Going Its Own Way: This Classic Porsche 356 Is Driven Anywhere and Everywhere
This Porsche got a second chance and found the perfect owner.
An old internet meme defines adventure as "taking inappropriate equipment to out of the way places." Anyone can bomb down an old dirt road in a truck, but how many people do it in a rare, collectible, classic sports car? At least one, and his name is Matt Hummel.
Porsche 356s tend to exist in one of two states: barn find or restored. No one drives a beater '50s Porsche. It's either in pieces waiting to be worked on, or it's been sold to someone for a nice pile of cash. Hummel don't play that.
"Having rare, vintage cars slip through my fingers without the experience of actually using them is just something I can't make sense of anymore," Hummel says. "The experience of ownership is the real gain, not the capital gains that can kill the passion for a hobbyist once they see the price of their car skyrocket. I want to drive them! I want to see the car for what it is, an old car begging to be driven. I'm pretty sure that was the whole concept when it was manufactured—to be used. "
"Used." There's a word with a few meanings. Before Hummel could use his 1956 Porsche 356A Type 1 1600 Super Coupe, he had to get the very used car working. It had been sitting in a Nevada City, California, barn for 25 to 30 years before the previous owner decided to post a one-sentence, no-picture, no-phone-number ad on Craigslist with Porsche spelled wrong. At six grand, though, Hummel couldn't resist. He'd sold his last 1956 Porsche 356A Coupe because he couldn't abide its shoddy '80s restoration job and was itching for another car. This one was in rough shape. The wiring was a mess, the fuel system and brakes needed work, and the interior was both trashed and full of trash. He bought it anyway.
"Once I got it home, I realized it was a pretty big mess and most likely would never be used again in its condition, and the best thing for it would be to sell it to someone that would be crazy enough to restore it. "
From One Barn to Another
He stuck it in his own barn, and there it sat for the next year. "I wasn't finding another 356 to drive, and I was having withdrawals," he says. "So, I decided maybe this old thing would be fun to drive around town as a beater. "
Hummel had a hoard of old Porsche parts from other projects, more than enough to get it running again, but what he didn't have was time or, honestly, the skills to bring it back. "I decided to pawn the mess off on someone else who I knew would have the ability to get the process going," he says. "I'm just a dude who has fled to the hills to hoard old cars. "
"I called up my longtime friend Rick Winsor—the master of sorting other people's messes—and somehow convinced him to take the car and start the process. He helped me get it to the point where I could take it home and keep it going, which has been a neverending battle and the most fun I've had keeping an old car alive. "
Keeping it alive is more challenging when it spends a significant amount of time on dirt roads. Although he doesn't enter competitions, he does enjoy friendly road rallies. (He's building a dedicated 356 rally car.) "Sure, we have sections of dirt roads and some challenging terrain that is not for the pretty cars or apprehensive drivers," he says, "but we are not racing. "
That doesn't mean he doesn't break stuff. Hummel's already swapped the worn-out original engine for a 912 engine, and he's in the process of rebuilding another motor to swap in. In between, he's made many a field-expedient repair.
"I've been out in the middle of nowhere and had to fix a number of issues with minimal resources in the car," he says. "I like the challenge of it, and usually there is a way to rig something to get you home. I've broken a piston, chewed up rod bearings, a rocker stand broke—so many things—and replaced the part and kept going. "
Then there was the time he skidded off a dirt road, over a small berm, and into a barbed wire fence. "The passenger door received a big dent from the fence post that caught me," he says, "but the bumpy dirt road popped the dent back out, so that was self-fixing. "
It's all part of the car's charm. "I try and make sure I don't hurt it too much," Hummel says. "It has never been my motive to cause the car damage, or myself. A few bumps and bruises are fine, though. They heal. "
Not All Porsche Owners Are the Same
Most modern Porsche enthusiasts would disagree, and Hummel's fine with that. "At one time, a Porsche enthusiast would buy a brand-new 356 and throw a number on it and beat the crap out of it in a real rally race somewhere on dirt roads and snow in Europe," he says. "That's the type of Porsche enthusiast I want to claim to be. I miss those people. Where did they go?
"I receive a lot of positive and negative responses from how I drive my Porsche," he continues. "I couldn't care less. It's my car, and I'm enjoying it the way I want to. How anyone can argue it's being mistreated is beyond me. I smile when I'm behind the wheel of this beautifully beat-up machine. [I've] given it another shot at life, it's having a lot of fun again, and I'm proud of that. I'm true to the original Porsche enthusiast: the driver. "
That doesn't mean the project is done. He might install a seat belt, for one. "I do not plan to change the look or character of it," he says. "If I do, you will not visually notice what I've done. I intend to keep it looking in its challenged state. It's just an old beat-up car that I love to drive and happens to be a somewhat rare and desirable old Porsche. No need to overthink it, though. Just drive it. "
What's That Thing Worth?
We imagine a few of you out there screaming mad that Hummel is treating a classic Porsche like this. It might be principle, or it might be value. After all, that's a rare car. It's gotta be worth something, right? "I get a lot of people asking how much it's worth," Hummel told our friends at Petrolicious. "I don't know. It's worth an endless amount of money to me, or it's worth no money to me at all. It doesn't matter. "
Well, that doesn't help. We checked with Hagerty, but its online evaluation tool isn't built for Roadkill-worthy cars. Hagerty bases its evaluations on four vehicle conditions, a condition 1 car being ready for the lawn at Pebble Beach and a 4 being a daily driver in fair condition. OK, we can work with that. What else can we judge to be true about a condition 4 car? "Paintwork is imperfect, and perhaps the fender has a minor dent…the interior might not be stock." Well…
Well, this Porsche is a car that spent decades in a barn and has had just enough work to get it running and driving reliably. The interior is thrashed, it's on its second engine (from a 912, no less) with a third on the way, and it's been run into a fence. The scale doesn't go that low.
Related: Like and barn finds and junkyards? Check out Roadkill's Junkyard Gold on the MotorTrend App, where host Steve Magnante travels to yards across the country to unearth hidden gems and talk about their history. Sign up today for just $2 per month!
Let's try another angle. Matt paid $6,000 for the car a few years ago (too good to pass up, he says), and it needed the fuel, brake, and electrical systems gone through just to get it on the road. Hagerty's scale starts at $44,000 for a Condition 4 car and goes up to $180,000 for a full concours restoration. Matt's car? It'd be a small miracle if it would break $20K. So what's it worth? Who cares? Matt loves it the way it is, and it's his pride and joy.
Check out Matt's Instagram account for more pics, more cars, and more updates: @hummul. This article originally appeared in the spring 2016 issue of Roadkill magazine. Photos by Matt Hummel and Mary Vega.