Wood does have the original Porsche Kardex and later Certificate of Authenticity, which describe the car as a “USA-de Luxe-Ausführung” and a “USA DeLuxe Type,” respectively. The cabriolet was finished in black (C501) with a dark green leather interior. According to Wood, the de Luxe interior normally has leather-covered seats and door panels, with the rear seating area and rear quarter trim done in less-expensive leatherette; Wood’s car, however, is trimmed in full leather. The cabriolet also featured a Telefunken JD52 AM/FM radio and Hirschmann antenna, a tachometer and remote oil-pressure gauge, a set of aluminum wheel trim rings, a windshield-washer system, two sun visors, a reclining passenger seat, an “Improved” jump-seat cushion, and an extra two kilograms of black paint. Front and rear bumper guards were apparently standard on the USA-de Luxe model.
Neither the Kardex nor the COA mention the color of the original top. The black exterior with green interior color combination should have dictated tan canvas, but when Wood and Hauser disassembled the car they uncovered a small piece of seemingly original material that suggests the first top was olive-green. If so, it would appear that Porsche was amenable to meeting a customer’s request for a non-standard color combination in those days — perhaps not surprising, since these early Porsches were essentially hand-built. Adds Wood, “The plastic rear window was original, and even all the little trim screws had their slots perfectly indexed, just as they were when the car left Reutter.”
When first built, the Porsche was equipped with a Type 528 Super engine (serial number 40 255). Built around the infamous, and often short-lived, Hirth roller-bearing crankshaft, the 1488-cc flat four produced 70 horsepower. However, Wood and Hauser quickly determined that the original four had been replaced with a plain-bearing engine at some point early in its life. “Those Hirth-crank motors were fragile,” opines Wood. It’s known that Porsche replaced a lot of them, but the replacement is not mentioned on the Kardex, and the case is not numbered.
The engine was one of the first things addressed in the restoration. Wood turned to Geary Miller in upstate New York, who was at the time restoring a 1954 cabriolet. That car had come with a crateful of extra engine parts, including an almost-perfect plain-bearing crankshaft. Using the replacement case in Wood’s cabriolet, Miller built up a fresh engine around that crank. He also located a correct 1953-vintage coil, the only part missing from Wood’s car.
In the meantime, Hauser rebuilt the transaxle, installing new seals along with a new clutch and pressure plate. He also refurbished the brakes and suspension. The real time, however, was spent on the interior, top, and body. Hauser says that black is the most difficult color to get right, because it shows flaws so easily, but adds, “We made it as nice as we possibly could.”
Carefully stripping away the old paint, Hauser found that the cabriolet had been repainted red and then white, the color it wore at the time of Wood’s purchase. He was pleasantly surprised to discover very little rust on the half-century-old automobile. “I guess what they say about California cars is true — they aren’t exposed to the high degree of moisture and road salt we have back East,” says Hauser. “Besides, it had only been driven occasionally for about ten years before it was parked.”
The tin worm had attacked a few areas, including the left rear floor panel, which needed to be replaced, and the lower doors and one door jamb, which had to be repaired. A small part of the battery box was patched, as well. The one serious rust problem appeared in the rear cowling behind the passenger compartment, the result of water seeping past the edge of the fabric top over the years. “There was a large curved piece of wood that the rear body wraps around,” explains Hauser. “I’ll bet that piece was just dangled on a string and Reutter constructed the rest of the car around it!” A replacement section had to be fabricated.
Hauser also found that the cabriolet had been hit hard in the rear and then repaired. The later-model taillights may have been added at that time, and while 1953 was the first year that the 356 carried bumpers separate from the body, they didn’t protect the tail very well.
“That hit threw everything out of line at the back of the car,” says Wood. “Lewis spent countless hours patiently repairing and straightening the body shell and getting everything properly realigned. I’m just tickled to death at the way it came out.”