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Porsche’s 904 Living Legend Concept Might be the Ultimate Example of ‘Adding Lightness’

Imagine a 1.2-liter Ducati L-twin, screaming its desmodromic song just inches behind your head—spinning to 11,000 rpm, pushing something like 200 hp, and propelling your beautiful little carbon-fiber Porsche, which weighs a hair under a ton, through space. It’s a minimalist’s fantasy, the notion of a sports car reliant on a lack of weight rather than an abundance of horsepower to achieve remarkable performance. That’s a large part of the spirit of Porsche, and it was distilled into the 2013 904 Living Legend concept. The car was light, lithe, and striking.

For the first decade and a half of Porsche’s existence, all of the company’s products fully embraced this philosophy. We think of Lotus as epitomizing the emphasis on weight reduction, but Porsche’s early reliance on small, low-output flat-four engines meant that its competition success hinged on ever-greater reductions in mass in the early 356 racers and later in cars such as the famous 718 RSK. Another iconic model, the Porsche 904—a truly beautiful shape designed by Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, the founder’s grandson and father of the 911—inspired the Living Legend’s design.

It’s among the Porsche design projects that have been kept secret and/or provided a low-key influence on the brand’s future products. Porsche’s leadership has for years given its design team leeway to explore any number of avenues, even when they may not directly lead to a production vehicle. In this instance, Porsche was inspired by one of Volkswagen’s most fascinating vehicles of the mid-2010s: the XL Sport.

The XL Sport emerged as a derivative of the high-tech and extremely efficient XL1—a diesel-electric hybrid that returned improbable fuel economy, offered up to 30 miles of electric driving range, and claimed a ridiculous 0.189 coefficient of drag that made it the most aerodynamic production car in history. Volkswagen called it a “lighthouse car” whose pioneering tech would filter to all brands.

The XL Sport version swapped out the diesel for a Ducati engine—the L-twin from the 1199 Superleggera (at the time, the world’s most powerful twin-cylinder engine, good for 197 hp and 99 lb-ft of torque). In addition to the carbon fiber used in the body, high-strength steel and magnesium alloy were applied where required for strength and weight reduction. Its trot to 62 mph was estimated at a modest 5.7 seconds, but the rawness and immediacy of the platform would likely make it more fun and engaging than the bare specs would suggest.

That’s where the 904 Living Legend concept picks up the story. Porsche designers, intrigued by what Volkswagen was doing with this lightweight, compact platform, started designing around the XL1/XL Sport’s shape and architecture. The result, it’s claimed, wasn’t originally intended to resemble the 904—instead, the story goes, the resemblance simply appeared. Think of it as convergent evolution.

The 904 Living Legend’s elegance is remarkable, translating classically beautiful forms into a thoroughly modern overall design without falling into overly retro tropes. Perhaps the most overt throwback to the original 904 is the rear glass deeply inset into solid buttresses, although in the 904 Living Legend this is mitigated somewhat by the power bulges and engine cover/grille. There’s an intense and delightful taper to the cabin as it flows over and past the wide rear fenders.

Instead of an abrupt Kamm tail, the 904 Living Legend serves as a preview of how the company’s overall rear styling would evolve. Compare it to the Taycan or the 2020 911 with their razor-thin heckblende rear-end treatments. And the headlight shape—if not the internal arrangement of lenses and reflectors—looks like a number of contemporary Porsches, including the Panamera. There’s also a strong overall link with the 918 Spyder, which was the 904 Living Legend’s contemporary.

The 904 Living Legend Concept never progressed beyond a 1:1-scale model. Like many recently revealed Porsche concepts, it didn’t reach production but represents an articulation of many ideas that did—particularly stying elements and forms. As compelling an idea as the 904 is, the barriers to production would be myriad, among them the expense of its exotic architecture, perhaps serviceability/reliability of its unusual powertrain, the limited appeal of a Porsche offering modest performance. Its rawness and purity would have made for a uniquely rewarding and engaging driving experience, though—a compelling idea we’re glad Porsche explored, even if it came to naught.

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