When a friend with a substantial car collection asks you to exercise his cars, what do you say? His stable includes a 300SL gullwing, 300SL roadster, Ferrari 365GTB 4 cam, Muira SV, BMW M1, Mangusta, BMW 507, 246 GTS Dino, Daytona, Jag XK 150 S, Aston Martin DB 4 GT and a 58’ 4 cam Speedster. I am putting on the brakes as the list includes another 20+ great cars.
The collection resides in a New England town with beautiful twisty roads around a lake. When the friends arrive the barn doors are open and Chuck says, “select a car to drive today.”
This people in this small group are all enthusiasts that also have collections. We are owners of vintage, exotic or both. These are guys that know cars. Their passion runs deep. The negotiations quickly begin. “How about I drive the 365 and you drive the 507, we can switch after lunch.”
My eyes dart from one car to the next. Each car has it virtues, each are important in automotive history and most are in the seven figure range. I consider the DB 4 and the 365. No, the gullwing or the 507. Oh, wait, what about the Daytona? I take a moment to collect my thoughts and head straight to the 1964 Porsche 904 GTS.
The 904 -a.k.a. Carrera GTS- visually is a work of art. Its lines and curves are exquisite. This Porsche is elegant yet simple. Porsche designed this as a race/street car producing only 104 of them. The list price, FOB Stuttgart was $7,245. Today, if you can get your hands on one, they are many, many multiples of that. The caretaker of the collection drives the 904 out of the building onto the tarmac for me. He climbs out and I peek at the dash.
The dash looks much like my '57 Speedster and '64 356 Cab. No frills. The gauges and switches are mostly in the same locations. One BIG DIFFERENCE, the tach redline is 6,500. The 904 has a 4-cam engine pushing out 180hp.
I am surprised it is fiberglass. I always thought it was aluminum. There is no question this is a purpose built race car not a modified sportscar. I learn it weighs in under 1,500 lbs. I am excited to drive this car. My right hand fiddles underneath the seat for the lever to adjust the seat position. There is none. I do see a lever just forward of the shift lever. It is clearly marked, DO NOT ADJUST WHILE DRIVING. I move the lever and the entire pedal cluster moves with it. The driving position is adjusted by the pedal cluster. That's fantastic!
Once I am comfortable with my feet. I press in the clutch, place my hand on the gear shift and run though the pattern of the 5-speed gear box. It is a dog leg pattern with 1st gear located where 2nd is in most cars. It is a throwback to the days of the Le Mans running driver start and the quickness of getting out of 1st.
I start the 904. The engine comes to life. It sounds much like most Porsche engines from that era. Maybe this one sounds a bit brawnier. Maybe it’s my imagination. We rev up our engines for a few moments breathing in each other’s fumes. Our convoy of vintage cars begins to drive away from the farm onto the back roads. We create distance between us. We all want that sudden burst of power and exhalation when we find straight road.
There it is. A long straight, tree lined and very few homes. I press on the accelerator the 4-cam and light fiberglass body are in harmony. The Porsche pulls away. I struggle a bit with the gear box. It is not as precise as I expect. Is it me or the gear box? Doesn’t really matter. I shift though the gears catching up to the Detomasso Mangusta in front of me. I quickly double clutch down a gear and settle in. I notice there is no place for my left foot after shifting. I alternate between letting it sit passive on the clutch pedal and bending my knee to rest my foot on the flat floor.
I am behind the Mangusta and begin to truly appreciate the sophistication and finesse of this Porsche. The contrast between the Porsche and the bold, powerful, wide and loud Mangusta are huge. Both to be appreciated for what they are.
After 30 minutes of driving we pull into the gravel parking lot of the restaurant. I realize I will be handing the keys to this car to another friend. My moments of Porsche 904 bliss are coming to end. I take a parting photo and collect my thoughts to share with readers of FLATSIXES.com
Steven Leed is the Co - President of Royal Jewelers in Andover, Massachusetts and a world–recognized expert on fine watches and watch collecting. His other passion is collecting and driving vintage European sportscars.