It sounds a bit beefier, this Porsche 356 B with a 1,600-S engine. It exhales its sporty 75 hp through a stainless steel exhaust. The T5 brakes quickly to a standstill, the boxer falls silent, and Stephan Rohleder clambers out of the little coupé. It is clear that the tall Porsche fan has difficulty knowing where to begin telling the story behind this car. History? Discovery?
“No,” he says, “The most important day was when we decided what would happen to the car.” “We” are Stephan and Christian Wilms. Together, they are the brains behind the Porsche and Volkswagen restoration and upgrading business “Das Triebwerk”. And they knew that Dirk Patschkowski was the perfect man to help them to put their ideas into practice. Stephan and Christian decided that the newly arrived California reimport would not be perfectly restored as originally planned, but would keep some of the little scars it had accrued throughout its life. “And Dirk was brought in to enhance the character of the car with his ideas,” is how Stephan explains the objective.
Just a few years ago, such a suggestion would have met with complete incomprehension all round. Patina? Surely that’s something for oil paintings or frescoes in dusty Romanesque cathedrals. But the trend for preserving vehicles in their original condition has long since arrived on the classic car scene. However, “patina” means a little more. Some sales advisers get it muddled up on occasion. But a rust bucket is by no means patinated, it is just a rust bucket. In the art world, a patina is either caused by natural ageing or is a careful and subtle enhancement. And this Porsche 356 B is a prime example.
Now we have to go back to the beginning of the story, back to 1961, back to the 22nd of February, a Wednesday. Chancellor Konrad Adenauer was in London for a state visit, and the German première of the opera “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” took place in Hamburg. That day in Zuffenhausen, however, Porsche loaded up an ivory-coloured 356 with the body and chassis number 115254 and engine number 88751 for delivery to the USA. Destination: San Francisco in sunny California. The recipient was Porsche Car Pacific on Burlway Road in the Burlingame district. The coupé with a 616/2 engine remained there until 20 May 1961. At last the Continental tyres were able to feel American asphalt. On that Saturday, the car’s first owner drove it home to Berrendo Drive in Sacramento in the suburb of Arden Park Vista just east of the city centre, which to this day remains an upmarket district where house prices start at around half a million dollars. Quiet, winding streets, tidy front gardens, garages – and a very metal-friendly climate.
Unfortunately not much else is known about what happened next, but as the car kept its black plate one can assume it never left California. It is also apparent that the car was always well maintained, as almost every detail listed on the Kardex card in the Porsche archive was still present in the vehicle. The gearbox number matched too. The red leatherette fittings may have been worn, but they were still in situ, as was the carpet. Only the heart of the boxer engine had been replaced by a slightly older 1600 cylinder block, judging by the serial number. Nobody is perfect. Or are they?
Stephan had spotted the car in 2014 when it was in the hands of a professional importer. He had already brought the vehicle back to Germany. “It was kind of love at first sight”, recalls Stephan. The dirty ivory beige had something of a comfortable feel to it. It’s a little like a leather sofa that has got greasy over the years but you’ve dragged it from apartment to apartment since you were a student because it’s just so damn comfortable.”
And now they stood in front of Stephan’s purchase. Christian, Dirk and Stephan himself – and they couldn’t believe it. The only rust had been left by an improperly cranked jack, which had also slightly dented a sill panel. Some welding was required to fix this and a few other tiny details. It was carried out by sheet metal master Eike Dürhagen in Hohenlimburg. What next? It soon became clear that repainting was not an issue. Especially as Dirk provided assurance that he would match the colour of the minimal interventions on the bodywork so that they would be barely discernible. Stephan and Christian shared the same vision: the little 356 was to wear its racing genes on the outside. Leather straps and rally stripes, race numbers and subtle vintage stickers would lend it the charm of a veteran racer. That would fit perfectly with the tiny dents and small scratches, the imperfect air intake grille in the engine cover, and the well-worn steering wheel. All of this combined with perfect technology would make the USA returnee a real showpiece. But also one that could be enjoyed without inhibition on the road.
It was up to the “Triebwerk” team to whip the 356 into shape. Replacing the rubbers was top of the list. The underbody, engine compartment luggage compartment were also gently ice-blasted. Under the bonnet, the Porsche was given a satin black paint finish.
The gearbox had to be overhauled and while the engine may not have looked the best, it was certainly up to scratch in technical terms. All add-on parts were replaced or reconditioned. The power output remained the same as the original, but the vehicle was fitted with a 12-volt electrical system. The experts also installed an electronic ignition system. The wiring harness is completely new, as are all brake lines. The little Porsche now has front and rear disc brakes as well as a Bilstein suspension tuned for sporty/road driving. Stephan got his way with the interior design – beige leather with a coarse, sisal-like carpet in anthracite combined with red leatherette. You only notice the Tecnomagnesio rims at a second glance because they look like steel wheels with – you guessed it – a patina. Their puristic look, with no hubcaps, highlights the car’s racing appeal. “But the best thing is when you’re on the road in the 356: everyone looks and smiles. It isn’t jealousy, it’s just joy at this lovely car”, explains Stephan. It’s true: somehow the 356 looks like Herbie’s sporty brother. Maybe that’s its secret.
Stephan thought long and hard before deciding: the 356 will be sold – or rather, it has already been sold. “I’ll never find another like it”, he says mournfully. But at least he gets one more chance to drive it as he heads home from the photo session. And he will enjoy it, along with the smiles it puts on people's faces.
Text first published in the magazine Porsche Klassik "Special Edition – 70 years of Porsche race cars".
Text by Thorsten Elbrigmann // Photos by Matthias Jung
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