“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).