For all the focus on the 911, it’s worth remembering that it’s only one of the cars Porsche forged its reputation with. The German automaker’s history is packed with race cars that could also venture on normal streets. And that includes the first-gen Cayenne SUV. But among the newly-unveiled “Unseen” concepts is a modern take on a different car: the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS.
The Porsche 904 Carrera GTS tangoed with giants—and slew them
In the early 1960s, Porsche was finishing up its time in Formula One, and wanted to get back to sports car racing, Hagerty reports. However, its last racer, the 718 (whose name appears on the current Boxster and Cayman), wouldn’t do. Unfortunately, financial pressure limited the German automaker’s material choices, Petrolicious reports.
But even so, the 1963 Porsche 904 Carrera GTS created a few firsts for the company. It was the first Porsche with a ladder frame, Hagerty reports. It was the automaker’s first use of a fiberglass body. Said body has an impressively low drag coefficient of 0.34, RM Sotheby’s reports.
Its fiberglass-and-steel construction makes the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS stiff and light, Classic Driver reports. That’s further enhanced by the car’s overall dimensions. In addition to weighing just 1444 pounds, the 904 Carrera GTS is only 42” tall, Revs Institute reports. And keep in mind, Porsche didn’t just make racing versions of the 904. It had to make road-legal versions for homologation purposes, too.
The Porsche 904 Carrera GTS’ low weight meant it could make the most of its engine. Both the road and race cars have mid-mounted 2.0-liter flat-4 engines. The road-going 904 has 180 hp, Revs Institute reports, while the race version has 200 hp, Road & Track reports. A few, though, came with a 2.0-liter flat-6 based on the 911’s engine, with 210 hp, R&T reports.
But despite, or perhaps because of its humble origins and size, the Porsche 904 Carrera GTS was an extremely successful racer, R&T reports. It took 1st and 2nd place at the 1964 Targa de Florio and won its class at that year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. And privately-owned 904s won races all throughout the 60s against larger and more powerful cars. At least one competed in rallies, Car and Driver reports.
The Porsche 904 Living Legend has a fitting name and Ducati power
Over the years, several Porsches have embraced the 904 Carrera GTS’ light-weight ethos. The various GT-trim cars, including the Cayman GT4, as well as the Carrera GT supercar. But the 2013 Porsche 904 Living Legend concept—yes, that’s its full name—goes even further.
While the Porsche 904 Living Legend shares a name with the Carrera GTS, it’s also inspired by a Volkswagen, the XL Sport, Motor Trend explains. The XL Sport, as its name implies, is a more performance-oriented version of the hyper-frugal XL, R&T reports. It has the XL’s carbon-fiber chassis, carbon-ceramic brakes, magnesium wheels, pushrod suspension, and Lamborghini-derived rear wing. Also, the 0.258-drag-coefficient body, Motor1 reports.
However, the XL Sport doesn’t have a diesel-hybrid powertrain like the original XL. Instead, it has the 1199cc V-twin engine from a Ducati 1199, rated at 200 hp and 100 lb-ft, Top Gear reports. Plus, it redlined at 12,000 RPM.
The Porsche 904 Living Legend’s technical specs are essentially identical to the XL Sport, Motor1 reports. That includes the 5.7-second 0-62 mph time and 168-mph top speed. Or rather, they would have been identical.
Could it ever see production?
Unfortunately, the Porsche 904 Living Legend never really lived. Porsche made a physical mockup of the car, but it never went further than that, Autoweek reports.
And, while the XL1 went into limited production, the XL Sport has remained a one-off concept. A fully-operational one, admittedly, Top Gear reports, but a one-off nevertheless.
That doesn’t mean elements of the Porsche 904 Living Legend couldn’t end up in future products. Such was the case with the Taycan, Motor1 reports. But as of this writing, the only way to get your hands on a 904 is to get one of the original models.
Though that won’t be easy. In June 2020, one sold at an RM Sotheby’s auction for the equivalent of $820,193. And in February 2020, another example went for $2,269,436.
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