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Car Tales: Call A Doctor! The Porsche 356A Speedster

‘I love learning that one of my acquisitions at Beverly Hills Car Club has a fascinating backstory. Which is precisely what I have discovered about the fabulous 1957 Porsche 356A Speedster that we recently have for sale. It took a two-flight journey to Lexington SC, to discover this. I always believe that every car has its own great story or – often – stories.
Porsche 356A Speedster for Sale
‘The 356A Speedster was owned by a gentleman. And I mean that in the highest way: a real gentleman, as I learned, one with plenty of character. For in order to pay for studying for a doctorate he had opened a mechanics shop servicing Porsches. He had appreciated that where he lived, in Lexington SC, there was no way of getting your Porsche serviced or checked out. So that was how he got his Phd!

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‘As a young man he bought his own Porsche, the very 356A Speedster that I now have for sale. It was a very special car for both him and his wife, he said. Knowing all the marque’s quirks and foibles, he was the perfect owner. Although once upon a time this Speedster had been his daily driver, it is now many years since he fired it up. Under covers, in his garage, it has remained. Exactly as I found it.
‘Certainly to own this car had been a wonderful ambition, as the 356A Speedster is one of the all-time great sports cars. The car which we have recently bought from him, which comes complete with Certificate of Authenticity, is a beautiful model of the marque, the distinctive design, simultaneously sleek, slinky and comforting, brought out even more by the black paintwork and black interior. The vehicle comes equipped with a 4-speed manual transmission, 1600 super engine, dual Zenith carburetors, soft top, side curtains, Tonneau cover, jack, spare tire, and after-market fog lamps. It is an excellent and desirable weekend cruiser that is mechanically sound.
Porsche 356A Speedster dash
‘To differentiate between the various revisions of the model, Porsche 356s are customarily classified into several major groups. The 356 coupés and soft-top ‘cabriolets’ built through 1955 are readily identifiable by differences in windscreen design; the cars built between 1948 and 1952 have split windscreens; those from 1953 to 1955 are bent and center-creased.
‘It was in late 1954 that the 356A first appeared, distinguishable by its curved windshield. And the soon-to-arrive 356A Speedster, which today has a considerable cult following, was the first road-going Porsche to offer the Carrera four-cam engine as an option.
‘The idea for the 356A Speedster, which was a stripped-down roadster version with that distinctive windshield, did not come from Porsche itself. Rather, it was the notion of Max Hoffman, the sole importer into the USA of Porsches.
‘Hoffman was the impetus for some of the most iconic cars of the mid-20th century, including the 356 Speedster, the Mercedes-Benz 300SL Gullwing, the BMW 2002, the BMW 507 roadster, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, and more. Max Hoffman was considered the driving force behind the introduction and promotion of marques like MG, Porsche, Alfa Romeo, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Fiat, Healey and others into the US.
‘The first 356As had been sold in the USA as Porsche 365A Continentals – the idea of Hoffman, apparently, desired a distinctive brand-name rather than merely a number.This led to a lawsuit from Ford, the makers of the Lincoln Continental. Accordingly, by 1956 the equivalent model was being sold as ‘the European’. However, the car was expensive.
356 Speedster Buyer
‘Hoffman was convinced that a more basic version, a limited production model with only the bare necessities, inexpensive enough to compete with Triumphs and MG sports-cars, could sell well within the United States. Hoffman’s brainwave led to the legend that became the Porsche 365A Speedster, a low-cost, lower weight version of the 356 cabriolet that sold for just under $3000: the lighter body meant that the Speedster could live up to its name, taking its top speed over 100mph.
1957 Porsche 356A Speedster engine
‘Accordingly, it was ensured that the new, raked windscreen of the Speedster easily could be removed, further facilitating the pleasure of weekend racing: after a 356 had won in its class at Le Mans in 1951, it became common for owners to race the car as well as drive them on the streets.
‘Sporty black leather-wrapped fiberglass bucket seats replaced the standard seats and a minimal folding top was added; side windows were discarded in favor of side curtains. The Speedster had that lightened body, and special gearing, as well as a simplified dashboard with round gauges – limited to a speedometer and a temperature gauge – that was inspired by Porsche Spyder race cars that were available at the time. And the interior was about as basic as feasible, with minimal trim: a large, two-spoke steering wheel, and a floor covered in simple black carpeting.
‘Tailored to the American market, especially to Southern California, where its lack of advanced weather equipment was more than appropriate, the Speedster was an immediate hit: initially only 200 were built, but the next year sales burgeoned to more than 1,000. Ironically, today the 356A Speedster, despite its lack of amenities, has been found to be worth significantly more than the better-equipped 356A.
‘I have taken it for a few runs:
‘The 356 Speedster would only be offered for sale from 1954 till 1959, after which it was replaced by the less inspirationally named Convertible D. General production of the 356 series continued until April 1965, although in September 1964 the 911 replacement model made its debut.
Of the 76,000 Porsche 356s series originally produced, approximately half survive.
After we bought the Speedster from our Porsche-savvy doctor, he asked to hang on to it for another 10 days before we picked it up: he said that otherwise it was stealing his youth! And he said he would cry when the Speedster finally left.
-Alex Manos, Owner
Alex Manos 356A Speedster Buyer

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