This is the original Porsche 904 prototype

17th October 2021
Andrew Willis

There’s somewhat of a cultish love for Porsche 904s in the Goodwood office. Their sleek styling and unique aura of 1960s cool leave certain team members weak at the knees. This writer included. When we realised the very first 904 GTS prototype ever to be produced and raced was attending the 78th Members’ Meeting, a few cold showers were in order.


Arriving at the car with chassis number VIN 904013, built on the 16th of January 1964, we are met by its owner and driver, Mr Heiko Ostmann. Tall, handsome, clean-cut and snappily dressed, we’re relieved a gentleman with such taste owns what is one of the greatest looking race cars ever made. And as shallow as that may sound, looks really do matter in the case of the Porsche 904. Despite never being the most competitive or successful of race cars, it endures as an icon of early ‘60s motorsport. Largely because of its clean styling, ice-cold sophistication and exceptional Germanic reliability. Before we get too carried away, Mr Ostmann talks us through the details. 

“There's a lot of confusion about its Chassis number, and when I purchased the car 20 years ago, I knew it was an early model, but had no idea it was the first prototype. Porsche had to decide at the beginning of '64 which customers would get the first cars. There were around 10-15 customers that asked for this prototype to race for the '64 season.” 


As documented in a carefully researched dossier, emailed to us by the efficient Ostmann in preparation for our chat, the first owner was a Mr Bob Hagestad, an American who welcomed the arrival of the car with a champagne toast with friends at the Denver airstrip from where it was delivered direct from Stuttgart. Hagestad would race the car throughout ’64, where it was often outpaced by more powerful Cobras. A story that would continue to play true for the 904 for decades to come. 

“It was then sold to a second owner, George Drolsom at the end of the ‘64 season.” It would be under Drolsom’s ownership where VIN 904013 would end its in-period racing. Following a heavy crash, caused by a broken front damper, Drolsom sent the 904 back to Germany for repairs. Porsche quoted $4,000 dollars, a sum that Drolsom refused, instead preferring to upgrade to a newer version VIN 906012.

"Porsche then sold it as a wreck to Mr Heinz Kurek from Puchheim near Fürstenfeldbruck outside of Munich. He restored the car over the years, using original information such as blueprints provided from Porsche. But to be honest, it wasn't too perfect. What was great was that he had this car on the street in Germany with a number plate from 1967 right up to 2001/2 when I purchased the car as a project. So the history is very clear. He actually used it as his summer street car.” 


After a two-year restoration, Mr Ostmann would immediately turn the 904 GTS loose on the historic race circuits of the world, a decision that would unite him with one of his heroes and one of Porsche’s greatest ever drivers – Mr Richard Attwood

“I met Richard Attwood in the locker room an hour ago, and he said maybe he will come and have a chat, as he raced this at SpeedWeek with me last year. That way you'll get an impression of the car from a real racing driver. Maybe the most amazing Porsche driver in the world, ever. He was the first to win Le Mans for Porsche, so he is a great hero for all Germans.” Says Ostmann with boyish excitement. 

“Richard is so friendly. He taught me so much about what the car can do better, and what I can do better. We changed a few things under his advice. What more can you want, than lessons from the master?”

As he finishes, the man himself arrives, still in race overalls, helmet in hand, to have a look around the 904 that is sat glinting in the mid-afternoon sunshine. 

“I started with driving Porsches in the 906, which was a year later than the 904. So I never drove one in period. They are so different. It wasn't until the 908 came along that they could be really competitive. They are just under-powered. But in period, they could win! Everyone else with the new V8 engines, they are way ahead now. It’s a power circuit here, and we don't have that. But that's what happens, everyone wants to go faster, but Porsche owners don't want to play around too much and put injection into these original engines. They might gain one or two seconds, but It's 2.0-litres against 5.0-litres.” 


It's a regular theme when discussing the 904. Excellent to drive, enormous fun, exquisite handling, a real apex missile, but always lacking oomph. 

“In period, if you had a good driver pairing in a TT, especially if it was raining or something like that, you could easily win in one of these I think. Reliability is a huge thing. And these are extremely reliable, Porsches have always been like that.” Says Attwood, a man who knows what it takes to manage cars at the pinnacle. 

Mr Ostmann agrees, but doesn’t feel pressured to boost the car’s capacity to save face. Quite the opposite. He is animated in his passion for keeping his superb prototype as original as can be. 

“It's unfair and unrealistic for fans of historic racing to see a 904 become faster than a Cobra. It's changing history and we don't want to change history. We are here to race these cars as they raced in period. We have around 180PS, compared to around 500PS-plus in a Cobra around a track like this. But take it to a hillclimb, or a 12-hour endurance race, and it's a different story. It really is a joy to drive. It is the perfect mixture of a street car, a GT and a prototype racer. You can do rallies in it, being the last race car Porsche produced with a number plate. You can do all the hillclimbs, all the historic racing, and then you can drive to your favourite restaurant in the evening if you want. It's a dream car.”


Perhaps feeling the weight of Ostmann’s passion, Attwood starts to describe what it’s like competing at Goodwood, driving in many cases, the life-long projects of owners. 

“One thing that's very important is that we are driving other people's cars. If you get a reputation for damaging them, you're not going to get invited again. We always have something in reserve so we don't make an arse of ourselves. Very often we'll come here, have never seen a car before, jump in it, it's pouring with rain, you go out there and think ’s***’, this isn't easy! Often you get used to a car just as the meeting is ending. It takes any driver, me in particular because I only race at Goodwood, time to get your eye in. Racing is like anything, you need to keep doing it. It's like your golf swing. If you don't play for a couple of months, natural ability will only get you so far.”

He’s as humble as ever, especially so being a Le Mans Winner and a man with 17 GP starts against his name. “I’m not going to be as good as a Kristensen, a Lotterer, or an Ingram. These guys are racing every week. But it's good fun, and that's how you should treat it. Not too serious.” 

But Mr Ostmann is more than happy with his choice of driver in Attwood. “I wouldn't have given my car to anyone else. When you have a track record like him, you know your car is in good hands. He understands the cars more than a lot of new young drivers.” 


Is there such a clear generational difference? Certainly both Ostmann and Attwood agree that the level of human performance has continued to rise throughout the decades, aided by greater professionalism, nutrition, fitness and tools such as simulators with huge technologically advanced engineering teams helping drivers prepare for success. 

“It makes me think of jumping in the 917 in 1969, the long tail.” Says Attwood, in his off-the-cuff manner. “It was a horrendous car to drive because it was aerodynamically unstable. It wasn't ever meant to last more than six hours, but it lasted 21 hours. I was absolutely physically, mentally drained, and we were six laps in the lead. But I was happy to get out of the car. We were about to win, and I couldn't have given a s***. My life was still intact. That was the real win in those days.” 

“Guys like Richard had to manage the whole car, no radio, no engineers, no information for 24 hours, in a car like the 917 which no one wanted to race. That’s a real hero.” A statement delivered by Ostmann with genuine and heartfelt sincerity to a man he clearly idolises. It’s a fitting way to end our conversation focused around an under-sung and under-powered Porsche. But one that has absolutely nothing to prove. Just like the two gentlemen we leave still enjoying its quietly confident presence. 

Photography by James Lynch.

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