Although Porsche did not make a serious works effort in international rallying until the arrival of the 911, the 356 in private hands proved very competitive, being strongly constructed, light in weight and adequately powerful, especially in four-cam form. Early successes included private entrants Helmut Polensky and Walter Schuler's victory in the 1952 Liege-Rome-Liege Rally and the same duo's European Touring Championship the following year. And as late as 1961 the 356 proved good enough to bring works-assisted privateer Hans Walter the European Rally Championship. Today, these versatile Porsche GTs are among the most competitive cars in their class at historic circuit racing and rallying.

This left-hand-drive 356B coupe was exported new to the US, and in the 1990s was prepared and campaigned in classic sports car races in California. The car was imported into the UK in 2000 and in 2001 was acquired by the present Portuguese owner, who maintains that in his opinion this is one of the best prepared race/rally Porsche 356s in Europe.

Since restoration, the car has competed in circuit races and rallies in South America. Competition modifications include roll bar, fire extinguisher system, wide rear tires, ducted larger-than-standard oil cooler, electronic ignition, and fuel tank with central Le Mans-type filler. Included in the sale is a spare engine and transmission, both rebuilt, one new set of Koni shock absorbers and six Continental Contact tires, two of which are mounted on wheels. In addition, the car comes with all parts necessary to return the car to factory specification, including complete interior, chrome trim, front and rear bumpers, one new set of factory pistons and cylinders, and other items.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1961 Porsche 356 B S90
Years Produced:1960-61
Number Produced:8,559
Original List Price:$3,990
SCM Valuation:$19,000-$23,000
Tune Up Cost:$300
Distributor Caps:$20
Chassis Number Location:On horizontal bulkhead under front lid, forward of fuel tank
Engine Number Location:On rear-most engine case below generator and above crankshaft pulley
Club Info:356 Registry, 27244 Ryan Road, Warren, MI 48092
Alternatives:Alfa Romeo Sprint, Mercedes 220 SE coupe, MGB-GT
Investment Grade:C

This Porsche 356B sold for $23,097 at the Bonhams Nürburgring sale on August 10, 2002. The price is well under what it would take to duplicate the car, but reflective of the very narrow market for current vintage race cars.

356s are quite user-friendly race cars, being reliable enough when not over-stressed or stupidly driven, and the list of aftermarket parts and folks who know how to install them properly is long. In fact, at their current $20,000 to $30,000 price range, they probably offer a lot more fun for the money than a million-dollar Jaguar D-type or Ferrari SWB. At the very least, the financial pucker factor you’ll experience as you go sliding backwards off the track is going to be less in your 356.

Prices of current vintage race cars stay low for two reasons. First, think of a race car as fresh produce. If the car is going to be competitive, the engine, transmission, tires and brakes need to be recently rebuilt and carefully prepared. Race car engine life is measured in hours, not miles. This is an expensive hobby if you are going to be a serious competitor. Last year’s hot machine could be well off the pace this season. And since this is, after all, racing, there is the constant temptation to spend ever-increasing amounts of money for ever-decreasing incremental increases in performance.

Next, the market for used race cars is very small. These are not the dual-purpose machines we all read about from the ’50s. These cars need to be trailered to the track, with a full set of spares, extra tires and plenty of tools. You’ll need the ability to make running repairs or have the bank account to bring along your own mechanic. Racing these cars is great fun, but very few of us have the time, money, desire, talent and nerve needed to show up at the track. And you can double most of the foregoing expenses if you need to be at the front of your race group.

This 356 looks to be a fine one, and was bought for far less than it would cost to replace it. However, without a detailed understanding of the exact condition of the drivetrain in the car and the spare components as well, we can make no serious judgment about the value here.

If all the information in the auction catalog is correct, this could be a very astute buy. But realistically, anyone who buys a vintage race car that hasn’t been thoroughly inspected would be crazy not to spend hours going over the suspension and brakes-at least-before trusting their life to them on the track. And as far as the drivetrain goes, it’s rare to find a vintage race car that is completely and properly rebuilt and then offered for sale. More often, the owner completes a season, decides he wants to move on to something else, and you get the chance to own a tired old car with a detailed engine bay and shiny paint.

In some ways, race cars are the most difficult types of vehicles to buy at an auction, as so many of the condition details that determine value are simply unavailable. Which means for the brave, there can be great buys to be had. Let’s hope that’s what happened in this case.-Jim Schrager

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