Classic Minimalism - An Original 1958 Porsche Speedster (356A T2)
If you want a reasonably priced sports cabriolet to mess around with, you could always go for a second-hand Mazda Miata. If you want something European, an early generation Z4 or a Boxster would suffice. Roadsters are not frighteningly fast, but they are very fun for the occasional drives you desire. The concept of the roadster has been around for a very long time and the defining characteristics still remain the same – open top, rear-wheel-drive, lightweight, and an absolute pleasure to drive.
Technological advancements have enabled high performance to be more accessible to the masses. A hot hatch of today would obliterate a sports car of the 60s. Cars are ever evolving and we must be ready to embrace change. When driving a classic car, one must understand that the experience is relative to the era the car was conceived. One should not expect sheer driving pleasure of the 21st century from a 1958 Porsche Speedster. The car has no traction control, a dual clutch transmission, or even disc brakes. An original Speedster is a classic that is here for us to appreciate – in terms of both heritage and engineering.
What we have here is a 1958 Porsche 356A T2 Speedster. The ‘A’ denotes a re-iteration of the original 356 and ‘T2’ means Type 2, which is a slightly improved version of the 356A. What powers the Speedster is an air-cooled, flat-four, 1600cc engine with twin carburettors. Unlike the Carrera version of the Speedster, this engine in the standard Speedster is not equipped with a quad-cam engine head.
The 356 later went on to have B, and C iterations but we’ll save that story for another time.
The Speedster’s engine produced 75hp when brand new, and is mated to a 4-speed manual transmission. The Speedster is famous for its Spartan features, racing heritage, and the fact that James Dean used to own and race one. So famous in fact, that it has its own cult following and inspired numerous replicas (which we will go into detail later).
The idea of the Speedster was a car adaptable for the race track, should the customer desire it. It was a stripped-out Porsche 356 designed for the US market, ready to go head on against other lightweight sports cars from Triumph and Austin Healey. Weight was kept to a minimum and most of the components of the car are easily removed by the mechanically inclined speed enthusiast of that era. The hard top, windows, bumpers, side mirrors, and windscreen could all be removed to enable efficient use of all 75-horsepower available. Distinguishing the Speedster from a standard 356 would be the obvious lack of a roof, bucket seats and the gauge binnacle housing.
Normal seats in the interior of a Porsche 356B (Shot in 2017)
The Speedster has a curved binnacle housing for the three dials.
As Real as It Gets
With such an iconic status, the 356 is certain to garner attention from enthusiasts. Less than 5,000 Speedsters were made before they ceased production in 1958 and most of them were made with left-hand-drive. This example here is a right-hand-drive model, which, according to Mr. Ong, is one of the only 2 in Malaysia currently.
With the rarity of the original Speedster and its cult status, it is no surprise than that there are many replicas of the Speedster. Replica manufacturers are abundant and admittingly, some of them do a very good job at imitating the legendary Speedster. Most replicas would utilise a VW Beetle floor pan and have a single carb flat-four engine from Volkswagen. Those with a bigger thirst for speed could opt for an EJ25 from Subaru in their replica Speedsters.
Hand brake handle in a genuine Speedster
The quick giveaway of a replica would be the hand-brake lever and the steering column of the Volkswagen Beetle. In a genuine Speedster there is nothing in between the driver and passenger seat. You get a hand-brake handle instead of a hand-brake lever.
Hand brake lever from a VW Beetle floor pan. Screenshot from Hoovies Garage’s video on a Speedster replica
According to Mr. Ong (who is currently in charge of this Speedster), this car was purchased from Australia but originally came from South Africa. The history beyond that is yet to be discovered.
Open the passenger door and you will notice a chassis number plate. You can check for authenticity with Porsche themselves. What is more interesting is the ‘Reutter Karossrie’ emblem above the chassis number. Reutter Karosserie-Werke is a coach builder that company started making bodies for the Volkswagen Beetle in 1930 and by 1949, started to make sports car bodies for Porsche.
Reutter Karossrie-Werke later became irrelevant when automotive manufacturing methods evolved. What did they do to adapt? Well, their car body factory was acquired by Porsche. Reuter Karosserie-Werke shifted its focus to producing high-end seats which are very popular today, only with a different brand name. Some of you may find the following information to be interesting.
So, Reutter Karoserie-Werke shifted its focus to making high end seats and are very popular today, especially among car enthusiasts. Can you guess what they’re called today?
The answer: RECARO. Which is a play on words of the original name of the company.
utter CARO sserie
Classic cars are interesting just because we get to see how different things are done in relation to today’s practices. Design constraints, limited resources, and limited technology force car makers to be more creative with their solutions. Every era has its own challenges and trends. In the case of this Speedster, it was 1958. Just to give a sense of time, Current Malaysian Prime Minister Tun Mahathir was only 33 years old in 1958 and it was only a year after Malaysia gained her independence.
Ferdinand Porsche Sr had already passed away in 1951, and the company was led by his only son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche (Ferry Porsche). The 356 was developed while recovering from World War II. There is no surprise then that it shared the same headlights as the Volkswagen Beetle, which was designed by Ferdinand Porsche Sr.
Under the front hood is full-sized spare secured by a leather belt. Sitting right behind the spare is the fuel tank. Modern Porsche sports cars no longer come with spare tires. Instead you get a bottle of sealant and an electric air compressor in case of a flat.
The hardtop is removable and the soft top is held in place by these points that go around the rear cabin area.
The Speedster only had 4 speeds to choose from. It also has a floor-mounted accelerator pedal.
Side mirrors were optional on the Speedster.
Equipped with U.S. spec bumpers
The Speedster is a classic example of minimalism and weight reduction for maximum driving experience. It has certainly set the foundation for the Porsche that we know today – high performance vehicles with subtle styling (by supercar standards). They still insist on putting the engine in the back and still retain a distinguishable profile for their performance vehicles. This is a beautiful and historical machine.
We’d like to thank Mr. Jesse Liew from Detailing Kingdom for inviting us over and Mr. Ong for allowing us to photograph the beautiful Speedster.