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Pace with Grace: Porsche 904 GTS, 055

2015SalonPrive_me_0046 At every motoring event I attend there is almost always one car that catches my fancy, attracts my attention and inspires me to investigate. The latest edition of the Salon Privé was no exception to this rule and this delightful Porsche 904 GTS, chassis 055, was the chosen one. 2015SalonPrive_me_0086 I was fortunate to meet up with the current owner, Philip Basil, who was very generous with his time and provided me with a comprehensive account of this exquisite mid-'60s GT. 2015SalonPrive_jb_0250 The orange livery was one clue; could this be a Dutch car? Indeed it was one of a pair that contested endurance races in Europe in '64-'65 under the banner of Racing Team Holland (RTH). Chassis 055 was delivered to its owner, Ben Pon, in May 1964. Pon had raced a Porsche in the 1962 Dutch Grand Prix, but thereafter concentrated on sports-cars. 2015SalonPrive_me_0042 Pon's father, Ben Sr., was the first dealer to sell Volkswagens outside of Germany and is widely credited as being the inspiration behind the VW Type 2 or VW Bus. He was also one the prime movers in getting VWs sold in the USA. 2015SalonPrive_jb_0323 Chassis 055 had its first race in late May '64 and it kicked off its racing career in the best possible way scoring a class win and an amazing third overall in the Nürburgring 1000 Kms. Pons was joined by Gerhard Koch behind the wheel for the event. The race is remembered for being the debut of the Ford GT40 and for the 904 GTS to finish so high amongst a top quality field of 81 starters was astonishing. 2015SalonPrive_me_0039 Porsche-ophiles maintain that the Porsche 904 GTS was a landmark in the history of Porsche racing cars. It was the point at which Porsche really looked to score outright victories against any opposition. A hundred examples of the 904 were to be built in order to comply with the contemporary homologation rules for Grand Touring (GT) cars, in the end a total of 120 of this advanced mid-engined racer were constructed. The Porsche 904 GTS was not only road-going racer it was a pretty useful rally car, as confirmed by Eugen Böhringer and Rolf Wütherich finishing second in the 1965 Monte Carlo Rally. 2015SalonPrive_me_0084 The 904 had a unusual chassis construction of a steel ladder box frame bonded to stress-bearing, fiberglass-reinforced resin bodywork. Incidentally the bodywork was made at the Heinkel aviation works. 2015SalonPrive_jb_0320 The customer cars were powered by a 2.0L, Type 587 Carrera four-cylinder engine which was well proven and this gave around 180bhp for competition. The factory cars were given development six and eight cylinder engines. 2015SalonPrive_jb_0251 Fresh from the podium success in Germany, Pon and his RTH 904 headed to La Sarthe for the Le Mans 24 Hours. Another great result in finishing eighth overall and second in class this time with Henk van Zalinge. A few weeks later Pon was joined by Rob Slotemaker for the Reims 12 Hours, once again beating faster runners to finish seventh and third in class. 2015SalonPrive_me_0040 An accident on a trailer while being towed to Zolder meant that 055 landed on its roof but even this could not deter Pon who won the race the following day despite having no windscreen. 2015SalonPrive_me_0052 055 had a fantastic record over two seasons with 13 class wins, in 1965 highlights were 4th and a class win in the Monza 1000 Kms. The great Dutch driver Gijs van Lennep was entrusted with the car at the season finale at Zandvoort where he maintained 055's winning record; it was an important step in his career that would see two wins at the Le Mans 24 Hours, both in factory Porsches. 2015SalonPrive_me_0085 055 was sold to the USA in 1966 and it formed part of several collections till it was brought back to Europe in 2013. It is an important part of the history of one of the pivotal racing cars produced by Porsche, and one of the cutest.   (Photography by the author and additional material courtesy and copyright of Max Earey)

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