C Speedster

Meet the intriguing Wisdorf Speedster, a 356 built by Porsche despite never being offered by Porsche.

July 1, 2011

Also from Issue 194

  • Driven: GMG GT3 RS
  • Driven: 2011 Cayenne S
  • GT3 RS 4.0
  • 1967 911S stunner
  • Steve McQueen at Sebring
  • 1984 953 and Jacky Ickx
  • The Longest Day
  • Growing up Porsche
  • Interview: Willi Kauhsen
  • Used Porsche Pick: 911 RS America
  • Buyers Guide: 996s & 997s
  • Tech Forum: Air-oil separators
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“Your 356 is a great replica, too,” the not-so-young lady zealously calls out to me. Her lips, her fingernails, her Speed­ster…everything about her fits together perfectly. Not only in terms of color (all red), but also in terms of authenticity (all fake).

To be on the safe side, I nod.

“Subaru engine,” she says proudly, pointing with her thumb to the back of her ruby red imposter. “Subaru, of course. Smart choice,” I kindly acknowledge. When the light turns green, the lady blows me a kiss and accelerates. Her plastic bastard with its flimsy Porsche aroma disappears, automatically shifted and in water-cooled silence. The air-cooled Speed­ster I’m in rolls forward leisurely. If she only knew…

Here in Malibu, California, en­counters like this one are part of the road culture. People are outgoing, en­thusiastic. And they drive, at least more often than anywhere else in the world, cars that match their fictional characters best: wrinkle-free replicas of legendary classics. Once in a blue moon, they might wonder if there’s a real old car behind the façade.

Whether the sports car I’m thwarting Malibu with is an original is relative. Cer­tainly, it’s a real Porsche. It received all of its disputed details at its place of birth, just not at the time of its birth. Let’s put it this way: It’s the dream car Porsche would have built by 1964/65 if the frugal amateur racer’s 356 variant called the Speedster hadn’t been suspended in 1958.

This particular specimen, whose logical name is “356 C 2000 GS Carrera 2 Speedster,” was built by Porsche. In 1957. And 1976. Sound cryptic? Well, let me unscramble things a bit by telling its extraordinary tale.

On December 20, 1957, U.S. Army lieutenant Charles Smith bought a new 356A/1600 Speedster. He was based in Kaiser­slautern, Ger­many and purchased chassis number 84285 from Rittersbacher, his local Porsche dealer. The engine put out a weak 60 hp, the paint was Meissen Blue, and the chairs were covered with red vinyl. Options included U.S. bumpers, sealed-beam headlights, a Blaupunkt Bremen radio with telescopic antenna, a tonneau cover, and a windshield-washer system.

In summer 1958, after some 3,000 miles, Smith sold 84285. The car continued to be serviced at the factory. Records show a visit to the workshop on April, 4 1964. Odo­meter reading: 57,671 km. Owner, loca­tion, occasion: un­known. Presumably, the car’s first life ended in a shabby barn near Stuttgart. Deposited, dusted, forgotten.

Fast forward to 1974. Hans Braun, Por­sche’s head of interior styling, drives a 1960 356 Roadster, a model his friend, Wilhelm Wisdorf — a wealthy Cologne pharmacist — dreams of owning. Wis­dorf asks Braun, whom he knows from his Ford Cologne days, to get him one of those rare 356s. Wisdorf’s hope: A quest in the orbit of the Porsche factory might prove more successful than one in the Rhine area.

The stylist looked for a B Roadster in papers, in Stuttgart’s neighborhood, in Porsche’s personnel files, in vain. What he eventually found was its predecessor, a 356A Speedster owned by a Por­sche transmission mechanic. Light blue, red inside. Parked in a derelict greenhouse in Heil­bronn. When Braun and Wisdorf inspected the car, they brought Heinz Walter, master coachbuilder of Porsche’s Werksreparatur­abteil­ung (factory repair department).

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