Is the Age of the Original Beater at Hand?


Editor’s Note: A buyer paid a record $583,000 for a very neglected 1958 Porsche 356A Speedster at Gooding & Company’s Pebble Beach Auction. Did the sale — the highest-ever auction price for a 356A Speedster — signal a shift in values? Are non-restored cars now more valuable than restored cars? Miles Collier and Donald Osborne share their opinions below:

An abused, neglected car sells for silly money

The sale of a Porsche 356A Speedster at Gooding & Company over Pebble Beach weekend for a world-record $583,000 was a consciousness-expanding experience.

I had taken quite an interest in this lot, as during the viewing it had been parked next to an unrestored 1967 Jaguar E-type roadster. Indeed, I used this pairing as a teachable moment during Publisher Martin’s Insider Seminar.

At the time, I pointed out the Porsche’s estimate of $325k to $375k as an amazing phenomenon, all the more so when compared with the Jaguar’s $220k–$260k estimate. Both cars were estimated at the heavy end of the continuum for examples of their kind. One was a fine preservation car, while the other was not.

In viewing our subject Speedster, I had a déjà vu moment. Back in the late 1960s, my cousin Bill owned a virtually identical 1958 Speedster, in Meissen Blue but with a red interior, and in his case, a 1600 Super engine. When I say identical, Cousin Bill’s car had about the same amount of rust — that is to say substantial — and the same cheesy aftermarket nylon top. However, Bill’s car still had the original square-weave carpet and original, non-expanded German vinyl interior as compared to our subject’s ancient replacement nylon carpet kit.

The heater in Bill’s Speedster was long inoperative, and driving that thing in a New England winter was no joke. My cousin’s Speedster was your basic ratted-out, rust-bucket Speedster worth about $1,000 at the time. It was cheap (and fun) transportation when these cars were essentially worthless.

So, what’s my point?

The Jaguar roadster at Gooding & Company was a preservation car. In contrast, the Speedster was a typical barn find that, when put away decades ago, was a ratted-out rust bucket being used as cheap transportation by someone who needed wheels. The Speedster hasn’t gotten any better for sitting for several decades. It is still an abused, badly rusted lump.

The market is avid for “untouched, original” preserved cars. Consider Chip Connor’s incredible 356 coupe, which took third in the Post-War Preservation class at Pebble Beach that same day.

Calling our subject a preservation car doesn’t make it one — however hard we try. Given the current prices of restored Speedsters, our buyer was upside-down in this deal by at least $300k — and probably more — the moment the hammer fell.

Once again we have a sad example of a naive buyer, whose heart is in the right place, trying to buy an “unrestored, original” car and paying a whopping great premium for the privilege. Alas, the car is, in fact, an abused and neglected car with massive needs, and, aside from the paint, few original surfaces.

The rule of thumb I use to determine whether a restoration is indicated is to ask whether the car is a more complete document as-is or as-restored. If the document desired is one that tells about the days of the $1,000 Speedster, this is it. Otherwise, this car was unbelievably well sold.

— Miles Collier

The difference between preserved and neglected

Forget politics, religion and sex. If you really want to stir the pot in a conversation these days, get two or more collector car enthusiasts together and ask what the difference is between a barn find, a preservation candidate and a restoration project.

For more fireworks, let one (or more) be familiar with the Italian term “conservato,” which literally means “preserved,” but the meaning of “preserved” is quite different in Italy than in the United States.

Conservato is the past participle of the Italian verb conservare, whose meanings include “preserve” or “conserve” but also — and most important in this context — “to treasure or to cherish.” In the Italian collector car sense, a vehicle which is conservato is not one that has been hermetically sealed in a garage from new, and it is not a car which has been driven 30 miles per year, never out of second gear or in the rain.

Instead, conservato refers to cars that have been used as intended — while being lovingly and regularly maintained and cared for as required. If the original dark metallic gray paint faded, it was resprayed in the same color in the same materials. If the side bolster of the driver’s seat became worn away in normal use, the original vinyl was repaired. It could — and should be — considered the best and most honest use of a vehicle as its creators intended. Never abused, never neglected, never abandoned.

This is analogous to a prized piece of antique furniture which has been used but loved for centuries. It will show clear evidence of fulfilling its function without having been abused, abandoned or reconstructed. When asked to contribute to this article, I leaped at the chance, especially given the vehicle being discussed. I spent a good deal of time looking at the “Time Capsule” 1958 Speedster during the auction preview, and I also had the opportunity to compare it with another, somewhat similar Porsche.

This year’s Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue featured a new Patina Class. It was defined as follows: “Patina is the wear from constant usage. The spot where the driver’s arm wore off the paint on the door — where the sun cracked the rubber — the door dings and sun damage from being driven (to work) every day for 50 years. The beauty is in their use rather than in their lack of use.” These were not barn finds, with trees growing through them. All had to be drivable, usable as intended.

In the class was a 1952 Porsche 356 Pre-A coupe. The original ivory paint was largely burned off on the horizontal surfaces, and the original fabric interior remained underneath the well-worn period vinyl re-covering.

The chrome trim showed heavy pitting, but the shut lines were even and tight, and the panel fit was as superb as the day it left Zuffenhausen. It might be argued that the finishes were a bit past preserving, but refreshing the paint and interior would result in a very satisfying, interesting and, dare I say, original driver.

Examining the auction 356, it was clear that when it was parked, the storage was not ideal, and the car showed several modifications made by the time it left the road. While it had been repainted in the original color, corrosion had made the sills and door bottoms explode. The panel fit of the trunk and doors was variable, and the interior sported metal sill-plate covers that appeared to have been made on someone’s garage workbench.

As has been seen in other situations, the bidding ended with the car, clearly to my eye an ambitious restoration project, being sold at the level of a fully restored example. Why?

Clearly because at least two bidders thought it was worth paying over the odds for what they may have thought to be a preservation candidate. That it isn’t will become apparent in short order.

As the collector car market continues to mature and collectors become more discriminating, I hope the not-too-subtle differences in these categories will become clearer to many more. ♦

— Donald Osborne



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