Anyone who had a chance to perceive the evolution of the 356 through ambitious driving experiences in each of its generations and then got a taste of this remarkable car will immediately confirm my verdict: This born-again Speedster of 1976 feels in every sense like the logical, consistent further development of the primal Porsche if the evolution hadn’t ended in 1965. Yes, there’s a good pinch of 911 flavor in this car, as well as the spice of the organ donor 914. In other words: The percentage of this 356 that is genuine Porsche is three digits without a decimal point.
You may be wondering why 84285 is in California today, and not in Koblenz, Germany. Well, after his tasteful upgrade for a pile of money, Nuppeney hardly used it. In 2000, after logging less than 10,000 km in six years, he assigned Werner Kühn to sell the car.
Soon 84285, equipped with the 914 engine and the Carrera four-cam in a wooden crate, went to Bertram Pawlak, a German collector car dealer living in California. From there it made its way through an ad in the January 2001 issue of Hemming’s Motor News to current owner Bruce Milner of Santa Monica, who has continued to set up the Speedster.
Today it wears a rare and super-cool Glasspar hardtop, which the U.S. company offered starting in 1955. From early 1957, the plastic hat was distributed worldwide through Porsche dealers. Milner also added Rudge-type centerlock wheels for 13,000 Euros ($18,000 U.S.). These are very, very special: 356 experts know these optional factory rims were only available for drum-brake models. Since this car decelerates by discs, this set was custom made employing new old stock Porsche parts.
So it is that the car’s thread of individual taste, which took its start in 1976 and has passed through four owners, lives on in the Milner era. Whether equipped with the sophisticated Carrera four-cam or the mundane 914 Type IV, Milner has had to fight nasty comments from intolerant original fetishists, whereupon the term “replica” is the most gentle one. Meanwhile other knowledgeable 356 fans praise 84285 as the culmination of an evolution never realized in the 1960s.
As much as the car polarizes: In the light of its place of reincarnation and the components used, it is undoubtedly a pure-bred Porsche — a fact that today’s Porsche Classic department confirms, by the way. Being the first customer product from the factory restoration shop, 84285 also deserves a special historical status. And the 35-year-old paint job that suffered German weather conditions for almost a quarter of a century really proves the superior quality of the craftsmanship.
Then there is the great driving pleasure: Röhrl calls 84285 “the best classic touring car I ever drove.” His words mean something, since he not only bought the car but is, according to motorsport pros around the globe, “the best rally driver of all time.” Is there anyone who can think of a better compliment for an old sports car? I, personally, wouldn’t even dare to try.
Instead, I prefer to take two more left turns from Mulholland and snake through mysterious Latigo Canyon. As the evening sun sinks over Malibu, I’m back down on PCH, the legendary Highway 1 — and in traffic jams once again. Stop and go and stop and go. For the first time on my extended test drive, I’m relieved that the profane 914 pushrod boxer is installed in the only existing “Porsche 356 C 2000 GS Carrera 2 Speedster” right now. In these operating conditions, the capricious four-cam’s spark plugs would soot immediately.
On the corner of Heathercliffe Road, I enter the Arco station for gas. In the pale glow of the neon tubes, the old Porsche appears surreal. The cashier comes out, sneaks around the car, knocks on a fender, and nods knowingly: “Original Porsche Speedster. No replica.” A true connoisseur? Yes, indeed, he proudly confirms.
Then he discloses the secret of his unexpected competence: With his right hand, he shapes an extension to his ear as he says, “It’s got an air-cooled engine.”