1958 Porsche 356A Speedster Replica: Past Blast

By: John Bowe, Photography by: Steve Nally

Presented by

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Tribute cars can be cringeworthy or admirable. This Porsche 356 Speedster lays a justifiable claim to the latter category

 

1958 Porsche 356A Speedster Replica

I’ve always loved Porsches and have owned 28 mostly older models from a 911 RS Carrera lookalike to 930 Turbos and 928s and I sold them all before they went up in value! But they all started from the vision of one man, Ferry Porsche, the son of Ferdinand Porsche. In 1939, Ferry envisioned a practical lightweight two-seater sportscar with a tubular chassis, spritely performance, and good handling and braking. But with WWII in full swing, it was almost 10 years before he could create the first Porsche, the 356. Incidentally, the prototype was actually mid-engined, with its boxer four mounted ahead of the rear axle, something Porsche wouldn’t do again until the Boxster some 60 years later.

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But the complicated 356 prototype wasn’t considered practical for production and Porsche designed a new version with a monocoque chassis and the first 356/2 was born in 1948. With a deal for Volkswagen to supply parts, volume production began in 1950 and by 1965 when production ended, more than 78,000 had been built.

With high sales of the 356 in America, Porsche’s biggest market, US importers were keen for a convertible version to compete with popular British sportscars of the day. They wanted a cheap, no-frills soft-top and what Porsche delivered became a cult car.

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The roof was chopped off the 356 to create the rakish 356A (T1) Speedster, which was a particular hit in sunny California where 1171 were sold in 1957 alone. Early versions had few luxuries which made them more appealing for weekend warriors who also wanted to race them. By 1958, though, sales of the spartan Speedsters were fading and luxuries like wind-up windows, better seats, and improved weather sealing were added to improve comfort levels. Now called the 356 Convertible D, the Speedster was also heavier.

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With the ever increasing prices of rare classic cars, original Speedsters in show condition are now way beyond the means of most people. Trawling the web, I saw one mint example for auction in the US with an asking price of US$2m! The stratospheric costs and rarity of classic sportscars, whether they are Ferraris, Ford GT40s, Shelby Cobras, or Jaguar C- and D-Types has resulted in huge replica industry, with various levels of quality and exactness. In fact, many owners of the ‘real things’ are commissioning exact recreations for everyday use while keeping their priceless originals under wraps.

We spotted this gorgeous little 356A Speedster replica at Melbourne luxury car dealer Lorbek’s new facility in Port Melbourne and I thought it would be interesting to compare it with an original, which I have driven previously. It was made by Platinum Speedsters in New Zealand 25 years ago and is in remarkable nick. The Kiwis seem to specialise in accurate recreations and I’ve seen some excellent Jaguar C- and D-Types and several desirable Ferrari 250 GTO replicas on the other side of ‘the ditch’.

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The finish on the fibreglass body is superb (the real thing was made from steel, of course) and the panel gaps are excellent. Like the car it’s modelled on, this Speedster features a very low windscreen, which makes it look very purposeful and, in the case of original 356As, was designed to be removed for racing.

At a glance, you’d have to be a real hardcore Porsche-ophile to tell it apart from a factory-built 356A, particularly as it has a lot of genuine Porsche components including the instruments, wheels, headlights and badges. In fact, Lorbeks say it can be registered as a Porsche. For a 25-year-old car, it’s in beautiful condition with just the right amount of patina and softening of the tan leather seats and it has a period Moto-Lita steering wheel, which I love, and the luggage rack is the real thing too.

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It runs a gutsy twin-port 1760cc Volkswagen flat-four, bored out to 1800cc, with twin downdraft Weber carburettors, which is not too far removed from the original powerplant. Neither is the four-speed VW gearbox, which feels just like the ‘box in the last Speedster I drove. One modern advantage is front disc brakes, the original had drums all ‘round.

Now, the most important thing, how does it drive?

We only had a quick cruise around Melbourne’s bayside on a perfect summer’s day but I was so impressed with this little car. It’s a genuine reflection of the 356 Speedster; light, lithe and reactive to driver inputs. Apart from modern necessities like seat belts and indicators it took me back to a simpler and, some would say, more enjoyable, carefree time. I could well have been cruising the Pacific Coast Highway up the Californian Coast. All that was missing was a Hollywood starlet.

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SPECIFICATIONS

1958 Porsche 356A Speedster Replica

Engine flat-4 1800cc 8 valve
Power 90kW (approx)
Gearbox 4-speed manual
Suspension Torsion bar (f&r)
Brakes disc/drum
Price $129,980

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