“Hey would you like come down to Newport Beach and go to a jazz concert? We can stay at my friend’s house. What do you think?” I thought, Jazz? Well, maybe. “Oh yeah, they have an old 356 Porsche Speedster in their garage they might let you drive.” Let’s see. Would I like a chance to drive one of the most iconic vintage sports cars ever made along the shores of the Pacific? I thought about it again, for about half a second, then blurted out “I’m in!” Sometimes all the forces in the old car universe come together in one spot at one time. This was my time.
The Speedster was developed by Porsche with the Southern California market in mind. The car was a great success in Southern California, accounting for the majority of Speedster sales world-wide. The low-slung, reliable, nimble handling cars were popular with racers. Compared to the popular traditional British roadsters of the era, they were light years ahead in aerodynamics, handling, styling and engineering. Soon the Speedster would be synonymous with the So-Cal sports car scene and would become part of the automotive culture. Introduced in 1954, production ran through 1958, plus a few Speedster Carrerras in 1959. Production peaked in 1957 at 1,171 units.
My car for the day was an early 1957 model, discernible by its dual round “beehive” tail lamps used in the first few months of production. A super-solid rust-free driver with a large-bore engine kit, after-market carbs and alloy wheels, this car is no trailer-queen, and is ready to drive. I gingerly slipped behind the wheel and made myself comfortable. The first thing I noticed was how driver-friendly everything was. The positioning of the steering wheel, location of the shifter and pedals, and even the gauges are easy to read. The interior design is clean, simple and efficient, but somehow alluringly elegant. As I zipped up the on-ramp and onto the Pacific Coast Highway, or “PCH” as the locals call it, the car felt rock solid with tight, nimble steering. The super low-cut windshield is one of the design features that makes a speedster so sleek. I was prepared to get wind-buffeted and bounced around like a piñata when I hit freeway speeds, but it just did not happen. The aerodynamic shape of the car somehow allows for a very pleasant and comfortable experience. The Porsche was just as happy on the PCH as it was whipping around the backstreets of the beach communities of Laguna and San Clemente. A sunny day, a view of the coast, the smell of the ocean, and the Speedster. It is a tough job I know…..
When the current owners of this car, Denise and Craig Kirkpatrick, saw it for the first time, it was love at first sight. Denise’s father, Randy Cowherd, owned the car for many years, and raced a Porsche when they were still new in the late 1950’s. He still owns a 1953 Porsche today. I told him how impressed I was that the car felt so solid compared to some of the British and Italian cars I had driven from the same era. “That’s because it is a unit-body and has no frame! Those other cars are full of rattles!” he told me. Eventually the car was sold to Denise’s brother. After awhile her brother decided to sell the car, and made her an offer she could not refuse: pay me what you can, when you can, and the car is yours. That was fine until his economic circumstances changed and he needed to cash out of the car. By that time, the car was worth twice what he agreed to sell it for, but being a man of his word and a good brother, Denise and Craig where able to pay off the car and take it home for the original agreed price. Denise does not care how much the car is worth, it is not for sale.
Now the car gets driven on a regular basis, attending Porsche 356 Club meets, and fun drives along the sunny Southern California coast. It is not tucked away in a dusty car collection, but driven and enjoyed as it should be.