The illustrious history of Porsche in sports car racing and rally is legendary, however the German marque’s brief foray into Formula One in the early 1960s is less well known. American driver Dan Gurney achieved the best Grand Prix results for Porsche, when he won the 1962 French GP at Rouen in the Porsche 804, followed by a second win in Germany in front of a home crowd that had not seen a German Grand Prix car win since Mercedes withdrew from racing in 1955.
Pictured as it appears today, the 804 is light, nimble, beautifully spare—everything a Porsche should be. True to the Porsche philosophy, the 804 was powered by an air-cooled boxer engine, which was unique in F1. The little 8 cylinder motor produced roughly 180 hp despite being just under 1.5 Liters in displacement. Even in an age of beautiful racing cars, the 804 stands out for its sober, elegant beauty and clean teutonic lines.
At the end of the 1962 season, Porsche withdrew from F1 citing costs, and there is a belief that they felt F1 was technically too far afield from their road cars to be worth the investment. It is interesting to consider that Ferrari, a smaller volume carmaker was somehow able to carry on simultaneous F1 and Sports Car programs in the 1960s, yet Porsche was not seemingly willing to shoulder the expense of these two commitments. Perhaps they just didn’t like to lose, as they had never been in a truly competitive position with their flat 8 engine, in a time where V-configured engines were far more par for the course. Therefore, Porsche AG focused all its efforts on developing a world-beating sports car program, and thereby established the reputation for greatness that lives on to this day. All this makes one wonder what might have been had Porsche decided to double down on F1, and put the sort of technical and financial resources behind it that they poured into sports cars as the decade progressed. Could they have kept two balls in the air, and dominated F1 as well? We’ll never know what might have been had Porsche gone head to head with Ferrari and Lotus in F1 in the mid 60s. Instead the 804 remains a fascinating footnote in racing history –an idea that never fully matured.