Show and Tell

Restoring an early 1954 Pre A

November 15, 2013
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This writer first crossed paths with the eye-catching Pre-A Cabriolet shown here over a decade ago, when his older sister mentioned that a neighbor had an old red Porsche hidden away in his garage in the Palos Verdes area of suburban Los Angeles. By my next visit from Portland, I had obtained the owner’s telephone number, and soon afterward a short walk up the street brought me to Jim Scrimger’s home, where an open garage door revealed the beehive tail lights of an early 356.

Jim pulled off the rest of the cover and told me briefly about the red drop-top that had kept him happily occupied for many years. It had been restored, but keeping it fresh remained an on-going proposition. Some years later, Jim and I crossed paths again at the San Diego Porsche Parade, where the Cab was part of a special display of 356s. More years would pass before we agreed that it was time to share the long adventure that has been Jim’s ownership of the car. Again, my elder sister was the catalyst, mentioning over coffee that Jim’s wife Vicki had made a humorous reference to the Porsche as “Jim’s mistress,” an extra-marital interest that kept him close to home in his retirement. How many times have we heard that?

Jim relates that he’d owned many other Porsches previous to this Pre-A; as a bachelor and then as a college student, he’d had a 1964 356C, an early 912, a 1966 911, a 1962 356B, and then a 1968 911 Targa with a Sportomatic box, which Vicki drove while Jim was on active duty as a U.S. Navy officer during the Vietnam war. They kept the Targa until about 1979, then found the ideal buyer—a Porsche fanatic who suffered the effects of polio in his left leg and saw the electric clutch as perfectly meeting his needs.

The Targa had served Jim well while he was employed as a manufacturing systems specialist, but the realities of raising two children and making a living got in the way of having a sports car; instead, there were family-friendly station wagons and company cars to fill his transportation needs. Still, the desire to rejoin the Porsche community lingered in his mind.

One day, Jim learned through Loren Pearson, a friend and neighbor, of an old 356 Cabriolet stuffed into someone’s garage in nearby Hermosa Beach. Pearson was then the owner of a company that specialized in NLA parts for air-cooled VWs. He also had an interest in Porsches and mentioned to Jim that one of his customers, John Hoyem, dropped by on a regular basis hunting for very early Porsche parts. Pearson learned that the car in question was a 1954 Cabriolet that fell into the “I’m going to get it running one of these days” category. The owner’s wife was running out of patience (How many times have we heard that?) and was prodding him to concentrate on the four other cars that were a bit closer to functionality. Pearson thought the old cab might be available if Jim was interested. Of course Jim was interested, but there were several major roadblocks in the way: He was taking graduate school night classes at the University of Southern California on the G.I. Bill. He was busy all day working as plant manager for the Willis Oil Tool company, which produced high-pressure oilfield equipment for major oil companies around the world. He and his wife still had two small boys at home. He was trying to finish remodeling his house. There just wasn’t much spare cash available for such a purchase. That’s a fistful of reasons to put his dreams aside, so Jim just moved on with his life, periodically mentioning to Vicki that he sure wished there was some way he could pick up that old Cabriolet. (“I whined about it a lot,” he admits.)

After several months of grousing, Vicki, a certified marriage counselor, grew weary of Jim’s “I gotta have it!” litany. In early 1983, while Jim was away on a week-long business trip to Denver, Vicki called his friend Loren Pearson and asked for help. With Pearson’s assistance, they determined that the cabriolet could be acquired from for a modest $5,500. After a few more months of negotiating, money changed hands, and Pearson was able to start the car and drive it the few miles to the Scrimger’s house in Palos Verdes.

When Jim arrived home from Denver, he opened the garage door and was stunned to see what he also laughingly calls his “new mistress,” chassis number 60426, a very early 1954 model year Reutter Pre-A “bent-window” Cabriolet that displayed some 58,000 miles on the clock. “Happy birthday,” his wife exclaimed; “and by the way, this takes care of all future birthdays, as well!”

Also from Issue 215

  • David Donohue track tests the Turbo
  • A missing link in the 911's life story
  • Who should get credit for the design?
  • 987/997 ignition events and your warranty
  • Porsches and guitars--a great mix
  • Awesome power; Cayman balance
  • 1975 Carrera finds a new venue
  • A historian's look at the 356's birth
  • RS enthusiasts gather at Rheims
  • Could this car be worth $500,000?
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