1965 was an exhilarating time for a pair of seriously committed young Porsche enthusiasts making the pilgrimage from Atlanta to Sebring in a 356 coupe. It was the second year that the Porsche factory had brought the stunningly beautiful 904 out to play with the four, five, and six-liter monsters from other manufacturers. In the inaugural year, Porsche had managed to place one in the top ten finishers, and we had high hopes. The competition, though, was formidable: Cobras and Corvettes, a Ford GT-40, and a herd of factory Ferraris, painted in strange colors, allegedly entered by private owners (Modena was in a snit over rules changes). And then there was the thundering Chaparral 2A shared by builder Jim Hall and co-driver Hap Sharp, which ate everyone’s lunch when it lowered the track record by nine seconds in practice/qualifying.
This image (Pentax H3, 50mm lens, still in the family) shows three of the 904 contingent in the pits before the race. Husche von Hanstein, Porsche’s ebullient racing boss, wearing a straw hat and shouldering his inevitable camera, stands talking to a pair of pit marshals. Sitting on the wall in the red hat is the great Gerhard Mitter, who was to drive #38, the only one of the 904 contingent with eight cylinders (but still under two-liters). Behind him in the brown coveralls is a figure with his back turned, perhaps his co-driver, the legendary Herbert Linge, who started his working life with the first Ferdinand Porsche, and who still lives today in the village of Weissach.
The race itself was memorable; it ended with the Chaparral a dominant four laps ahead of the Bruce McLaren/Ken Miles GT-40. But the real story for me was the mid-afternoon Biblical-Level rain that flooded the track, the pits, and a good bit of south Florida. As the Chaparral, with its wide tires, began to both act like a hydrofoil and to dump the water scavenged by its low mounted air intake into the lap of now hapless Hap Sharp, his lap times monumentally increased, while the 904 times remained near the same as in the dry. Who knows what would have happened if the rain—which didn’t occur again in the next 20 plus years that we attended the Sebring race—had continued.
What did happen was that four of the 904 racers made it into the overall top ten finishers, a heady result for the two-liter racers. What happened four years later was that the two young enthusiasts in the 356 coupe were able to buy—for about the price of a 911—a 904. One that had originally been owned by the same Jim Hall who had dominated in his Chaparral that day. We were very lucky.