©2021 Courtesy of RM Sotheby’s
The term “barn find” has been vastly abused in the collector-car market, but here is a 356A cabriolet which was literally pulled out of an old building near Salem, OH. This matching-numbers cabriolet shows fewer than 46,000 miles — believed to be original — and was delivered in the rarely-seen Aquamarine Blue Metallic with a red leather interior. The coachwork appears complete, including exterior trim with bumpers equipped with the U.S.-specification overriders. The paint is believed to be original. Exterior trim shows the expected wear of nearly 65 years, as does the original canvas top, but the folding mechanism is intact. The interior leather is in remarkable condition. A Telefunken AM/FM radio is in the dash, with the tube amplifier sharing space in the front trunk compartment with the car’s original toolkit, jack and spare wheel. Other details: The single outside rear-view mirror appears to be of British origin, a pair of OEM optional green plastic sun visors are attached to the windshield header, and the engine has been fitted with a Bursch-style exhaust. Released by the factory on December 4, 1956, for shipment to Hoffman Motors in New York City, this cabriolet was first registered on January 28, 1957, to Mrs. Helen Spatholt of Leetonia, OH. It remained with her until 1989, when title was transferred to Mr. Donald Watkin of Washingtonville, OH. In 1993, the car was placed in a rural barn, where it would remain until recently, when his widow decided to sell it. This cabriolet would be the perfect starting point for a comprehensive restoration. It should be expected that a desirable open 356 of this age will have suffered from rust in the usual locations, but there is a hugely supportive early Porsche restoration network, and virtually every factory part that cannot be properly restored is available. It is supplied with its original driver’s manual, Kardex copy, registration documents dating to 1957, a factory maintenance manual, and an early Stoddard parts catalog, as well as tools and a spare.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Porsche 356A 1600 Cabriolet by Reutter
Years Produced:1956–59
Number Produced:3,367
SCM Valuation:$171,500
Tune Up Cost:$1,000
Chassis Number Location: In front of gas tank, stamped on trunk floor and on chassis tag on the passenger’s side next to gas tank. Also on driver’s side door jamb
Engine Number Location:On third piece of engine case below pulley
Club Info:Porsche 356 Registry
Alternatives:1956–59 Lancia Aurelia B24 S convertible, 1954–63 Mercedes-Benz 190SL convertible, 1955–59 MGA roadster
Investment Grade:B

This car, Lot 6048A, sold for $236,500, including buyer’s premium, at the RM Auctions’ Auburn, IN, auction on September 4, 2021.

Cabriolets were available throughout the run of 356s, starting in 1950 and through the end of production in 1965. They were always the most expensive body style when new, and as collector cars, their values slot above most coupes but below the “sportier” open cars including Speedsters, Convertible Ds and Roadsters.

With their upright body-color windshield frames and heavily padded tops, cabriolets are distinctive. The sportier open cars have removable chrome-plated windshield frames, with different doors as well. Cabriolets store their tops in a stack above the rear cowl, while the sportier versions have tops which mostly disappear.

Going sideways

The overall 356 market has been sideways for the past few years, with most coupe values somewhat lower, although in the past year we have seen some strengthening. Speedsters remain the most valued body style — which has been true for decades — even though they were the lowest-priced variant when new. Speedsters have stayed very strong during the period when other 356s, including Convertible Ds and Roadsters, dropped off a bit.

Slicing into the 356A market (and ignoring the condition of our subject car for the moment), 356As are hot and have been for many years. As the last model with low bumpers, swoopy front fenders and droopy headlights, these evoke the earliest 356 models. Yet they are far better to drive than the pre-A cars. Special 356A coupes set the top of the coupe price range around $90k–$130k, and the same is often true of cabs, which typically trade for $140k–$200k.

Looking at the broader 356B and C cabriolet market, we see these priced lower than 356As by $50k to $100k. These newer cabs have important mechanical updates, such as the heavily revised Type 741 transmission, providing a more-modern feel than a 356A. While some 356 buyers drive their cars all the time, others seek the beauty and rarity of the 356A. The cachet of cars like our subject cabriolet reveals the dedicated following which has developed around these early models.

“And on his farm, he had a Porsche…”

Here we have the elusive “barn find,” in this case a desirable open 356A, in unusual and pretty period colors, with lots of original pieces and parts. (And if we are to believe the auction company, rather low miles.) Many collectors who like pristine old cars can’t see through the dust, dirt, and in this case, rust, of an old clunker. I feel their pain, as it is hard for me to comprehend the amount of time, work and money that will go into making this car ready for the road.

However, some collectors ignore the dollar-value equation and find great satisfaction in being a part of bringing an old car back into service. A good friend, who is a neurosurgeon, spends his life trying to help people recover and regain their lives. He sees his role in having a car reborn as a similarly marvelous adventure.

In his world this is something very special. It is a project not about money. Rather, this is a car he can “make his own” and “bring back from the dead.” It’s not just writing a check and then looking at the car sit in his garage. Instead, it is a journey requiring his direction and involvement with the teams that will bestow upon this rusty hunk a second life.

Defining “value”

I have always been trained to calculate “value” when looking at old cars a certain way. The overall market is assessed around running cars in conditions ranging from okay, to very nice, to superb. This car presents as nothing more than a “parts car,” yet the market clearly said differently. So how does this heavily deteriorated and immobile 356A fit into the mix?

My friend Walt, the neurosurgeon, taught me a new way to think about barn finds. As we all know, price is driven by supply and demand. If we use the SCM Platinum Auction Database as a proxy for the true population of barn finds, we see restored and lesser running cars outnumber full restoration projects, such as our subject car, by what, 50 to 1? 100 to 1? It is its scarcity that values this one about the same as a very nice running example with similar specs.

Surely the buyer here will not make money on this car. But for someone seeking the special joy that accompanies putting an old car back on the road, this becomes an interesting project. Of course, we must call this one well sold, as it is of interest only for those who desire the enticing process of reviving a lovely old machine. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of RM Sotheby’s.)

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