Ferry Porsche considered Speedsters silly cars, but Europeans love them and have been buying them for a decade
What is it about the Speedster that has caused prices to rise to unheard-of levels? While other 356s and Porsches in general continue on a solid upward trend, Speedsters seem to be on a tear. What's so special about these cars, and has the same magic spread to the 1989 and 1994 reprise of the Speedster in 911 guise?
Today it takes about $120,000 to $130,000 to buy a #2 driver Speedster, unless there are significant flaws with the chassis or body. Double these prices for strong #1 examples. Several forces have caused the serious rise in 356 Speedster prices: currency effects, cultural appeal, cross-over demand, and competitive fever.
Toys for sun-worshiping Americans
The last great car boom was driven by the strong Japanese yen and the desire of Japanese collectors to spend money on our cars in the late 1980s; the current boom has been driven by the strength of the euro and the pound. Without these forces, our market in dollars would not have nearly the upward pressure it has today. When looking at the price of a Speedster, realize that if it were sold in Europe, a bunch of that price-say 25%-would be due strictly to currency conversion and the fact that it costs real money to ship a car to the Continent, pay ocean freight, import duties, and prepare it for sale.
Cultural appeal plays a special role in the values of Speedsters, because these Spartan 356s were rarely sold new in Europe. Speedsters were considered silly cars, not able to be used on a daily basis, and little more than toys for rich, sun-worshiping Americans. Ferry Porsche felt they would dilute the 356 brand image of performance cars you could use for daily transport. But today, Europeans love our Speedsters, and they have been paying high prices for them for over a decade, trying to fill the void that occurred as almost no new Speedsters were sold in Europe.
Cross-over demand simply means that Speedsters are ideal "token 356s" in a collection that concentrates on different marques. For a Ferrari, Cobra, Jaguar, or even American car collector who desires to broaden his horizons, the Speedster sits atop the 356 food chain, is immediately recognizable, and generally great fun to drive and be seen in.
The final reason Speedsters are selling at high prices is the competitive nature of the auction world today. When an item is in demand, there is no better way to get top dollar than through the auction process. This is how all major markets work, be it capital to fund our businesses, oil to run our economies, metals to build our products, or art to adorn our walls. It's all done by auction, whether by live open-outcry (as in the Chicago Board of Trade), electronic trading, or in selected lots such as those for fine artwork.
Prior to auctions, whether we want to admit it or not, we all guessed what our cars might be worth. Many of us guessed too low, and found our cars bouncing quickly to other new owners after we sold them. An auction changes all that, and the results can be quite dramatic-on both the uptick and the downside.
Objects of desire, not rational purchases
Speedsters remain objects of desire, not rational purchases with which to carry out our daily lives. As such, they have a strong emotional appeal, and the prices we see can be the result of pure emotion. At an auction, especially when two bidders go at it mano-a-mano, that emotion can result in numbers that shock us. The good news is that no single sale makes the market, and that there are always outliers in each market that represent nothing. But when two or more folks want that car that day, it is possible to get surprising results-directly because of the auction format-which can begin to change people's minds on values.
Within 356 Speedster production, which started in 1954 and ended in 1958, it is important to note that a basic rule of the 356 cars is broken; namely, the older it is, the worse it is to drive but the higher the value. While all Speedsters are valuable cars, people invert this "older is worse but worth more" rule and pay the most for the newest Speedsters. This is because the drivability and durability of the 356 grew by leaps and bounds, and the "pre-A" Speedsters of the first few years are much less fun to drive and much more fragile than the 356A cars starting in 1956. Within the A cars, the later 356A cars of 1957-58 (with a few in 1959) are the best and most desirable to drive.
For the 911 Speedsters, none of this has happened yet. They continue to sell, almost 20 years later, at or below their new car prices, not a happy sign for owners. Today's strong prices for vintage Porsches have had hardly any effect on 911 Speedsters. Yet these do not display the typical trait of declining in value as the years pass. Will they catch on someday and be the central icon for the 911 cars the way the Speedster is for the 356?
It's anyone's guess, but mine would be no. I think the 1973 Carrera RS is nicely handling the duties as icon of the early 911 line. But 911 Speedster values will continue to grow slowly as more Porsche enthusiasts desire to look backward and pick an older car to add to their stable.
And what happens when (and if) the vintage car bubble bursts? Speedsters will decline, just as all vintage Porsches will. But 356 Speedsters will remain solidly atop the 356 value hierarchy, no matter how much overall values tumble.