If you have had the opportunity to purchase your dream car, it is a moment in your life you will never forget. It comes after years of saving and searching for the perfect car, and then the day comes when you set your eyes on ‘the one.’
A test drive, many sleepless nights later, and then finally handing over – more often than not – a large sum of money, you pinch yourself at the sight of it in your garage. Last year I had this experience when I bought a Porsche 356 Speedster.
Now you might be thinking, how on Earth I can afford a quarter-of-a-million-dollar car. Simple really. I can’t. So I settled for the next best thing – a replica. I am happy to call it a replica and I take it on the chin when Porsche purists say it’s not a Porsche.
The reason I bought this car was that I love the look of it, not because of the badge. Surprisingly, replicas are just as sought after in Australia as a genuine 356, as they are more affordable, but are few and far between.
This exact car is a replica of a 1955 Speedster and was made in 1977 by then Californian-based company, Intermeccanica. They are also famous for making electric cars in Canada. Henry Reisner and his team are considered to be the best 356 replica builders in the world, and still produce them, with incredible workmanship.
Underneath the fibreglass body in this example is a 1962 Volkswagen Beetle chassis which has been shortened by 12-inches. The powertrain is also from a Beetle, with the gearbox a four-speed manual matched to an air-cooled 1800cc rear engine.
So what’s it like to drive? Great fun. It is compulsory to drive with the top down, because what’s the point of having a convertible, right? Being left-hand-drive, you can hug the corners, but without a passenger, it makes overtaking a challenge.
In its other life, it was lowered, where drop spindles and a narrowed beam were fitted. While it looks sexy and sleek, it has significantly reduced the ride comfort. With every rut in the road, there’s a whole lot of shake, rattle, and not much roll.
The engine sounds nothing like a Beetle, with the previous owner fitting a custom exhaust which wakes up the neighbours every time I fire it up. Weighing around 700-kilograms, the 356 gets along rather swiftly and easily sits on 110km/h.
However, the freeway is not its playground. Taking it to mountain ranges on some twisty roads is where it feels at home. With the top down, the smell of eucalyptus, the wind through your hair and the sound of the exhaust echoing through the valley, combine more than enough to make you want to drive it all day.
If bad weather arises, the car should ideally stay at home. With the top up and removable side curtain windows popped in, everything starts to fog up, and it also has a large blind spot over the shoulder.
In heavy rain, water can make its way around the base of the windscreen and begin to run into the car, which was a design flaw, even in the genuine 356s. With Melbourne’s unpredictable weather, I carry five towels with me just in case. One time I used all of them, but let’s not go there.
The cabin and dash are simple, which is the way I like it. Less is more when it comes to a sports car. Three 356 gauges replaced what were 911 gauges when the car was originally built (they were more readily available), and this adds to the 356 experience.
A CD player has been added underneath the dash, but it will be removed further down the track to make it look more period. There is no storage for knick-knacks or even a 12-volt socket, and the bucket seats are only good on shorter journeys because there’s not a huge amount of back support.
There are no back seats in the Speedster, just a cushiony base, and this is where bags always end up. For weekends away, a luggage rack can be bolted onto the boot lid, but it gets in the way of the classic 356 lines.
The car still sports the original black fabric soft top but was showing about 50 shades of grey when I bought it. After getting a quote of $3500 to replace it, I bought three tins of black boot polish and a brush, and $20 later, it looks almost new.
I’ve had the car for just over 12 months now, and have had only two issues which both happened in the same week. The carburetors needed tuning, and I must say my mechanic made the car run like a dream, even with cold starts.
And after getting the bonnet realigned at a panel shop, I got it home and discovered a new problem: the bonnet wouldn’t close. Needless to say, I wasn’t impressed with their work.
I always look forward to the warmer weather, as it remains in storage over the cooler months. It gets taken to as many weekend car shows as possible, and it always turns heads, as not many 356s see the light of day at your regular car shows.
As with most classic car owners, there is always something to do on your pride and joy. Next on the cards for ‘Frank’ is a complete makeover with German Racing Silver paint and Ox Blood interior, which is the most desirable 356 colour combination, and sometimes adds to the resale value. Although this car is going nowhere.
The Porsche will also get a raise back to standard height to improve ride comfort. Oh, and the fuel gauge needs to be fixed at some stage. For now, more saving (lots more) needs to be done, because this car has had me living on two-minute noodles for way too long. But it was worth it.
Mandy Turner is CarAdvice’s Podcast Host and Road Tester. She LOVES her Porsche 356 replica.