When most people think of Porsche the 911 is the model that instantly comes to mind — understandable, considering that it has been around for over five decades.
However, earlier cars such as the Porsche 904 GTS greatly contributed to the Porsche crest’s global fame. This early 904 has a storied history, once being owned by actor Robert Redford for over a decade. It now seeks a new home at Bonhams 2019 Scottsdale auction.
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After leaving Formula One and freeing-up resources, Porsche developed a sports car that would complete in a range of global events. It was a forward thinking car with double wishbone suspension and space engineered into the engine bay to house larger units in the future. Initially the 904 made use of the Porsche 356 four-cylinder motor, but over time would accept the new 911’s six-cylinder and even an F1 derived flat-eight.
The Porsche 904 saw instant success on its debut at Sebring, USA in 1964, winning its class and finishing 9th overall. This nimble car also proved its worth on events such as the Sicilian Targa Florio, where it again won on the first time of asking against more powerful cars. Five 904s were entered into the punishing Nurburgring 1000kms, with all five finishing the gruelling endurance event. Throughout the 904’s time on track, it proved to be a formidable foe.
This very Porsche 904 GTS is an excellent specimen, but its story begins with something of a rejection. Ordered by Steve Earle, founder of Monterey Historic Races at Laguna Seca, California, the car was rushed to America ready for the beginning of the race season.
It was famously loaded into the hold of a Pan Am passenger plane in order to get it stateside as soon as possible. However, Earle sold the car back to the dealer Otto Zipper without having raced the Porsche at all. It’s not known exactly why, but it is reported that Mr Earle took delivery of a Ferrari 250 LM at around the same time.
This unwanted 904 was only the second racing car to be delivered to a customer at the time. It eventually went racing with Otto Zipper and Precision Motor Car with the Hollywood TV producer Mr. Kurt Neumann in the cockpit. It clocked up a series of respectable finishes in 1964 and also featured on the front cover of the July issue of Road and Track magazine. Upgraded and repainted the car then competed throughout the following year, driven by Steve Berg.
In 1966 it was bought by actor and producer Robert Redford, who adored the car enough to keep it for over a decade. The car then went through a couple of owners, at which point its original 2.0-litre engine was replaced. It wasn’t until a Mr Stefan Talpe bought the car in 1982 that the 904 would eventually find an original engine once again.
Fully restored in 1990, an early engine was sourced and installed. It was at this point that it also received its distinctive ‘Irish Green’ paint of which is a period correct shade. After 34 years of ownership, Talpe parted with the 904 in 2016 when the current owner purchased it.
This Porsche 904 GTS comes with a proven racing history, celebrity ownership, and an extensive history file documenting race positions and its restoration. It’s a great example of one of Porsche’s most impressive engineering works.