Once Upon a Coupe

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“Still,” laughs Sikes, “that’s one of the things I most enjoyed about the car, the way it sounds. I often awakened my neighbors in Orinda when I fired it up in the morning.” No question that it turns heads when it passes by, but a light touch on the right-hand pedal keeps the racket in check.

But that’s beside the point—this little machine is an absolute blast to drive. The long shift lever slips easily into first, thanks to all-new bushings in the linkage, and after releasing the under-dash handbrake, I add some revs, carefully ease in the clutch, and the car moves out with purpose. The first few miles are used to warm things up, get a feel for the steering (very direct), the brakes (ditto), and very firm suspension, which delivers a ride that is direct yet supple and that’s well within expectations for a car of this sort. Best/worst of all is the wind in the face feeling, since the low Speedster windshield does little in the way of protecting taller occupants from the airstream as the speedo needle moves higher.

So, sunglasses firmly in place and all the temperatures and pressures up to normal, it’s time to squeeze the “go” pedal with my right foot. Hooah! This little roller skate is a toss-and-catch-it toy that loves to be driven hard, especially on lightly travelled back roads. It quickly has its driver laughing aloud. Loud? Well, yes, as mentioned, it’s a mite loud, but it’s the sort of exhaust pipe symphony we all can enjoy. A quick stab at the brakes approaching a right-hand sweeper shifts some weight to the nose and lightens the rear, and then a quick drop from third to second to keep the revs up, a bit of turn-in to rotate the car gently and predictably, and a smooth and steady application of throttle all combine to reward the pilot. The fat radial tires ruffle the grass at the pavement edge and the chassis drifts happily around.

Since I’m on a public road and the car belongs to someone else, I don’t try to find the point where the tail tries to take over, but the car’s limits are obviously pretty high even on DOT rubber. The occupant of the driver’s seat is wearing a silly grin as he returns the car to Farmer’s driveway. Weighing in at a hair more than 1800 lb in street trim, this old C would have been a great little racer with another hundred-plus pounds or so of interior and trim amenities shaved off—but I have to agree with the owner: It’s too nice a ride to put on a race track.

Sikes tells us that soon after the car was completed in 2006, he drove it down to the annual North/South 356 meet in San Luis Obispo, where it immediately drew a crowd, and the knowledgeable quickly discerned that this was no ordinary ragtop. Farmer’s workmanship drew wide admiration from judges and spectators alike. Certainly a different way to go topless, they agreed, awarding the car Best-in-Class honors for the day.

Shortly after our little road test, a couple of Walt’s Porsche buddies arrived from the Bay area to drop another car off for Dink’s attention, and drive Walt’s car home, a trip of just over a hundred miles. The guys were grinning from ear to ear in anticipation, knowing that a very enjoyable day was in store.

Sikes didn’t get the open 356 race car he first envisioned, but in its place he did get an extremely well-designed, well-built, and hugely entertaining open Porsche 356 that even the factory would have liked. Chicago-area exotic car dealer and vintage Porsche collector John Weinberger certainly did; he snapped up the little car when Sikes offered it for sale a couple of years ago. Proving that the old ex-coupe was still a long-distance runner, he and his wife entered it in the 2010 California Mille. The only thing he needed to do in preparation was modify the fabric roof.

“I had a trim shop in Costa Mesa make a new header and add a really cool matching latch to the middle; now you can drive it in the rain…and it did rain on the Mille!” Apparently the lack of wipers wasn’t an issue for Weinberger, who declared “Everyone loved the car…in fact, five people wanted to buy it, and I had to say ‘No!’ Top down most of the time…a great driving car….like it was glued to the road!” The Mille under its belt, Weinberger took the T6 home to Illinois, where it fits neatly into his garage with a pair of 1958 ’tubs; a real Speedster and a sunroof coupe.

So what are we to make of this former Reutter coupe, now drastically altered? One positive is that another old wrecked 356 has been given a new lease on life in the hands of an appreciative owner, rather than just moldering away in a junk pile. Another is that we can see what an imaginative and talented metalsmith can do with a blank permission slip. Customizing an automobile to satisfy one’s own personal taste or temperament is nothing new; the first guy to slap red paint on an “any color as long as it’s black” Model T Ford surely fell into that category of non-conformity, and when that long-ago individual got

rid of the hood, fenders, and other

body parts to create a new—wait for it—“Speedster”—the theme was duly established. We suspect that this one is going to see a lot more rapid miles before it passes to yet another appreciative owner.

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