Sometimes, it’s not the machine. No, there are those moments when it’s the driver who overcomes the odds, sets the mark. This is such an instance. To be certain, the 1955 356 Pre-A 1500 Normal Reutter Speedster was a reasonably fast car for its day, but the fact this one achieved so much on track was due to its first owner and driver, Skip Hudson.
Based on specification, it’s unlikely that a Speedster with a 1.5-liter pushrod flat four should have been able to show its rounded derriere to a 356 powered by a four-cam Carrera engine of similar displacement with gobs more horsepower. But that’s exactly what Hudson’s bathtub did, and on more than one occasion. His Light Ivory-painted Speedster, #80032, was set up better than the average bear, but Skip Hudson was more than a merely capable driver; he was well ahead of his time in having the ability to drive the car with his brain as well as his right foot.
Hudson and good friend Dan Gurney were both avid Southern California hot-rodders and motorcyclists and had spent many hours at Joe Vittone’s bike shop in Riverside. When Vittone opened a VW agency, they soon became customers. Vittone’s son, Darrell, then a teenager, remembers the pair roaring up in their Ford pickup trucks: “Skip’s was red, Dan’s yellow — just like the Bobbsey Twins.”
Skip would later write that “spying the white 356 Speedster in Vittone’s new VW dealership, I was drawn to it.” Hudson described his undeniable attraction to Porsche’s latest product thusly: “At the time I pressed my face up to the showroom window…what I saw was a wonderfully balanced machine, rear-engined layout, and felt instinctually to be very reliable and durable.”
Skip went to the bank for a loan and bought the little white 356 for $3,000. Said Hudson: “Immediately, I began taking the car apart, (removing the) windshield and bumpers, swapping the stock tires for Engelberts.” He also added what he termed “bogus headers” plus double black stripes and a racing screen. At about the same time, Gurney purchased a Triumph TR-2. Then he and Skip helped one another learn how to drive to best advantage, swapping cars, sharing what they were picking up through the seats of their pants.
Recalled Gurney in a recent interview: “Skip and I were students of motor racing and, like a sponge, we were soaking up every last bit of information we could, whether it was driving styles or different kinds of cars or how various people approached different turns. We were fans of all kinds of racing, including midgets, various California sport car club events, and things like the El Mirage dry lake stuff.