THE COUNTERTOPS ARE BLACK, SHINY, SPOTLESS. The floors are shale tile, and there is brushed aluminum everywhere. It has to be asked: If the shop bathroom looks this nice, what will the car be like? About what you’d expect: The 1958 356 sunroof coupe sitting just outside the door is impossibly black, shiny, and spotless.
A visit to John Willhoit’s Long Beach Porsche restoration and hot-rodding shop can be a little intimidating. There’s no oil or grease — anywhere. That might be why Dick Moran of Orange County, California, has chosen to have Willhoit restore more than a few of the Porsches in his collection. You see, the two appear to be cut from the same cloth…both of them are perfectionists.
When you see one of Willhoit’s cars, there is no denying the quality of the work. And a lot of work went into this one. “This latest addition to Moran’s collection needed to be really special,” Willhoit recalls. Moran bought the coupe because he wanted a closed version of his 1956 ‘GT look’ 356 Speedster (Excellence February 2005). That would take awhile.
“I reminded John recently that he didn’t have any grandkids when we started the coupe’s restoration,” says Moran. “He now has two, and the oldest one is five years old! This was definitely the longest ‘resto’ we’ve ever done, but it was also the most challenging in making the car look and perform the way it does now.”
The project began in earnest back in 2004, when Willhoit asked Moran a question every Porsche owner dreads. “Do you want the good or the bad news first?” When Willhoit gave his verdict, it wasn’t pretty: “Well, the bad news is we’ve finished taking the ’58 apart, and it’s full of rust. The good news is I have a donor tub to pull sheetmetal from.”
Most people might have asked about moving the project over to the donor tub, but Moran’s coupe was an interesting car. “According to the previous owner, this was the first 356A made with an electric sunroof,” says Willhoit. “He also told me it was the 1958 Paris Auto Show car.” Unfortunately, it had no verifiable history and faded Glacier White paint. Worse, it was in poor condition. Very poor.
“I paid next to nothing for this car, and I still paid too much,” says Moran with a wink. “It was badly neglected and hadn’t been driven in 40 years. There was so much rust that, when Willhoit finished putting the two 356s together, there wasn’t much left over from either.” Before it was done, the ’58 coupe would undergo a color change and gain one-inch-wider rear fenders in the back, bigger wheels, and a 2.0-liter, fuel-injected flat four.
Larger engine? Flared body? Widened wheels? What’s the goal with this thing, anyway? you might be asking. Think 356 Outlaw with a 2,500-hour body, many real GT parts, and a powerplant putting out 170 hp at nearly 7000 rpm. Think GT3-ish 356. While the project evolved over eight years, one thing was decided early on: The ’58 coupe would be painted factory Black, just like Moran’s hot-rod ’56 Speedster.