My Car Quest

September 20, 2019

A New Book About Porsche Is A Pleasant Surprise

Book Review by Wallace Wyss –

“Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting” by Randy Leffingwell, Cameron Ingram and Michael Furman

This book surprised me, and, as an author who has read many books, and written a few, I am usually not surprised. The surprising thing , the “unexpected” thing was that I thought at first glance it was just another picture book. And for the pictures alone it is worth buying because one of the co-authors is a world class photographer who probably takes a day or more just to light a car in studio.

Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting

I would venture to say most of these Porsches have never been photographed with such care. Furman’s pictures bring out the beauty in each design and make you respect Porsche more.

This 416-page hardbound book from Coachbuilt Press is also an “unexpected” book in terms of its content, going deep into the company’s history and the history of individual cars.

In both subject areas, it flys higher than the lower priced car books that just drone on and on with each year’s update in mechanicals and cosmetics, by telling many many interesting “side” stories that you would have to be a 20-year veteran Porsche collector—attending every significant convention (like the Rennfest, about to re-occur in 2015) to ever hope to hear.

While sometimes collaborative books appear dis-jointed, in this case the book was the result of the combined efforts of three experts in their field, each a connoisseur; Leffingwell, who has written many a book before, including several on Porsches, Cameron Ingram, head of a family that has made collecting Porsches their mission in life and Furman who in the past has photographed many a car but in this book, by concentrating on one marque, the impact is mightier than usual because you see each car through his lens, his lighting.

Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting

INSIDE PORSCHE STORIES

Allow me to give you just a coupe examples of the “inside stories’ told in Porsche Unexpected .

–The 904GTS. How Porsche thought to use fiberglass as an integral part of the chassis, and how that car was a success in its time, but had some chassis problems that led to a different approach in the 906. I have read a lot about the 904 in previous books but never a reason why it appeared and disappeared from the scene so quickly. Now I know.

Another interesting tidbit is when Glaser, a European coachbuilder, helped Porsche make some convertibles in the Fifties but, sadly, the firm made the mistake of underbidding. When he really got into it, Glaser realized he could build out the order as promised but would lose hundreds of dollars per car. Keeping his promise to Porsche put him under.

Then there’s lots of intrigue in the story about how Zagato was retained to do the lightweight Abarth Zagatos and then farmed the job of bodybuilding out to a much more obscure coachbuilder, the owner of which disappeared in the middle of the night, requiring yet another firm to finish out the twenty cars.

–The Buzetta Speedster. So there’s this GI over in Europe who calls Porsche to order a Speedster but is told that they have stopped making Speedsters. So he buys a coupe but at the last minute Porsche says they found an uncompleted Speedster out behind the coachbuilder’s plant. So he has a Speedster made after they stopped making Speedsters, and it turns out to be a great collectable decades later.

As interesting as these stories are, the authors include several individual “barn find” stories as well, many of them told by Bob and Jeanne Ingram about the cars in their individual collection. Now, as the author of barn-finding books myself (Incredible Barn Finds, Enthusiast Books), I would appreciate it if they gave a hint as to what they paid when the car was found but they don’t.

Nonetheless I still felt satisfied with the individual stories of half a dozen cars in the book—what customer ordered the car in the first place, what they did with it and how it eventually came to be collected by the Ingrams. (Hey, Ingrams, if you tell me what you paid for it, it could be in my book!)

COGENT ADVICE

Now it first occurred to me when I saw people like Dr. Frederic Simeone and Peter Mullin, both museum owners, interviewed in the book, I thought “Well, la de da, those blokes have enough money to buy any car so what good does their advice do me – the average collector?”

But then I read their comments and I realized how much their comments enrich the book because there is much to be learned there by someone who is on the verge of buying their very first collector car. For instance one line repeated through the book is something to the effect of: “You can never pay too much, you can just buy too early.”

Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting

That rings true when you consider the present day values of many of the cars in the book. (And in my own life, thinking back about the GTC/4 I bought for $19,000 – story in Incredible Barn Finds)

And there’s even some philosophies of collecting here. Museum owners like Dr. Simeone and Mullin have the larger picture – they have seen trends come and go – and thus it is very interesting to see how they view the car collector scene changing. Dr. Simeone for instance has emerged on the car collector scene as the leading proponent of not tearing down a car and restoring it from scratch but often leaving it in its “as found” state if there’s something to learn from that (such as his Cobra Daytona coupe, only slightly better than when it was run hard at Bonneville decades ago).

One very interesting tidbit I never heard discussed is the prediction of the Chinese collector. There are a lot of wealthy mainland Chinese. But someone in the book asks something to the effect of “Can they ever lust after a Mercedes Gullwing if they were never aware it existed?”

The book predicts that they will eventually as they become educated in Western automobile history that took place when Communist China was cut off from the West culturally. All of which, incidentally, will push collector car prices up as new players come onto the scene.

THE SPOTLIGHT ON PORSCHE

I think the high quality of this book will have a measurable effect on the value of Porsches. What this book does, fundamentally, is to shine a great big ol’ spot light on the Porsche marque as if to say “Yoo-hoo, hey, all you future collectors, these are the cars to buy now.” After all, if the cars weren’t worth it, they wouldn’t have put in all the work, which is an obvious labor of love by all three co-authors.

I think when those who had no exposure to Porsche in the past read this book, they will realize how significant many Porsches are, and why many models, even old dusty dented ones, have quadrupled in price in recent years. It comes through very clearly that Porsche was a company always intent on delivering the ultimate roadable sports cars.

Maybe they were a tad ambitious on the scope of the book. I would have rather had one volume on the 356, another on the 911, another on the 924,944, 968 and 928. But as an overall read this book will, I predict, launch many a newcomer “into the game” of collecting Porsches just by virtue of the fact collectors like Mullin and Simeone recognize Porsche as a worthy marque to collect. (By the way, only one model of 924, a limited edition, received attention in the book, with no mention being made if the regular models are deemed collectible.)

There are lots of production figures that are interesting, such as 21 SC examples made as rally cars sold as the SC/RS in ’84 but this book is not intended as a buyer’s guide with all the nitpicky listings of serial numbers for each year and their appropriate engine number range (to answer the all-important question: is this the engine the car came with?), listings of colors available each year etc.

All those can be addressed though, with some buying guide, because this book has another what you might call a “higher” mission. It is simply to sell the history and romance of Porsche along with some bits of accumulated wisdom of some world class collectors.

Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting

I would say, of the package, as lush as the pictures are, the wisdom I found justifies the price, for instance, to include just one other pearl of wisdom, was when Bob Ingram tells of restoring a Porsche only to sell it abruptly to buy another 356 with more historical provenance, in particular a documented racing history. He says if you are looking at a car as an investment, sometimes it is only a two-year investment. He saw the car with a racing history more significant than his car more worth owning, even if it meant he would have to start over in another restoration.

When I finished reading the book, which cost $100 by the way, I felt as I had just enjoyed a cognac and a cigar in the company of some world-class car collectors in some leather- lined library like that of the Royal Automobile Club in London.

Now, it’s true I met many of these people during the course of my own reporting, but this book answers questions I never thought to ask. For that I’m grateful. And I know my next collector car has to be a Porsche, the earlier the better…

~~~

Wallace Wyss is the author of Incredible Barn Finds (Enthusiast Books). Read his other articles on My Car Quest.

Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting is available from Amazon.

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A New Book About Porsche Is A Pleasant Surprise
Article Name
A New Book About Porsche Is A Pleasant Surprise
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A book review of the new book, "Porsche Unexpected: Discoveries in Collecting".
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Comments

  1. I’ve been buying Porsche books for forty years. The minute this one arrived, it became my all time favorite; by a long stretch. It is the finest combination of beauty, scholarship and personal interest I have seen in any book about automobiles. Congrats and thanks to all involved in this massive undertaking.

  2. Rafffi Minasian says

    Excellent review Wallace. I’ve seen this book once and it is captivating. I have not had the chance to read it in depth but will get a copy soon and enjoy over the winter months.

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