Once Upon a Coupe

It may be a faux Speedster, but somehow it's completely "right"

December 5, 2013
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From behind the wheel, this little open 356 drives and feels pretty much like a regular Porsche Speedster or roadster. In spite of the Speedster windshield, the sharp-eyed among you will quickly note that it wasn’t a Speedster when it departed Zuffenhausen. The nose is wrong, the tail is wrong, the doors are wrong. But at the same time, it’s, well…right. This car started life, in fact, as a 1965 T6 C coupe, the body manufactured by Reutter—just one of more than 13,000 or so constructed over a two-year period. Now, there’s certainly nothing wrong with a coupe unless what you really want is an open car, but when a wrecked tin-top is what you have at hand, you find a way to make it work.

One day in the mid-oughts, Bay Area investment fund manager Walt Sikes decided he wanted to go vintage sports car racing, so he turned to his friend Dink Farmer and asked him to build a nice coupe for that purpose. Farmer’s shop, near the shores of Clear Lake, California, northwest of Sacramento, soon produced a 1962 “B” that turned out to be so nice Sikes was able to wipe off the scraps of tire rubber and other track detritus once in a while and enter it in various shows where it invariably did quite well by the judges and attracted positive comment from onlookers. Sikes would eventually add an early 911 vintage racer to his stable to satisfy his need for speed, but his desire for something with a lot more headroom led him back to Farmer’s busy fabrication shop. “I wanted an open race car,” he says, “because they looked like more fun.”

When Sikes specified a topless track machine, Farmer convinced him not to waste an otherwise much more valuable old Speedster, Convertible D or roadster body for racing. Instead, he suggested, why not base the project on an old coupe? There were quite a few to be found in northern California; Farmer had several such examples in his own boneyard, including a damaged and stripped 1965 “C” body shell that had been given to him by a customer who had relocated to the Caribbean and needed to dispose of his automotive holdings. The old coupe had been rolled hard, recalls Sikes, and someone had already taken the crushed roof and pillars off. “We inspected it carefully, and found that the rest of the chassis squared up in pretty good shape. There was a little surface rust here and there from sitting outside, but most of the floor panels seemed okay at first glance, and the other pieces were very good.”

Farmer was glad to find a use for the decapitated shell. “I didn’t know what else to do with it,” he said, “and I thought it would be a great candidate for a vintage racer.” He and Sikes sat down to discuss what would be involved in creating such a vehicle. Walt liked Farmer’s proposal to create a faux Speedster, incorporating what they could of the coupe body, because he especially liked the shape of the late-style T6’s hood and nose. Dink would then adapt various pieces that he had on hand, and fabricate whatever else was required. “Dink is very creative,” says Sikes, “and turns out some amazing cars for his clients.” Walt gave his friend the green light to proceed.

Farmer’s top-flight metal-working skills (Excellence, May, 2009) and large inventory of early body spares allowed him to easily put his hands on the bits he’d need. “I used the coupe’s doors—which required re-skinning—and fabricated a new rear cowling from coupe sheet metal.” The dashboard was made from a fresh piece of sheet steel, formed on Farmer’s English wheel. Although the floor panels might have been salvageable, Farmer decided to begin with a clean slate, so they were replaced, along with the longitudinals, battery box, and rockers. Sikes says Farmer’s work on the coupe’s front and rear cowlings is especially worthy of note. The front cowl was carefully re-shaped and modified to accept a real Speedster windshield frame and glass, a fairly difficult task by itself. The rear was something else again, notes Sikes. “Dink had to fabricate an entirely new panel, changing the entire slope and angle so it would accept a real Speedster top and associated folding bows. That was very difficult because of the numerous compound curves. It’s tough to get all the angles right, but he did it, spending many hours with his body dollies and English wheel. He found a perfect 1965 Cabriolet twin-grille engine lid at Gary Emory’s Parts Obsolete in McMinnville, Oregon. Using Dink’s ideas and a few of mine, he got it done. He’s an artist with metal."

At this point, you’ll have surely noted, the project had moved well past the good-enough-for-a-vintage-race-car stage, where making a real Speedster soft top and windshield fit correctly is not a requirement. “When I saw what a great job Dink had done on the dash, front cowl and the rear deck,” continues Sikes, “we decided this was just too cool and good to be a race car…,” so the project shifted direction. Farmer’s penchant for interesting little custom details began to take hold. Those touches included his extending both the front and rear body valances—lending a certain Spyder flavor—reshaping the door and rocker panel contours, divesting the front trunk lid of its chrome spear and handle—again a bit of Spyder-like influence—unrolling all four wheel well lips for a bit more clearance, crafting new air intakes in the nose for an oil cooler, and adding some small vents on the rockers to help feed cool air to the rear brakes. He kept the T6’s original cowling air vent, but removed the windshield wiper assemblies and filled the holes in front of the windshield. Months of metalwork complete, Farmer rolled the new body shell into his spray booth and applied several coats of Diamond Silver Metallic (code L97A), Sikes’ favorite Porsche color, and one which also adorns Sikes’ 356 coupe and early 911.

Replica Spyder seats with tilting and sliding seat frames came from Jess Rodriguez at FiberSteel in Southern California. The new dashboard contains a set of gauges from an early 912, which were sent out to Palo Alto Speedometer for restoration. Jose Vegas, one of Farmer’s employees, installed the tasteful interior carpet, upholstery, and trim pieces supplied by Autos International. A custom rollbar provides a welcome sense of protection.

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