Although Ferdinand Porsche had established his automotive design consultancy in the early 1930s, his name would not appear on a car until 1949. When it did, it graced one of the all-time great sports cars: the Porsche 356.
Rare and desirable late example
1958 Porsche 356 A 1600 Super Speedster
Estimate - £250,000 - £350,000
•Believed one of less than 200 'S'examples built in '57 for '58
•One of the last 800 Speedsters built
•Mildly race prepared with a later 1600 SC engine (110bhp)
•Extensively restored by recognised specialists
•Very fast and responsive
Having commenced manufacture with a short run of aluminium-bodied cars built at Gmünd, Porsche began volume production of the steel-bodied 356 coupe at its old base in Stuttgart. The work of Ferry Porsche, the 356 was based on the Volkswagen designed by his father. Like the immortal 'Beetle', the 356 employed a platform-type chassis with rear-mounted air-cooled engine and torsion bar all-independent suspension. In 1951 a works car finished first in the 1,100cc class at the Le Mans 24-Hour Race, thus beginning the marque's long and illustrious association with La Sarthe.
Constant development saw the 356's engine enlarged first to 1.3 and then to 1.5 litres; the original split windscreen replaced by a one-piece; and a Porsche synchromesh gearbox adopted. A cabriolet followed hot on the heels of the original 356 coupé and then in 1952 a trial batch of 15 roadsters was constructed at the behest of US importer Max Hoffman, who had persuaded Porsche of the potential for a 'cut-price' entry-level model. The roadsters' successful reception in the USA led to the introduction of the Speedster model in 1954. The Speedster's inspiration is also credited to John Von Neumann, Porsche's West Coast distributor, who had chopped down a Gmünd-built coupé in the late 1940s to create a lightweight competition car. Explaining such a car's appeal Neumann once said: 'Guys want to go, on a Saturday night in June, down Sunset Boulevard with their elbow over the door and the girls can see them in the car.' Plus ça change ...
Instantly recognisable by virtue of its low, wraparound - as opposed to V-shaped - windscreen, smaller and entirely retractable hood, lower door waistline, horizontal trim strip at the level of the door handles, and twin bucket seats - all of which served to emphasise its sporting image - the Speedster was, in effect, an 'economy' model intended to compete with the cheaper British sports cars. The Speedster was powered initially by the 1.5-litre version of Porsche's horizontally opposed four, gaining the new 1.6-litre, 60bhp engine with the introduction of the improved 356A for 1955. Priced at $2,995, the Speedster was the lightest of the 356s, enjoying a commensurate performance boost that meant over 100mph was possible. Allied to its already renowned handling characteristics, this meant that the Speedster was an instant success in the burgeoning American sports car racing scene.
Testing the Speedster alongside its Coupé sibling in 1956, Road & Track magazine declared, 'A more comfortable sports car for long, high-speed journeys would be very hard to find and certainly no other car achieves the combination of comfort, performance and fuel economy of the Porsche Continental Speedster or Coupé.' Its combination of style, performance and value for money made the Speedster deservedly popular - 4,822 examples being constructed between 1954 and '58 - and today this most handsome of the 356 variants enjoys iconic status.
The Car Offered
Like most Speedsters, this late 356A was delivered new to Hoffman in New York, USA. A 1958 model completed in December 1957, the car was originally finished in Ivory with brown leather interior, and left the factory equipped with sealed beam headlights, tachometer in miles, and USA bumpers. We are advised that it was delivered with the desirable 1600 Super engine (believed rare for a Speedster) producing 75hp instead of the standard 1600 engine's 60 horsepower.
In 2000, the Speedster changed hands and in 2003 was fully restored by Mr. Scrogham of G&W Motorwerkes Ltd, recognised Porsche specialists of Waynesboro, Virginia. No expense was spared, as evidenced by invoices on file totalling over $60,000. In the course of the rebuild the colour scheme was changed to silver with black interior, and the car was also treated to some mild race preparation. The latter included fitting a central fuel filler cap in the bonnet, leather securing straps to the front, central exhaust, roll-over bar, etc. Importantly, the original engine was replaced by one of a later type: the highly desirable 1600 SC unit that produces 95hp in standard trim. Further research within the Type 356 community in the USA and Europe has revealed that this engine incorporates the crankcase and cylinder heads, etc of the more robust 912 engine. This 1600 SC engine has been tuned to produce a comfortable 110hp, which makes this Speedster not only very fast but also very responsive and torquey, qualities sometimes found lacking in the standard 356.
While the Porsche was with the previous owner, various other works were carried out in 2007 by the respected US specialist Canepa for a total of $23,000 (bills on file). The Speedster then remained in California until 2015 when it moved to the UK. Accompanying documentation consists of a Porsche Certificate of Authenticity; a copy of the cancelled California Certificate of Title (2015); a UK V5C Registration Certificate; copy MoT certificate (expired January 2016); and the aforementioned bills.
The vendor proudly informs us that Prescott Kelly, the former Porsche Club of America President and Porsche authority, has stated that this particular example is 'one of the best driving Speedsters, which gives unlimited pleasure to the driver', while immediately prior to its purchase by the current owner, Professor Steven Harris of New York is said to have declared it to be one of the fastest he has driven.
A Bonhams specialist has had the pleasure of driving this outstanding Speedster and was mightily impressed by its performance. He found that the engine very torquey and responsive, and that the road holding, suspension, and steering were a true pleasure while the brakes, clutch, and gearbox all performed well. His verdict: 'This is by far the best 356 I've ever driven.'
Link to auction page - http://gaukmotors.co.uk/vehicle/1958-porsche-356-speedster