The 1950s Porsche 356 Speedster is iconic. From James Dean to Top Gun to Doc Hollywood to Justin Bieber’s Mistletoe, the beautiful German bathtub has stood for decades as shorthand for cool. Originally Porsche’s cheapest, simplest model intended for racing, today its pure form just screams cool.
Porsche only made a few thousand examples. Now, the few that remain trade hands for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sadly, most of them aren’t driven and appreciated – they’re locked up in pristine storage while they financially appreciate. (Matt Hummel is one of the rare exceptions who drives the heck out of his 356s.)
Fortunately, there’s a thriving market for replicas that cost much less. Boutique car companies like Vintage Motorcars take a VW Beetle, shorten it, and mount a Speedster-style body and interior. Clean, simple, and a lot of the Speedster experience without the insane expense or hassle.
I’d been watching the Speedster replica market for a while, waiting for the right opportunity. Right now is a pretty terrible time to buy most kinds of cars, but the Speedster replica market has remained relatively stable for a few years. There’s a steady stream of new ones being built, and the new ones have some neater technology like heated seats and fuel-injected Subaru engines.
I didn’t want to commission a new one – there’s a multi-year waiting list for those, and really, I didn’t want something super-custom. I just wanted one with good color choices that had been well taken care of. Besides, it’s not like age is all that easy of a number to pin down on these – they’re put together from all kinds of parts.
When this ivory one came up in May, I was mesmerized immediately.
I have named her Sabine, a common 1950s German name. She was built in 2010 by Vintage in Hollywood Gardens, a very well-reputed Speedster builder. The former owner wrote to me about how he styled it:
I understand they were sports cars for their day but the colors of this one just seemed too elegant to me and all I could picture was some female movie star from the 50s speeding on Mulholland Drive at night in a big hat with a scarf holding it on tied under her chin, and sunglasses at night. To me her car had white wall tires in the day, and no wood grain. Nothing extra either because she’s extra. Sounds funny but that’s my first thought when I saw it.
(That’s me: a female movie star from the 50s. Okay, maybe not – but I *did* want to drive her car.)
I think he completely nailed the visuals, and he certainly nailed the mechanicals. He was a well-credentialed mechanic, and he added all kinds of goodies to the engine to make it more powerful. Well, I say “more powerful,” but keep in mind that these things usually only have around a hundred horsepower. For perspective, my Jag has 500, although it also weighs a ton more.
This car was an irresponsible splurge. I live in the desert, under intense hot sun. This car does not have air conditioning at all, which means it’s only useful in fair weather, and even then I’ll need a thick layer of sunscreen. Even worse, the Speedster has a legendarily low cut-down windshield, and I just flat out don’t fit in it with the top up. So this thing will sit in the garage, top down, just waiting for the right moment to come out and play.
However, I’m a short road trip away from LA, which is where I picked the car up this past weekend, and had a great time:
If you’re keeping track,
This means I’m up to 4 cars right now, all 2 doors with 2 seats – some have rear package space, but not really usable seats. I kinda think of them as seasonal:
- Vegas winter: Speedster replica (no AC)
- Vegas spring & fall: Ferrari 328 (AC works, but isn’t strong, can be driven with the top up in a pinch)
- Vegas summer: Porsche 944 (great AC, comfortable, but not a convertible)
- Road trips: Jaguar XKR-S (modern, some luggage space, and I don’t mind putting a lot of miles on it)
The Ferrari and the Speedster are beautiful, but they really only make sense when their tops are down. With the roof closed, my 6’3″ frame (1.9m) only technically fits, but it’s a bad driving experience, and they’re loud (not in a good way) with bad stereos.
The 944 and XKR-S both just simply work: they’re easy to drive, drama-free, and handsome. Note that I didn’t say stunning or gorgeous – they’re just not at the level of the Ferrari or the Speedster.
I’ve only got a 3-car garage, but I’ve got an idea on how to make this work. (No, it’s not a lift, either.)