Considering it's a variation on the same model, Jeff Leeds's 1965 356C puts out a completely different vibe than the Speedster. It's no Cadillac Coupe de Ville, but the '65 hardtop is a far more refined vehicle than its roofless cousin. The roof and windows are nice luxuries, but the biggest difference is mechanical: four-wheel disc brakes.
The 356 feels similar to the Speedster in terms of power -- maybe a tad slower, actually, on account of its added weight (about 300 pounds) and, on this car, muffled exhaust -- but its brakes are thoroughly superior. And strong brakes are definitely an important asset in a car that exhibits, shall we say, a mild handling idiosyncrasy: terrifying lift-throttle oversteer.
In the Speedster, my distrust for the brakes precluded building much speed on the tree-lined test route. With the coupe, I'm confident enough to drive harder, braking in a straight line and then holding the throttle steady through a big downhill corner. I'm not going that fast -- perhaps 40 mph on a curve rated for 30 -- but I keep my foot on the gas just in case. I find it hard to believe that the tail would come out at this pace, but I'm respecting the 356's reputation. Leeds, for his part, is silent. That is, until I've got the wheel straightened and the corner behind us.
"I was hoping you wouldn't lift," Leeds says. Apparently, my modest speed was still quick enough to have caused an impromptu adventure in oversteer. "It's a swing axle, so lifting changes the suspension geometry," he says. "Once you're used to it, you can use it to rotate into corners. But if you're not used to it..." Leeds just lets that sentence hang. It doesn't bear contemplating, really. But we both know there were quite a few 356 owners who didn't last long enough to buy a 911.