By 1956, the Porsche 356 had been continually developed into one of the world’s most respected sports cars. This feat was quite remarkable considering that Porsche as a company was only celebrating its eighth anniversary. The evolution of the Porsche 356 was swift and further impelled not only by Porsche’s drive for technical improvement but also by the realities of commercial success.

The Speedster’s origins are well-known—built at the insistence of the legendary Max Hoffman, Porsche’s U.S. importer.

Hoffman recognized the special needs of the U.S. market and encouraged—if not coerced—his European partners into building specific models to meet them. The Speedster was one of the most famous and successful fruits of Hoffman’s effort.

It was a Spartan, purpose-built sporting machine with minimal equipment. Priced at $2,995 to East Coast ports of entry, the seats were skimpy, the mostly-useless top tiny, and the car dispensed with the luxury of roll-up windows.

As compared to the 356, the new Speedsters included a revised windshield that significantly lowered the look of the car. A chrome strip down the side of the car was also added, and gone were unnecessary items, such as an effective top. Instrumentation had been reworked to only three dials: speedometer, oil temperature and optional tachometer. Seating was also changed with the addition of bucket seats with little mobility. Nevertheless, these cars looked great and were even more exciting and fun to drive. With the reduced weight from eliminating many trim items, the experience of driving a Speedster was remarkably different from the standard Cabriolet.

According to the Kardex, this was in fact a true “Super Speedster.” The car offered here has been garaged and covered in a climate-controlled environment since a full and complete restoration in 2002.

The pan-up overhaul preceded a return to a concours-correct original exterior and interior color combination. With fewer than 2,000 careful break-in miles on the new, Shasta-built C engine since restoration, no mechanical aspect of the car was overlooked. In addition to being a Super, this Speedster featured quite a few unusual options, including comfortable leather coupe seats, tonneau cover and one outside mirror on the driver’s side.

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:78,000-plus for all 356s, and 841 1957 Speedsters
Original List Price:Normal engine $3,371, Super engine $3,771, Carrera $5,371
Chassis Number Location:Plate beside gas tank on passenger side
Engine Number Location:On engine case under generator stand facing rearward
Club Info:356 Registry, P.O. Box 356, Stillwater, MN 55082
Alternatives:1957 Jaguar XK 140, 1957 Alfa Romeo 1300, 1957 Austin-Healey 100/6

This Speedster, Lot 68, sold for $162,500, including buyer’s premium, at Worldwide Auctioneers’ sale in Seabrook, TX, on April 30, 2011.

Porsche Speedsters were built in limited numbers between 1954 and 1958, with total production estimated at 5,662 examples of all varieties. The 1,900 1954-1955 examples were built in the “Pre-A” series, when Porsche mechanicals more resembled highly modified Volkswagen technology. The 356A, introduced in September 1955 at the Frankfurt Auto Show, changed much of that perception with an all-new suspension, updated bodywork and trim, and larger displacement engines.

In the 356A incarnation, Speedsters became more popular—especially for racing in the United States, where 216 pounds of weight savings really paid off. Porsche built about 3,762 Speedsters for the 1956-58 model years. The cars came with three engine options: Street cars were powered with the typical single camshaft, pushrod 1582-cc engine (called “1600”) in Normal 60-horsepower and Super 75-horsepower variants.

The famous Ernst Fuhrmann-designed “four-cam” Carrera engine in several different variants powered the high-performance models. Most Carrera Speedsters carried Type 547 engines of 1498cc, developing between 100 and 115 horsepower. These engines were famous—perhaps notorious—for their roller-bearing crankshafts. They worked well for high-revving race use, but not so well in street use, where the lugging away from stops induced heavy wear, and ultimately, failure.

The street Carreras were referred to as GS and had full street trim. Carrera GTs, on the other hand, were intended for racing. Porsche tuned them for more horsepower and dropped as much weight as possible, with stripped interiors and aluminum panels for the doors at first—then also for hoods and engine lids later on.

In 1959, the factory built a few remaining Speedsters as so-called “GS/GT” Speedsters with Type 692 1588-cc engines, many of them plain-bearing engines. These were a whole different breed of Speedster, and current prices amplify the differences. Today, GS Speedsters run between $350,000 and $500,000; early GT Speedsters are between $500,000 and $650,000; and 1959 GS/GTs are between $650,000 and $750,000.

An expert mistake

The street pushrod-engined Speedsters had a deservedly bad reputation for creature comfort in their day. So, most were sold into warm-weather climates, especially California and the Southwest, where they were favored by racers, engineers, and U.S. servicemen returning from Europe.

As late as the early 1980s, “experts” recommended cabriolets over Speedsters, as the cabs have roll-up windows, thick padded tops, and cushy seats. Woe to all of us who heeded that advice. Starting in the mid-1980s, Speedsters began an inexorable climb in desirability and price, culminating just a few years ago when the best pushrod street Speedsters climbed to $250,000 and above. Today, the market has definitely settled, and those $250,000 Speedsters of yesteryear are typically now a tad under $200,000.

A driver’s pluses and minuses

The 1957 Speedster from Worldwide’s Texas Auction appears to be a nicely turned-out driver, with some obvious dings for valuation. The plus factors include an apparently straight body with generally good gaps. The interior is attractively turned out and in good condition. The car’s color combination of silver over black is reported to match the factory build sheet, as does the desirable presence (originally) of the higher-horsepower Super engine, which was a $400 uptick in 1957.

Additional options reported to be on the Kardex included a tonneau cover, an outside mirror, coupe seats, and side spear trim. The car is a European model with no bumper overriders and a kilometer speedometer. Some buyers prefer the chrome U.S. overriders, while others prefer the leaner, cleaner Euro look. The car has a proper Aero outside mirror.

On the negative side, it would appear that a previous owner added an under-the-dash radio, ashtray and a deluxe full horn ring. These add-ons do not harm the integrity of the car, so such minor tweaks can be side-stepped. Not so minor is the engine swap to a later, C type engine. The addition of chrome wheels is passable if they are originals with proper date stamps—but much less so in the more likely event they are the common reproductions.

The coupe seats, favored only by those whose derrieres will not happily mate with Speedster buckets, are also a ding on desirability—but a little less on value because the car was delivered with them. The running gear is in driver condition—it is not cleaned or detailed—and the engine has presentation flaws such as mismatched accessories, wrong colors, and missing decals.

No Bondo, please

The crux of the matter is the body. A first-rate Speedster should have all-original body panels, no wreck repairs, no Bondo, and certainly no coats of polyester spray filler. The trend today is to use polyester spray filler instead of working the metal; it is much easier, quicker, and cheaper for restoration shops. It can even look quite good if the lines are well sculpted out of all that plastic. I view Bondo and polyester spray filler as deal killers.

Collectors should always evaluate Porsche 356s with magnets or paint meters in hand. Please repeat: “It’s all about the sheet metal.”

The net? If this car is all metal, and despite the engine swap and coupe seats, we’ll rate it a fair deal for both sides. If a magnet doesn’t stick, then the needle tips in favor of the seller.

(Introductory description courtesy of Worldwide.)