In the spring of 2013, I convinced a friend to sell me his 1955 Porsche 356 Pre-A Coupe.
At the time I knew nothing about 356s, other than I really liked the idea of driving a piece of Porsche history, even if it had a “little” rust and Bondo holding it together.
Anyone who has been down this road before knows where this story is going. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”
I will keep this as short as possible, but the reality is, the journey was not short and sometimes just a wee bit frustrating. I learned a lot, but where to start? After the car arrived at my house by trailer, I decided to drive it around the block. It is a good thing I started braking half a kilometre before my driveway, because that was just enough time to stop. Yikes! After a quick stop to see my friend Ernie Jakubowski, all was well in the braking department, and I drove the car periodically for about a year and a half. Then I started sliding down the slippery slope of “restoration.” I am a chartered accountant, so you would think a solid plan would be in order. Let’s just say, that did not happen even when all my instincts were whispering, “make a plan, make a plan.”
I decided that I needed to replace the battery box, which led to replacing the rocker panels, then the front clip, rear clip, floors, and rear engine lid. You can see where this is headed. After the car spent some time (years) at two different restoration shops that really should not have been working on the car, I found a great little place in Mississauga. For those that do not know, it is extremely difficult to find a shop with the right metalworking skills, which is not scheduling work out five years ahead. It is easy to find a “body shop” that will paint and bolt on new parts but at the same time refuse to do real body work. By this time, everything was off the car including the suspension, engine, and interior. It was a bare shell, and I had a pile of parts in my basement and garage.
- While the car body was being reconditioned, I was spending my spare time (my wife would suggest “obsessed” was the right word) learning about the car and all the pieces that I would need to reassemble it. I would soon learn four things:
Many of the parts that came with the car were not period correct.
- Many parts are readily obtainable in the form of used parts and excellent reproductions.
- Others, however, are much more difficult to source.
- Obtaining guidance from others with expertise in these cars is extremely helpful. Thank-you to Ernie Jakubowski, Mike Martin, and Brett Johnson, who literally wrote the book about 356s.
I finally made a plan, as follows:
I would do my best to keep the basic shell of the car as close to stock as possible so if I ever decided to sell it, the buyer has the option to make it “as original.”
I would use the parts that were originally on the car that were period correct, recondition them, buy good quality used parts that were meant for the car, or use reproduction parts where necessary, and make everything else. I did not attempt to return everything to the original state. I do not live in a world where it is OK to spend $12,500 USD on an original reconditioned toolkit or $7,000-plus on an original tube radio. I did find a good used windshield washer pump and heat control unit for reasonable prices but the amount of time searching for them was a little ridiculous.
I would paint or powder coat all the outside trim black, including the wheels. This would personalize the car without the burden of trying to bring it to concours condition.
After accumulating all the required parts, selecting the correct paint colour (according to Brett Johnson, Graphite Metallic was the original colour of the car) and finally getting the car back in my garage, it was time for assembly. This is where real patience is required. Because many of the parts were not original, they did not just bolt on. On average, every piece of the car has been installed and removed at least four times. Sometimes this was due to fit issues needing refinement and other times due to me learning on the job, if you know what I mean. Additionally, the fiddly job of threading 4 mm nuts onto bolts where your hand does not really fit, results in having to pick up the nuts from the garage floor (after finding them), as often as 30 or 40 times, each!
Just before the car was completed, I decided that I would buy an automotive repair business in Burlington. I enlisted the help of a couple of friends (including the one who sold me the car — payback) and we spent three months preparing to open the business.
When the shop was ready, the 356 was transported to the garage and fine tuning of the engine, suspension, alignment, and electrical system was completed. Finally (after 7 years), it was ready to drive. And it is a hoot! Even though the journey is supposed to be important, the destination is pretty good too. Taken with a large dose of patience. </>
By Mark Wolff
Porschephile Editor: Stephen Oakley