1964 Racing Team Holland Porsche 904
The drivers, the era, the race itself, there’s always something to dig into that makes it more interesting than just a car.
This is also true of the Porsche 904 that is today’s subject. On the surface it’s just another 2-liter, flat-4 Porsche from the early-60s that ran a race. But below is the story of two guys who made it their mission to promote motorsports in the Netherlands, and were very successful at it. They forged an unbreakable tie with Porsche in the low countries that is still felt today, and who both had equally varied and interesting accomplishments after retiring from motorsports.
What makes this car even more interesting to me, is that my father used to frequent the Zandvoort circuit in the early 60s and met both of the drivers of this car and has their autographs in the scrapbook that also contains autographs of Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham, and Bruce McLaren.
As mentioned above, the two drivers of this car, Ben Pon Jr. and Henk van Zalinge were intent on promoting motorsports in the Netherlands. To accomplish this, they set up Racing Team Holland in 1963, and besides the two drivers of this car, others involved in the early days of RTH include, among others, Rob Slotemaker (future mentor of driver Jan Lammers who went on to win Le Mans in the Silk Cut Jaguar in 1988, and founder of a famous Dutch driving academy), and Hans Hugenholtz, designer of such circuits as Suzuka, Jarama, Hockenheim, and Zolder.
Ben Pon wasted no time and purchased the first Porsche 904 for the team in 1963, and raced it at Spa, the Nurburgring, and at Le Mans during the 1964 season. The 180 HP, flat-4 powered mid-engined sports car was released in 1963 and was the first Porsche with a ladder chassis and fiber glass body. It started off its maiden season a little rocky, with clutch issues at Sebring, but it went on to earn a reputation for extreme reliability, almost always finishing races. In fact, it is said that at Reims a 904 was driven from the factory to the track and went on to win without the need for any spares whatsoever. It won numerous rally titles as well, and went on to win the SCCA E-Sports Racing title in ’64 and again in ’65.
At the 1964 Le Mans 24 Hour, the 904 enjoyed a perfect finish, with all five entries reaching the finish line, all in the top 12 overall. The win went to Nino Vacarella and Jean Guichet in a Ferrari 275 P, and Ferrari also finished 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th, so definitely a good year for them. Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant broke up the Ferrari party by finishing 4th in a Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe, with the rest of the top-10 being taken up by 3 Porsche 904s.
The 904 driven by Pon and van Zalinge was the second of these three, finishing 8th overall and 2nd in class, getting beaten by Robert Bucher and Guy Ligier (yes, that Ligier).
Ben Pon Jr. was the son of VW importer Ben Pon Sr. Born in 1936, he was a bit of a wildchild, and even got sent to a boardings school before moving to Canada at age 15. As for his racing career, he started in a Porsche Carrera engine-powered Beetle. For extra cooling, he cut to large slots into the engine decklid, one labelled “junk mail” and the other labelled “letters.” He raced for Porsche between ’61 and ’67, raced at Le Mans 4 times, and even once in F1. At the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort in 1962 he crashed out on lap 2, getting flung from the car. He escaped unhurt, but I guess the experience was scary enough that he never got back into an F1 car again.
After retiring from professional racing in 1965 he became the Netherlands’ principal Porsche importer, a role in which he was so successful that after he passed away on September 30 this year, Porsche announced that instead of releasing a special edition 992 4s they had planned to celebrate 70 years of Porsche in the Netherlands, they instead decided to directly honor Ben Pon Jr., outfitting the 4S in the exact color way (Fischsilbergrau with a graphite blue interior) as the first 356 Pon imported into the country in 1949, as well as a “Ben Pon Jr.” name plaque on the dashboard and a “70 Pon Porsche Import” logo on the head rests.
Pon left the family business in 1988 and moved to California, where he bought a winery, winning an American wine of the year award in the 90s. He also owned a safari company operating out of Tanzania.
His co-driver Hans van Zalinge had a similarly varied background. Born in 1922 in the small town of Bussum, van Zalinge started out with a degree in Indonesian Studies before moving to the UK and switching to Mechanical engineering, specifically automotive.
After returning to the Netherlands, he built himself an Alfa Romeo race car, winning a race at Zandvoort in 1956, after which he decided to focus on engine tuning instead of building complete cars. He was also co-founder of Rob Slotemaker’s famed racing school in the late 1950s.
He designed a race car based on DAF’s famous Variomatic CVT transmission, which Gijs van Lennep, winner of the ’71 Le Mans 24H drove to no real success. As a founding member of Racing Team Holland he raced all over Europe in the 1960s, before retiring in the later years of that decade.
Van Zalinge was an avid double bass player, and claimed that a gypsy taught him how to build them during WWII. In the 1970s he designed, developed, and patented an electric bass, which came to be known as the Z Bass, or van Zalinge Bass.
Henk van Zalinge passed away at the ripe old age of 84 in 2006.
This 1:43 model by Vitesse itself is lovely, if a little bit sloppy. Pros include that the engine detail is really nice, the wheels roll, and all the right details are there. Cons include that the color is wrong, as it should be outfitted in Racing Team Holland orange, both drivers’ names are spelled incorrectly on the base, and the deck lid does not fit cleanly onto the car when detached from the base, which is a missed opportunity. So overall it’s a great little model, if lazily executed. But it was cheap, so there is that.
This model definitely represents all of the reasons why I enjoy collecting Porsche race cars, from the success the cars enjoyed, to the crazy lives lead by the drivers, to the interesting races in which they ran. They’re always an opportunity to dive deeply into the history of motorsports in general, and who doesn’t love that?