1952 Porsche Type 540 America Roadster

This is an unusual example of a significant, yet somewhat mysterious early Porsche model, the enigmatic Type 540. It has taken decades for marque experts to unravel the numerous questions of the America Roadster, even including such basics as how it came about, who thought of it, and why its production was so brief.

Suffice to point out here that the America Roadster—of which perhaps eleven survive—was the model that began to establish Porsche as a street-useable marque also capable of being raced effectively. It provided the initiative, later acted upon by Porsche’s prime coachbuilder, Reutter, in creating the best-loved Porsche of the 1950s, the 356 Speedster.

So why so much mystery about this model? Partly because the car was never cataloged. Since it was intended only for American export, the model was not promoted within Europe. In addition, since Heuer, the coachbuilder, lost money on each body built, the production run was cut short after just sixteen cars.

In the midst of modestly growing sports car production, Ferry Porsche appreciated that a market existed for a raceworthy Porsche in the United States. In order to obtain light weight and allow for low-volume output without expensive production tooling, the body was aluminum. To save weight, cost and complexity, the doors were hollow, supporting side curtains instead of roll-up windows, and the simple dash panel featured an open glovebox.

Although full-up weight was 1,580 lb., about 122 lb. was removable by unbolting the split windscreen and canvas top. Alloy bucket seats were available, as were a small plastic racing windscreen, leather hood straps and headlamp stoneguards. Power was ample, with 0 to 60 in about 9.3 seconds and a top speed of 110 mph.

While the first America Roadsters were fitted with single-grille engine covers, a second batch had twin-grille decklids as well as subtly flared fenders. A third version may have existed with a fixed windshield and partially enclosed rear-wheel arches. Chassis 12 353 is from the second production series, with a correct twin-grille decklid and flared fender openings.

This example was imported by Max Hoffman in October 1952. Its first owner, Larry Kulok, entered the 1953 Sebring 12 hours race but was unable to start due to transmission failure. This chassis may have been one of two America Roadsters in the 1954 Sebring race which finished an unimpressive 15th and 36th. Today’s seller purchased the car from the fourth owner, who owned it for forty years beginning in 1959. The fourth owner indicated that the 42,000 miles recorded are probably genuine.

The quick-fill fuel receptacle protruding through the hood panel is highly unusual, and this may be the only America Roadster so equipped. In the late ’50s, the car’s original color was changed from ivory with green leather to silver with red leatherette. All gauges and lights are working. The tires are slightly oversize at 5.25 x 16 rather than the stock 5.00 width. Attachments for the ultra-rare wheel turbo brake-cooling rings have been remade in the original style. The original side curtains, an early replacement top, a tool pouch that looks complete, and a period rollbar are all included. The only known mechanical modification from factory specification has been the fitting early in its career of shorter 3rd and 4th gears taken from Porsche 550 sports racing stock.