1955 Porsche 356 Pre-A Speedster 1500Coachwork by Coachwork by Reutter
“Guys want to go, on a Saturday evening in June, down Sunset Boulevard with their elbow over the door and the girls can see them in the car” – West Coast Porsche distributor John von Neumann, one of the ‘fathers of the 356 Speedster’, on the inspiration behind the iconic car
Von Neumann displayed the first production 356 Speedster by his swimming pool at his home in Sherman Oaks, LA, to an invited crowd of VIPs and potential clients. The following weekend he won his class at Torrey Pines racetrack in it.
Racing, showing, dating and cruising in West Coast America: the Porsche 356 Speedster had it all.
This delightful ‘Pre-A’ 356 Speedster was first delivered to the US in January 1955. One of the early, most pure cars before the more numerous 356 A was introduced later that year, this Speedster is a fine example owned by a passionate Italian Porsche enthusiast and benefits from a world-class restoration by marque experts Quality Cars, Brixia and Maieli.
The Porsche 356 Speedster
The Speedster’s origins can be found in a Gmünd coupé converted to a lightweight aluminium roadster raced by John von Neumann in the early 1950s. The Spartan racer inspired Porsche’s US agent Max Hoffmann to commission a short run of alloy-bodied production racing cars, of which 16 were built by coachbuilder Gläser-Heuer before the company closed due to financial difficulties.
Egged on by von Neumann, Hoffman was still convinced of the general sales appeal of an affordable open Porsche, devoid of any ‘luxury’ as standard, that could be sold for under $3,000. He subsequently ordered 200 cars from Porsche to this specification, Erwin Komenda design number 540.00.202. Carrosserie Reutter were to build them in steel, but it took until November 1954 before deliveries arrived in the US. The new car was the ‘356 Speedster’ and priced at $2,995 – a 356 1500S Convertible was $4,284.
Any creature comforts were billed as extras to save on import duty and only three colours were offered: White, Signal Red and Sky Blue. The hood was a do-it-yourself kit, while the curtain side windows needed fixing by hand. The seats were simple, racing-style buckets with a slot at the back and high sides. The dash had just two main dials and a temperature gauge. In the US, the 70kg weight-saving over standard combined with a spritely 1,488cc engine made the new car a smart performer. The Speedster was an exceptional racing car, winning countless events worldwide.
Production of the Speedster mirrored developments in the 356 range as a whole, and after the ‘Pre-A’ cars of late-1954 and 1955 the vast majority of the total of nearly 5,000 356 Speedsters were T1 or T2 356 As. General production finished in August 1958.
This Motor Car
According to the Porsche Certificate of Originality issued by Porsche Italia SpA dated 4 March 2008, this car, chassis 80220, was delivered to the US importer on 27 January 1955. It was finished in what many call ‘Speedster Red’, in fact Signalrot ref. 601, one of the three standard 356 Speedster colours. Optional extras were listed as: a car cover, a speedometer calibrated in mph. As a ‘1500’, it was fitted with a regular 1,488cc PorscheTyp 546/2 engine.
Little is known about the early North American history of ‘80220’, and at some point in its life it made the journey back to Europe. The car was complete, with a genuine and correct Typ546/2 engine though, like so many other early Porsches today, this was not original to the car. In 2009, its Italian owner commissioned award-winning restorers Carrozzeria Quality Cars of Padova to undertake a total restoration of the body.
The company is best known for stunning work that included a first in class at Pebble Beach in 2015 for the famous 1955 Porsche 550 RS with giant early aerofoil and the Villa d’Este class-winning 1953 Ferrari 375 MM Spider. Other superlative restorations include a Fiat 8V Supersonic, a Ferrari 750 Monza and a Lancia Flaminia Sport Zagato.
While Quality Cars worked on the body, mechanical experts Brixia of Brescia restored all mechanical components and the Italian specialist famous for his work on the very best concours Ferraris, Stefano Maieli, retrimmed the interior.
The ensuing restoration – painstakingly completed, everything photographically documented – resulted in the car seen here. The original-specification Signalrot gleams and the new Cream interior has been discretely upgraded to leather. The increasingly hard-to-find original-spec engine was completely rebuilt, likewise the Tan hood.
The work was completed in 2009 and the respected Automotoclub Storico Italiano (ASI) gave ‘80220’ its approval on 14 December 2009. Two years later our client, a resident of Brescia, bought the car and an inspection by the Fédération International des Véhicules Anciens in 2013 confirmed its total originality. A green FIVA Identity Card (048175) was issued on 7 September 2013.
Since purchase, our client has enjoyed tours, club events and friendly rallies in Northern Italy and Switzerland. Totally ‘on the button’ and highly authentic, a model that enjoys a fanatical following throughout the world, this Porsche 356 Speedster is the perfect car in which to enjoy the last weeks of late-summer sunshine.