face the questions involved in choosing between owning a car with great history but a long list of repairs and replaced bits, or buying one that stayed pure and original by never seeing serious action. A related question, which applies particularly to newer-style cars where body and chassis are inextricably commingled, is "What constitutes a repair?" If you bent the frame and the factory "fixed" it by slipping effectively a new car under the chassis plate, does it remain the original car? These are very interesting questions, and very real ones.

Porsche's 904 was an innovative and transitional car, the last of the 4-cam, 4-cylinder racers. It was conceived and built after the company had committed itself to the 6-cylinder 911 series but before that engine was considered competition-ready. The chassis/body was entirely new for Porsche, using a sheetmetal box frame (think of a ladder frame but with very tall, narrow, fabricated sheetmetal side members) bonded permanently to a structural fiberglass body.

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