C Speedster

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Röhrl and Scherbauer, who live 80 miles from one another, frequently met in their modernized Speed­sters to take joint trips and participate in vintage rallies through the alps. But the seemingly carefree 914 boxer in Röhrl’s dark blue Porsche soon caused trouble: On a long-distance drive, Röhrl runs ashore with cylinder-head failure, a known trouble spot in 914 engines and even more so in Oet­tinger’s “big-bore” versions.

After Kühn fixed the damage, Röhrl’s Speedster had no more technical maladies. He just drove it — more often than not quickly — and enjoyed it. At least, until political animosities appeared. In January 1993, Röhrl was hired by Porsche AG as a celebrity test driver and brand representative, a job not compatible with a personal car permanently in need of explanation.

“It was a very difficult decision to sell this icon of a sports car after only 5,000 un­forgettable kilometers,” sighs Röhrl today. “But it just didn’t suit my position at Por­sche; I always had to apologize for the lack of the Speedster’s fidelity. Ultimately, my beloved Speedster is the only car I ever had to sell for image reasons.”

In 1994, 84285 moved back to the Rhine area and into the possession of For­mula One journalist Burkhard Nuppeney in Koblenz, who paid 120,000 DM (about $72,000) for the privilege. He soon demonstrated good taste by changing some aesthetically dubious details of the Speedster: The Wolfrace wheels were swapped for steel wheels with chrome caps, the aftermarket chairs made room for Speedster seats, the sperm-colored leather was replaced with burgundy hides, and the fluffy, deep-pile carpet was supplanted by 356 “Haar­garn” bouclé. Meanwhile, better noises were provided by a custom, 904-inspired stainless-steel ex­haust system that cost a sinful amount.

The joy of its mighty trombone sound is brief: During Nuppeney’s very first ex­cursion, the car stalled. Once again, cylinder head issues had rocked the boat. Werner Kühn, who still took care of 84285, recommended eliminating the sore spot. Even­tually, he downgraded the Type IV back to its standard size of 2.0 liters with cast-iron cylinders. Still equipped with the Schrick cam and big carbs, the boxer four now produced around 120 horsepower.

Even if I can’t count them individually, I’m certain those 120 horses are still on board emotionally. If not more so; 84285 feels quick.

Full throttle in second…clutch…third…gas pedal back to the floor and into the curve, which the semi-modern classic traverses completely neutral, thanks to its 18-mm front anti-roll bar. No 356-like oversteer? No 356 tailspin? On this car, the old Porsche trait is passé due to the accurate suspension tuning. And, as for the somewhat home-bred Type IV motor? Well, along with the impressive thrust it delivers from idle up to the recommended limit of 6300 rpm come bold acoustics. Without a doubt, this powerplant satisfies. Deeply.

From Pacific Coast Highway, I turn into Topanga Canyon. The boxer’s roar swings between steep rock faces to become a frightening thunder. Twinkle-toed, the Speedster climbs one serpentine after another. Enter­ing Topanga Village, I lift off the gas. Out of respect? Maybe. Here, germinated in the late 1930s and known worldwide in the hippie culture of the 1960s, lived and worked artists of all kinds. Humphrey Bogart, Dennis Hop­per, Jim Morrison, Marvin Gaye — all gone, all dead. In today’s Topanga, the Lexus Hybrid-driving L.A. dropout has superseded the hashish-blessed aborigine. Let’s get out of here.

We — the Speedster and me — take a left on Old Topanga Canyon and pierce the mountains on a northwestly path. In the branches of narrow and steep streets, the limits of manageability reveal that the 356 is no rabbit-like go-kart, especially not with its bold 185/70R15 footing. Next left on Mulholland Highway, once James Dean’s training track, the curves become wider and fewer. There it is again, this 356 Speedster’s favorite subject: giant slalom.

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