NCMA Porsche by Design: Porsche 356 Speedster

One of the most notable and memorable of the early Porsche cars is the Speedster . This car actually came into existence at the insistence of U.S. distributor Max Hoffman. He was able to convince Ferdinand Porsche that there was a market for a “stripper” car. A stripper is essentially a barebones Roadster that could be easily converted into a racing specification car without too much trouble. The low level of standard equipment also kept prices low, leaving you more budget for race gear and modifications.

This particular Black Speedster here carries a particularly special heritage. It was owned by none other than James Dean, twice. Dean bought the car to race in SCCA competition, but after a few years he sold it to a car collector named Bruce Meyers. Later in 1974 Dean bought the car back from Bruce. This particular model does not wear a Speedster badge as Dean had it removed from the car during his first ownership.

Porsche dropped the Speedster model from the 356 lineup in 1959 in favor of building the newer Convertible D cars. Only 3,122 of Speedsters were ever constructed.

When the cars first entered production there were powered by a 1.5-liter flat-four engine that produced 64 horsepower. Before the production ended, you could order a race-ready Carrera spec model with 128 horsepower. With the proper gearing in the transmission, a Speedster could reach speeds of over 125 mph, making it one of the fastest cars of the era.

Dean’s car here was a mid-range “Super” model that managed 88 horsepower from its 1.6-liter engine. The car is still in Dean’s family under the ownership of his son, Chad.

Why I love it

Porsche as a brand may have been building up huge momentum as a performance car company, but it was thanks to attainable cars like the Speedster, and the Hollywood royalty like James Dean buying them that helped push Porsche into the spotlight around the world.

I don’t think this car is the reason Porsche lived past the 1970s or anything that drastic, but I do think it is safe to assume that they wouldn’t quite be the same Porsche we know and love today without it.


What is your take?

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