My Car Quest

June 19, 2018

The Porsche America Roadster: Think Of It As The Predecessor To The Speedster

by Wallace Wyss –

When Porsche first began to import cars to America, they had a very knowledgeable Austrian living in America, Max Hoffman, who tried to direct them to American’s taste and needs. For instance Hoffman imported a Glockner Porsche, a lightweight race car made by a German dealer. He raced it and that got the desire planted in America of an open Porsche race car.

Porsche America Roadster

He also imported an aluminum-bodied Gmund coupe (Gmund the city in Austria that the first Porsches were made in) and that got some attention.

Finally Hoffman goaded Porsche into making an aluminum bodied roadster for America, a mass produced car where you could take the windscreen off for a weekend of racing.

It was called the Type 540 Sport Roadster, later the America Roadster. Porsche was by that time making steel-bodied cars in Zuffenhausen, Germany so they farmed out the job of the aluminum-bodied cars to Glaser-Heuer. All but the first car were powered by Porsche’s new 1500 Super motor.

Porsche America Roadster

They sold for $4,600 or the equivalent at the time of about three Chevrolets. Judging from a modern perspective, it is an ugly car, somewhat swaybacked. But Hoffman wasn’t after looks but lighter weight.

The cars was only moderately successful in racing but at least got Porsches out there on the track. Production stopped at only 16 aluminum cars , not because they couldn’t sell them but because Glaser must have underpriced their cars so low they went broke trying to build them. A final car, this steel bodied car, was made, finished by Reutter.

Porsche America Roadster

Porsche America Roadster

Porsche abandoned the America roadster as soon as they had their own steel bodied combination street/race car planned, that became the Speedster, which started production in ’54 at a much lower price.

A DISTRIBUTOR CONS A DEALER

This steel bodied America was sold first to Hubert Brundage, the founder of Brumos Porsche, who according to one historian, was unaware his car would come in steel and was mightily miffed when someone put a magnet on the body and found out it stuck (hey, do you mean to tell me this was the first time anybody got screwed by a car dealer—only this time it was the distributor screwing the dealer?).

Porsche America Roadster

But Brundage persevered and according to the auction company, 12371 “appeared at a rally in September 1953 in Clewiston, Florida, where it came first overall. Yet only a month later on October 25th it showed up at the SOWEGA National Sports Car Races in Albany, Georgia, as it would happen alongside the first appearance by the Porsche factory race team in the US who were running two 550 Spyders.”

Porsche America Roadster

Photos above courtesy of Bonhams. The photos below are by the author from the Greystone Concours d’Elegance – 2016.

According to Bonhams, “It was not until the early 1980s that it surfaced at a sale in Atlanta and was spotted by Charles Coker. Coker sent expert Gary Kempton to look at the car for him, who recognized what he was dealing with and wisely guided Coker to buy the car. It wasn’t long though before Kempton began to feel that inner desire that drives most collectors of a need to own the car and he began to besiege Coker to sell the car to him.

In a deal that Kempton recalled included ‘several Carrera cars and motors and about five truckloads of parts…’! 12371 became his in 1989.

Porsche America Roadster

(Today you have to wonder at the wisdom of this deal because now Carrera 356s are climbing toward a million each)

This must be the longest restoration in history because it was worked on at his GK Restorations shop in Florida progressively over 10-15 years, “the onus ,” says the auction company, “being on getting it right rather than being a ‘flash in the pan’ job”.

Porsche America Roadster

In need of the most work was the body. The front axle beam was also replaced plus the floorpan. A windshield frame had to be fabricated as it had been fitted with a Speedster windscreen.

Kempton sold the car in 2006 and Bonhams eventually sold the car for $529,500 including premium.

This car would be a good candidate for my next Incredible Barn Finds book, but I need to hear from someone who remembers what the going price was back in the ‘50s or ’60s, or what Coker paid for it. That was surely the last time it was a bargain, as year after year it was closer to its pedigree becoming recognized for being the classic that it is today….I can be reached by email at Photojournalistpro@gmail.com

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the Incredible Barn Finds series available from Enthusiast Books. His portraits of classic Porsches can be found on the website wallacewyssfineart.com

Porsche America Roadster

 

 

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Summary
The Porsche America Roadster: Think Of It As The Predecessor To The Speedster
Article Name
The Porsche America Roadster: Think Of It As The Predecessor To The Speedster
Description
This is a rare Porsche 356 that most people have not heard about.
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