Six Decades, Seven Porsches

Brian Konoske

1958 356 Speedster

"This is a stripper," says Tom Tate, owner of the black '58 Speedster. "No windows. Minimal heat. Drum brakes." I guess you can tell a car is minimalist when the driver arrives wearing a half-helmet and goggles.

Cars from the 1950s seem to fall into two basic camps: small, agile, and slow, or powerful, ponderous, and colossal. The Speedster clearly belongs in the first group. "All pushrod 356s from 1957 on used a 1600-cc engine that made between 70 and 105 horsepower," Tate tells me. "But it only weighs about 1700 pounds. These cars all got about 30 mpg, back when nobody cared."

I strap in behind the wheel and Tate grabs shotgun. The passenger's seat is mounted higher than the driver's seat; Tate's head pokes up above the windshield. "Now I remember why I lowered the other seat," he says.

The transmission is all synchromesh, but gnashing gears remind me to be careful when shifting. Rev it up, pause a beat, then pull the shifter back into second gear. This car has open exhaust, and I'm a little surprised at how much commotion can be emitted from such a small car.

It's no 911 Turbo, but the Speedster easily keeps up with the manic Boston traffic. You can drive it like a modern car -- at least, until you need to stop. The unassisted four-wheel drum brakes certainly add an element of excitement to the Speedster experience. While the steering wheel and shifter react to delicate inputs, the brakes demand a hearty shove to get things slowed down.

The fun thing about the Speedster is that it delivers on its essential recipe -- an open-air rollick infused with a whiff of danger -- without actually requiring you to go very fast. "The engine is screaming, the tires are barely hanging on, you're Fangio!" Tate says. "Then you look down and see you're going 44 mph."

I have recently parted with my 1987 Diamond Blue Metallic coupe. It was by far the most enjoyable car I have ever owned. I removed the cat, added a custom exhaust from B&B, installed a cold air ram system and had it chipped. The car put out way over 300 hp. It was a joy to drive just to listen to the engine. The pedal position was never an issue and nothing short of a turbo is a better car, even today than a late 80's 911 Carrera
And one last thing (this article really bugged me, obviously). Bump steer is not a twitch in the steering wheel when hitting a seem. Bump steer is from a suspension bottoming out, and a typically problem in "slammed" cars that have been lowered by hacks. Come on guys, really. And yes, it was common for sports cars to not have power steering in the 80's. Emphasis on sports cars...the typical chevy Impala did have power steering.
Too bad cars have all grown by one third or more on average. At 6'3" and 220 pounds, I never found a classic 911 too small. And I never had trouble adjusting to the way the pedals are mounted on the floor. The humorous exaggeration doesn't work in this case.
The author had never driven an air cooled Porsche? What is he, 16? At 42, I didn't think I was old enough to have nothing in common with the current crop of auto journalists. I recently read another auto journalist state he'd never driven a Z3. That dude must be all of 8 years old. And he pretends to know what the quintessential 80's yuppie car is? (It's a grey BMW btw). My 86 Carrera still keeps up with most anything on the track. And it's a rock solid daily driver.

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