Unassuming Gem

A well-worn 356B racer is restored into something outstanding.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 1
December 5, 2022

Chris Turner, the owner of Gaswerks Garage in Paramus, New Jersey, has spent hundreds of hours driving his 911 Cup cars on race tracks. He loves their raw power, superb handling, and outstanding level of driver engagement. Along the way, he also became enamored with driving slow cars fast—well, slow relative to his Cup cars. His first “lower-powered” racer was a Sabel Fiberglass Special—a kit car from the early 1960s—powered by a Porsche 356B engine. That machine was light, quick, and virtually irreplaceable. Turner didn’t even want to think about sourcing or building a new body for it in the event of an accident, so his Sabel was to come out only on special occasions. But what could take its place?

Gaswerks owned a 356 Speedster hot rod/race car at the time. Turner learned of a 1960 356B coupe race car that had spent many years in the Vintage Sports Car Club of America (VSCCA) for sale. The coupe’s owner was interested in the Gaswerks Speedster, and Turner liked the coupe, so they struck a deal. The coupe had spent most of its life as a race car running on road courses across the Northeast and was in pretty tired condition. That was no problem, though, as Turner enlisted Gaswerks Garage’s master restoration and service technician Gaspar Fasulo to breathe new life into the flat-four-powered Porsche.

Restoration Time

Getting the project rolling, Fasulo stripped down the 356B to its bare bones and had the body acid dipped to remove all the old paint. But when the car returned from being stripped, its sheet metal was in much worse condition than expected. Turner and Fasulo looked at each other and wondered what they had gotten themselves into. It was a sad, shriveled-up little car. But they had dealt with vehicles in rough shape before and had the desire and skill to fix this one, too.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 2

The body went off to a metal shop for repairs to the floors, inner wheel wells, and other areas of the body and then got a fresh coat of primer and paint. When the body returned to Gaswerks, its finish was so deep you could practically fall into it. It was almost too nice to make into a race car again. As this 356 was going to continue its life as a racer, they would have to wait for that first ding or scratch to baptize it as a race car.

They didn’t have to wait long as the Porsche got dinged in the shop before it was even finished being rebuilt. Fasulo was upset and asked Turner if he should return the car to the body shop. “No,” came the response. “It’s a race car, leave it alone.” As such, the car had its first shunt before being driven in anger again.

The 356 had come with lots of old band-aid-style repairs. The wiring harness, for example, had connector on top of connector. If something failed, the wire would be cut out and fixed with a butt connector. Fasulo also removed approximately 20 hose clamps from one fuel line. The car never truly got the attention it deserved in the past and got one temporary fix after another.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 3

The dashboard had also been chewed up by the installation of all the wrong gauges in all the wrong sizes. There were muscle car-style units in place of the original VDO gauges. The wiring harness under the dash was impossible for anyone to make sense of, as it seemed homemade; only the original creator might have been able to know where everything went. The roll cage seemed to be the only well-prepared part of the car.

As far as the engine, it was completely taken apart and built back up to legal VSCCA specs. Fasulo raised the compression ratio to 12.5:1, changed the camshaft, and added a SCAT crank, JE pistons, a 12-volt electrical system, and an MSD ignition. He kept the original Solex carburetors but modified their internals for better flow. Attached to the engine is a 550 Spyder-style exhaust made from TIG welded stainless steel. After Fasulo’s gentle massaging, the 1,620cc flat-four puts out around 150 horsepower.

In the car’s past life, someone had installed 356C or SC disc brakes. As this Porsche had raced for so many years with those stoppers, Turner and Fasulo decided to keep them. They retained the stock rotors and calipers, but Fasulo installed a new dual-circuit master cylinder and stainless steel brake lines. On the suspension end, they swapped the 22 mm (0.9 in.) torsion bars for 26 mm (1.0 in.) ones and added a set of adjustable Koni shocks. The fuel tank was a generic unit, straight out of a parts catalog. They didn’t like that setup, as it didn’t hold much fuel, so a custom 100-liter (26.4-gallon) tank was built and paired with a matching fuel sender.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 4

Fasulo found that some of the glass was held in with—of all things—sheetrock screws, so all new flush-mounted windows were fitted. Next, they installed a new wiring harness. They then sourced all the correct gauges—plus a 904 combo gauge—but they couldn’t just drop them in. Over the years, the dash had been extensively drilled to make room for all the added knobs, switches, and gauges, so Fasulo expertly welded in a new dash.

The four-speed transmission was given the same loving care. Fasulo disassembled it, re-geared it, and added a Kennedy flywheel and clutch. On top of the shift lever is a Gaswerks trademark for their competition cars: a 917-style shift knob. Not only does this wooden grip look cool, but it also keeps the driver’s hand cool by not transferring heat from the transmission. For seating, the driver and passenger ride in a pair of rebuilt 356 Speedster buckets re-done in leather and hard-to-find German corduroy inserts.

In Fasulo’s mind, there are only so many styles of wheels you can put on a 356 that look the part. Turner and Fasulo wanted to put something on the car that looked good and would save some weight. The solution was a set of 15 × 5.5-inch Porsche space-saver spare alloys. The spare wheels weigh 10 pounds each, while regular steel wheels of the same dimensions tip the scales at 19 pounds. The space savers are not the easiest things to source, but diligent searching paid off in finding them.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 5

The resurrected racer exceeded Turner’s expectations. He thought it would drive like a clunky old 356, but Fasulo and his team had taken it to a new level and created a gem of a race car. Turner had previously worried about damaging the painstakingly rebuilt engine, but he was pleased the MSD ignition unit was added with an adjustable rev limiter to keep things copacetic and, at the same time, allow changes for various tracks and hill climbs.

Fasulo has the flat-four’s limiter set at 6,800 rpm as a fresh-off-the-stand engine. He wanted Turner to become used to the car before any changes were made. In the racing off-season, he will readjust the valves, inspect the spark plugs, and lean on it a little to get some more rpm and horsepower out of the little engine. Even before any adjustments were made, the flat-four had more grunt than a standard 356 street engine. Fasulo knows that when the flat-four is fully broken in, it will be capable of turning 7,200 rpm.

The Drive

Inside this car, you have—as in most 356s—excellent visibility, and you don’t feel cramped or claustrophobic. With a five-point racing harness holding you in the Speedster seat, you also feel like a part of the car. The leather-wrapped wheel with stitching that matches the seats feels perfect in your hands, and the steering is precise and nicely weighted.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 6

On the road, the 356’s handling is very predictable, and its suspension does everything it should without drama. The roll cage definitely helps stiffen the overall vehicle structure, as there is minimal body roll. The car feels planted and stable at higher speeds, and its gear lever is a tactile joy to use while running through the noisy straight-cut gears. In addition, the brakes are spot on. Running on 185/70-15 Avon tires and tipping the scale at 1,640 lbs, this 356 is a light and nimble track weapon.

For an early Porsche, its handling feels exceptionally neutral. At no point do you have that feeling or worry in the back of your mind that the rear end is going to swap positions with the front. Instead, your confidence builds the more laps you run. This little Porsche has a new lease on life and will run a full race schedule with the VSCCA again. It showcases just how magical a used-up 356 can be when it is rebuilt by the right hands.

Photo: Unassuming Gem 7

Also from Issue 297

  • 992 GT3 RS Drive
  • Supercharged 991.1 Carrera S
  • Cayenne & Panamera Hybrid Drives
  • Evomax Max11 911
  • Market Update: 1965-1973 911
  • Modern Porsche Cooling System Tech
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