The release button on the 904’s driver’s door is a reminder of how simple this car really is. As I swing the door open, I notice how flimsy it is. Its two thin panels of fiberglass are bonded together, and there’s a rudimentary sliding plastic window. It feels like the whole door might weigh ten pounds — when it’s wet.
Peering inside, a new worry presents itself: Through a sad twist of genetic fate, I may be denied what is likely my only chance to drive a 904. Not only is there a limit to how much human this cockpit will contain, getting into it will be a job, too. The floor consists of a few small bars and a removable fiberglass panel, and it would probably be bad form to shove my Buster Browns through the 45-year-old fiberglass, Fred Flintstone-style.
On the other hand, I can’t just point my posterior towards the seat and drop in, because that seat was designed for a “Medium” and I’m every bit of a “Large.” A different plan is required: I squat on the door sill and then carefully slide my rear end into the fiberglass seat — all the while listening for splintering noises. Once my hands land on the small, leather-covered steering wheel, I come to the realization that the 904 is very livable for anyone up to about six foot two. Right: One less excuse not to run out and buy a 904!
After I carefully latch the delicate door, I feel the history of this particular car settle on me somewhat heavily. I stroke the fibers of the original blue-green velour seat covers as I imagine what they’ve seen. Were the small, telltale burns left by an errant ember from a cheap German cigarette after a race?
The rough fiberglass structure of the interior leaves no doubt that this was primarily a racing car; interior fit and finish was a trivial concern. The windshield framework is sloppily coated with black paint, itself covering hairy, bubble-filled fiberglass. The headliner is a square patch of perforated white vinyl, like that found in every VW Beetle or 911 of the period. It’s simply glued to the roof, its corners and edges peeling ever so slightly. The doorsills and inner structure feature flat-black paint over rough fiberglass, their nooks and crannies having collected the stains and dirt of 40 years.
Details like these would offend those conditioned by so many over-restored race cars, but will cast a spell on others. This is an honest car: the way it was made, plus usage.
Starting the 904 is its own adventure. Since the car is sitting on a slight grade and lacks a parking brake, I have to depress the brake pedal while squeezing the spoon-shaped throttle halfway down with the side of the same foot. Twisting the key, I’m rewarded by the 2.0-liter six turning over slowly against compression and then lighting off with a roar. I gently rev it a couple times to clear it out and get a feel for the throttle linkage.