Purchased new on April 7, 1956, by a Canadian GI overseas (or at least shipped to Canada originally, as noted on the car’s Kardex from Porsche records), this car made its way to Houston and was owned by a submarine commander who broke down in Benson, AZ, while on his way from Houston to Los Angeles. The car was towed to nearby “Precision Motors” in Tucson. The parts needed to fix the Porsche were not on hand, so the owner traded in the car for an E-type Jaguar to complete his journey.
Jack Rowe, the owner of Precision Motors, sold the car shortly after to Carl Nelson, the owner of “Silver Star Motors,” a Mercedes-Benz repair shop also located in Tucson. He owned the car until his passing in 1997. A local Porsche restorer, Chuck Croteau of Redline Service, had always known the car and acquired it after Carl’s passing. Chuck undertook a complete restoration of the vehicle to original in 1998 and finished the car around 2000. He cared for the car until he sold it to a local collector in 2005, before trading hands to the current owner in 2022.
This is truly one of the finest examples of a 1955 Continental offered anywhere. Documented with a Porsche Certificate of Authenticity and Porsche Warranty Kardex. It has been concours judged four times by the PCA, with a best score of 324.1, with judging sheets included.
|Vehicle:||1955 Porsche 356 Continental|
|Number Produced:||1,769 1955 coupes, (4,398 total bent-window coupes, 1952–55)|
|Tune Up Cost:||$1,250 with valve adjustment|
|Chassis Number Location:||Aluminum plate to left of the gas tank; stamping on body panel in trunk in front of the gas tank|
|Engine Number Location:||On engine case boss, under fan|
|Club Info:||356 Registry, Porsche Club of America|
|Alternatives:||1955 Jaguar XK 140, 1953–56 Austin Healey 100, 1954–61 Alfa Romeo Giulietta Sprint|
This car, Lot 205, sold for $221,200, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Scottsdale, AZ, auction, on January 27, 2023.
Porsche struggled to establish itself as an automaker in post-war Europe. Raw materials, electrical and mechanical parts, and other assemblies were in short supply. Potential car buyers were staggered by the slow recovery of European economies. These issues, plus Old World craftsmanship, led to expensive automobiles. One country that had money and was eager to buy new cars was the U.S.
The Max effect
Into that breach stepped Max Hoffman, a New York City-based, wartime-displaced Austrian with prior experience importing cars in Austria and France. After inventing a metallic-coated plastic jewelry that sold well, Hoffman had the financial resources to return to his favorite business, importing cars. With ties to the Porsche family, he became the U.S. distributor for its new sports car, among other marques. He bought half of Porsche’s total production some years, and he had substantial influence with the factory. He was an astute businessman and marketer who became wealthy when he sold U.S. distribution rights back to their parent companies (including Jaguar, VW, Porsche and, most profitably, BMW).
Hoffman was instrumental in Porsche’s early years, and is accorded primary credit for Porsche’s shield badge, the 1952 America Roadster and the 1954–58 Speedster. The latter was quite important to the development of the marque. Suffice to say, Max Hoffman helped build a legacy that Porsche continues to enjoy today.
What’s in a name?
Hoffman did not believe that Americans wanted to buy cars with numerical names. What does 356 denote to a buyer? He started using “America” in his advertising and sales literature in 1952. Next, he wanted a name on the flanks of the front fenders of coupes and cabriolets — like the Speedster. He suggested “Continental” for the cars coming to the U.S., although the nameplate lasted for just the 1955 model year. While the 1939–48 Lincoln model of the same name had been discontinued, Ford was bringing back a Continental II for 1956. Its trademark lawyers were persuasive.
For 1955, Porsche had two engine choices. The 1500N “Normal” was rated at 55 hp with two Solex 32 PBI carburetors and a 7.0:1 compression ratio. The 1500S “Super” was 70 hp with two Solex 40 PICB carbs and an 8.2:1 compression ratio. There were three body styles: coupe, cabriolet and the entry-level-priced darling of the racing set, the Speedster.
When the substantially redesigned 356A was introduced for 1956, the prior model became known to enthusiasts as the “Pre-A” — obviously never an official moniker — but it persists to this day. The 356B came for 1960–62 models, the 356C for 1964–65. Then the 911 and 912 model lines took over.
Our subject car had a well-known history. It was reportedly a solid original car with a sympathetic restoration executed by known Porschephiles of good repute. All the body panels and floors were said to be original, with the doors and lids numbered to match the car’s serial number. The 1500N engine was matched to the build specification per the Kardex.
Fit and finish were good, with a bare-metal repaint in the original Turkish Red. Trim was predominantly restored original pieces. The interior was reportedly restored to original spec, as were the instruments. The large Telefunken radio was in place, if behaving “funkily.” The car did not have Turbo rings on the wheels, but it did have an Abarth sport muffler. And Bonhams presented the car’s Certificate of Authenticity and Kardex. All in all, it looked to be a solid offering.
But wait, there’s more
It turns out our subject car was listed online on Bring a Trailer in March 2022 (Lot 71688). The commentary pointed out some possible discrepancies. First, the car probably was not born a Continental because it was sold new in Germany to a Canadian soldier and thus never offered through Hoffman — this is not in itself a big ding. Yet the interior was not in the original color, the gearbox number did not match the Kardex, and the car might well have had mid-1956 356A replacement front bodywork, based on a measurement between the headlights and the intake grilles. As these issues came up during the auction, the seller was unable to explain them. The car went on to no-sale at a high bid of $180,000.
While the realized price of $221k here might seem a bit light, the questions remained unresolved, with no additional light shed by the catalog listing. Hoping for the best but being prepared for the worst, the price paid ranges from fair to strong, depending on how the details sort out. ♦
(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)