1964 Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers: Survive for One Last Victory
August 6, 2013 by Jeremy McMullen
During the late 1950s, Richie Ginther would begin a relationship with John von Neumann and this partnership would result in one of the most dominant periods of American sportscar racing in which Ginther and Porsche would be virtually unbeatable. Nearly a decade later, that same combination would again join forces to provide one more moment of glory.
By the mid-1950s Porsche had developed its 550. This was a small car more than capable of dominating its class and consistently able to challenge those in the bigger categories. The car really was the ultimate sportscar as it offered great reliability and more than enough power to provide regular success.
Ginther had earned his way mostly as a mechanic. However, he would take to driving and would be successful at it. This would lead to John von Neumann providing the American a drive within his own team. The result would be one of the most successful partnerships in all of motorsports.
Throughout 1956, Richie would score a number of victories and numerous other podium results. The time driving Porsche sportscars would be quite successful but Ginther would then be lost Ferrari by 1958 following a remarkable string of victories.
Porsche's success in sportscar racing continued. Then, the factory turned its sights on Formula One. Success in Formula One would not be anywhere near what it had been in sportscars and, by 1962, the program would be terminated.
The focus would switch back to sportscars. However, Porsche would take from its experience in grand prix racing and would apply what they had learned to their sportscar line. Homologation regulations at the time determined that in order to compete in the GT class of sportscar racing at least 100 examples of the car had to be produced for customer purchase.
Wanting to keep costs, time and weight to a minimum, the new car design would be produced using a ladder chassis and a fiberglass body. Porsche believed construction using the fiberglass was the way of the future.
The actual design of the car would be the responsibility of Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. He would create a car using elements and techniques that had been used in Formula One and the result would be a car with a very small frontal area and an overall sleek style. It would also be planned to use a mid-engine arrangement, something that Ferrari and others were still opposed to doing with their own cars. Bolting the fiberglass bodies directly to the chassis, the Carrera GTS would be born in 1963.
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The vast majority of the 904s entered in the race would be the competitive GTS. However, there would be two that would be designated 904/8. These two examples would be different in that they were factory entries fitted with flat eight-cylinder engines that had been developed from the Formula One program. These engines offered more than 220hp and had an even lighter fiberglass body. Richie Ginther and Jo Bonnier would co-drive one of these 904/8 chassis.
The difference of the lighter bodywork and the flat, eight-cylinder engine would be significant as Ginther and Bonnier would find themselves starting the race from 4th place on the grid, right up there with the bigger, more powerful Ferrari 275 Ps and the new Ford GT40.
Eighty-two cars would be lined up along the pit wall preparing for the start of the 1000 kilometer race. The drivers would be lined up across from their cars preparing for the sprint across the track to their respective car. Then the drivers would go. Surtees would be one of the first to reach his car and he would be quickly away in the lead.
It would be a chaotic scene as the cars rushed into the slow left-right combination at the South Curve. One of the Cobras would suffer an engine fire even before reaching the curve and the smoke would stream across the track causing some temporary blindness and more than a couple of accidents. Bonnier would be in the Porsche 904/8 and would be up near the front so he would escape a lot of the danger and would soon settle in as the field streamed toward the woods.
At the end of the first lap Surtees would be flying in the Ferrari enjoying a lead of nearly 10 seconds after just the first 14 miles around the circuit. Phil Hill would be sitting in 2nd place with the GT40 while Ludovico Scarfiotti and Graham Hill would be 3rd and 4th. Sitting in 5th place would be Bonnier in the Porsche and looking comfortably strong at the end of the first lap.
The field of 82 cars would quickly begin to dwindle. There had already been two fatal accidents during practice and the accidents would keep coming during the actual race. Ecurie Francorchamps' Porsche 904 would suffer an accident during the opening lap and would fail to make it back around. The same would be true of one of the Rene Bonnet Djet Renaults. Two more accidents on the 3rd lap of the race would one of the E-Type Jaguars out of the race.
Meanwhile, Bonnier would be sitting still around the top five while Surtees continued to build upon his lead. His advantage would be nearly a minute after the first three or four laps of the race. At the same time, the GT40 would begin suffering handling problems and it would later be discovered that suspension failure was the cause.
Although Bonnier and Ginther would be sitting in good position, even their race wasn't without drama. The throttle would stick wide open on Bonnier and he would bring the car into the pits to have the situation taken care of, but, it would be realized that the valves were not straight anymore. Nonetheless, the car would be sent back out. Bonnier and Ginther would be encouraged to do what they could.
Thankfully for the two men just about every other car in the field would suffer some kind of problem. A loose wheel would cause Surtees to lose the large lead he had managed to build up. The GT40 would be out of the running altogether when their suspension failed. Illegal refueling would disqualify the Ferrari 275P driven by Graham Hill and Innes Ireland.
The lead would go to Scarfiotti and Nino Vaccarella while the Ferrari 250 GTO of Mike Parkes and Jean Guichet would be in 2nd place. As a result of the problems of others, and because of the sheer determination of Bonnier and Ginther, their 904/8 would be running in 5th place heading into the final couple of laps. They had taken their wounded car and managed to keep it running for 42 laps of the epic Nordschleife.
When the checkered flag flew to end the race it was a Ferrari and Porsche show. Scarfiotti and Vaccarella would take the overall victory in the Prototype GT 3000 category. The pair would complete 44 laps in seven hours, eight minutes and nearly 30 seconds. They would have a lap advantage over Parkes and Guichet finishing in 2nd place in their 250 GTO. In 3rd place would be Gerhard Koch and Ben Pon in one of the Porsche 904 GTS chassis. They would finish 1st in the GT 2000 category.
Finishing in 5th place with their wounded 904/8 would be Bonnier and Ginther. Although they would struggle with their car they would still manage to come home 5th place overall and 1st in the Prototype GT 2000 class. It would be a tremendous achievement considering the condition of the car after its earlier woes. It would be an incredible testament to the talent and skill of Jo Bonnier and Richie Ginther as they would bring the car home and in 1st place within the class.
The 904 GTS would become very popular with customers and well more than a hundred would be produced over the lifetime of the design. When it came to the 1964 Nurburgring 1000 Kilometers, no less than 16 examples of the 904 would be entered.
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