1958 Porsche 356 A Speedster
Lot 23 | Monterey Jet Center Auction | Estimate $275,000 - $350,000
Chassis No. 83973
As a family run company in the 1950s, Porsche generally did not solicit or receive outside advice, even from their own importers and dealer network whose success depended on retailing cars well suited to their customers' requirements. In the early 1950s, Max Hoffman, the sole United States importer for Porsche automobiles, had a suggestion for a type of car that he thought would sell well in the U.S., specifically on the West Coast. Porsche honored his request for a basic car; one that would be lightweight and simple, with an open top utilizing components and running gear serviceable at VW dealers across the country. As a test case, the car ultimately developed – the aluminum-bodied 1952 356 America Roadster – was a success even if the meager sales total of 16 didn't reflect that.
What the America Roadster achieved, besides a few SCCA class victories, was the idea that this type of car would be a sales success in the US, if it could be built to a price. By 1953 Max Hoffman and John Von Neumann, newly-installed as Porsche's West Coast distributor, combined their influence to push Porsche to begin a new, price-conscious project Typ 540 - ultimately called 'Speedster'. With Von Neumann's advice about what was unnecessary, luxury items were deleted. A tachometer was not standard equipment, neither was a heater or roll-up windows. Sun visors and padded seats were optional. When it ultimately retailed at Max Hoffman's Manhattan showroom for $2,995 the 356 Speedster was the sales success that Porsche dreamed of, especially on the West Coast where it became a boulevard race car for some and a class winning SCCA race car for others.
It can be difficult to remember that, when new, a 356 Speedster was the affordable Porsche. Some were raced or modified but all were driven as Porsche intended; with spirit and vigor. An aura of cool has always surrounded Speedsters, especially those that can be driven and enjoyed with confidence. The car on offer is one such Speedster. According to a copy of its Kardex, 1958 356 A Speedster 83973 was delivered to Max Hoffman's showroom on 18 October 1957 finished in Ivory paint. Like most Speedsters, it was sparsely optioned from the factory, with the Kardex noting U.S.-spec details of sealed-beam headlights and speedometer scale in miles. Little is known of this Speedster's early days, with the first record of the car appearing in a March 1982 copy of Nugget, the newsletter of PCA's Golden Gate Region. In it, this Speedster is listed for sale in Silver Metallic with a non-matching 1963 1600S engine. A partial history file indicates that in the past few years 83973 has received maintenance work by 356 guru John Willhoit, including conversion to a more modern, reliable 12 volt electrical system. A few photos of paint and body restoration are included and, as per the owner, the car currently shows matching serial number stamps on the front hood hinge, inside both doors, and engine lid inner structure - a wonderful indication of originality.
Currently 83973 has undergone a number of improvements to bring it closer to how it left the factory in 1957. Peter Hoffman of Saarbrücken, Germany provided an NOS Porsche industrial engine case and built it to Porsche's own 1600 cc specs correct for a 1958 Speedster. His company 356 Classic Parts Gmbh is world renowned for having scoured the Continent assembling NOS and as new Porsche 356 factory parts for his world class builds. 356 Classic Parts also provided the Porsche 356 transmission case which was rebuilt by them to match the 1600 cc engine. A reproduction RS 60 steering wheel replaced a wooden Derrington. All of these improvements were made to return the car to its original form and, as such, closer to what made the 356 Speedster truly great in the 1950s – the ability to enjoy the open road, as one, with this lightweight and perfectly balanced jewel of an automobile. Accompanied by a Porsche Classic 356 toolkit, a jack and a trunk mounted spare, full tonneau cover and boot cover this 356 Speedster is sure to be a fun addition to any collection where the experience of pure driving enjoyment is paramount.