Formula 1, Dan Gurney, Porsche & The 804

Formula 1, Dan Gurney, Porsche & The 804

January 22, 2018

By David Soares
Photos courtesy Porsche Archiv

Among the scores of Porsche sports cars arrayed before you at Luftgekuhlt 5, you may notice a silver single-seater sitting on old school, open-center, five-bolt Porsche wheels. If your memory doesn’t extend back 56 years, you might wonder if this spindly car is some kind of Super-Vee, but we can assure you it’s a proper Porsche Formula 1 car – and a Grand Prix winner. 

This car is the Porsche 804 chassis 03, driven by Southern Californian Dan Gurney to victory before a crowd of more than 300,000 at Porsche’s “home” race, the Solitude-Rennen, held on July 15, 1962. 

By the mid-1950s, Porsche was building its first dedicated racing car: the 550 Spyder utilizing the Ernst Fuhrmann-designed four-cam engine. This progressed to the 1958 Porsche 718 RSK Spyder, which was cleverly engineered so its steering wheel could be moved to the center of the car, allowing owners to contest 1.5-liter Formula 2 races. In 1959, a small group of mechanics developed a true, open-wheel version of the 718 Spyder. Known as the 718/2 it won Porsche the F2 title in 1960.

In 1961, Formula 1 downsized to 1.5-liter engines, and so Porsche decided to race a development of the 547/3 four-cylinder, boxer-engined cars against the V6 Ferrari and Climax-powered Lotus. Dan Gurney, who entered Grand Prix racing with Ferrari in 1959, would drive a works Porsche 718/2 to a third place tie with Stirling Moss in the 1961 World Drivers’ Championship. 

Ferry Porsche let it be known that an eight-cylinder Formula 1 engine was being developed for 1962, and 30 year-old engineer Hans Metzger was assigned to the project. Metzger executed Porsche’s design specifications for a 1.5-liter air-cooled flat-8, which could also be developed for sports car racing. 

The type 753 engine was incredibly complex, but its dual-purpose design meant it was also superbly robust. Like the Fuhrmann motor, it had gear-driven camshafts, and the flat-8 eventually produced a competitive 185hp.

An all-new tubular steel chassis was developed for the type 804. It had proper double-wishbone suspension working in concert with Porsche’s familiar torsion bars and a six-speed transmission. A sleek aluminum body gave the car a more elegant appearance. 

Gurney showed the 804’s potential in the season-opener at Zandvoort and lobbied Ferry to race the car at Monte Carlo. Gurney was third fastest qualifier, but failed to complete a racing lap when Willy Mairesse lost control after jumping Clark and Hill at the start. The 804 was rammed by Richie Ginther in the ensuing chaos and was out of the race.

Following Monaco, Dan went to work with Metzger and chassis man Helmuth Bott to develop the 804 into a car that could beat the Nürburgring lap record. They then took it to the French Grand Prix at Rouen, and while the rough French circuit broke the faster BRM P57 as well as the monocoque Lotus 25 of Graham Hill and Jim Clark, Gurney would deliver Porsche’s first Grand Prix win. 

The next event on the schedule was Porsche’s home race, the Solitude-Rennen, held at the sinuous and challenging Solitude circuit in the forested hills above Stuttgart. Because the Nürburgring hosted the official German Grand Prix, Solitude was not a points-scoring contest. Nevertheless, a strong field included Team Lotus, led by Jim Clark and Trevor Taylor. Porsche constructed a brand new car for Gurney — chassis 804-03 – the same car displayed at Luftgekühlt 5. When the car’s current curator showed details of 804-03 to Dan nearly 40 years later, Gurney immediately recognized the scalloped fuel tank that Bott had specifically designed so the tall Californian could recline deeper into “his” car. 

Clark nipped Gurney by nine tenths to put his Lotus 25-Climax V8 on pole and led during the first lap, but Gurney wasn’t going to let the home crowd down. He passed Clark by the second go-round.

The two drivers broke away from the rest of the field, as the Scotsman slipstreamed Gurney’s 804-03. But Jimmy couldn’t pass the Californian when rain began to fall on parts of the circuit.

On lap 19, Clark failed spectacularly in his attempt to catch Gurney, skidding helplessly into the haybales. The green Lotus limped to the pits with smoke pouring out the back and was retired. Gurney proceeded to lap the field, excepting his Porsche team-mate Jo Bonnier and Clark’s team-mate Trevor Taylor.

Ludvigsen shares Gurney’s emotion in Excellence Was Expected: “Solitude was the biggest crowd I’d ever seen outside of Indy. They said it was around 350,000. A car from Stuttgart won it, so guys were all throwing their hats in the air. The sea of hats that were in the air as we drove around went like a wave.” 

Dan’s emphatic victory at Solitude wasn’t his only highlight in 804-03. On August 5, 1962, he started the car from pole position at the German Grand Prix at the Nürburgring. It was what he later told 804-03’s curator may have been his greatest Porsche Formula 1 drive.  In typically terrible Eifel weather, Gurney led the first two laps until Graham Hill was able to force his way past in the BRM. A furious three-way nose-to-tail dice began between Gurney, Hill and John Surtees. Gurney was handicapped for the final ten laps: his battery had come loose and he was holding it in place with his left leg! 

The three cars crossed the line covered by a mere 4.4 seconds, with the Californian settling for a hard-fought third place. 

At the end of 1962, Ferry Porsche made the reluctant decision to withdraw from Formula 1 because it was too expensive for his small company. Engineering resources were needed for the new type 901 — the car we know today as the Porsche 911.

The F1 cars were put away, and you see 804-03 today exactly as it was raced by Dan Gurney. However, Metzger’s flat-8 grand prix engine would go on to larger displacements of 2.0 and 2.2-liters, notching up victories at the 1963 Targa Florio in the 718 GTR coupe, and at the 1968 Targa Florio, Daytona 24 Hours (1-2-3), and Sebring 12 Hours (1-2) powering the Porsche 907. 

April 13 would have been Dan’s 87th birthday, and we wish he could have been with us at Luftgekühlt 5 with his beloved 804-03.