Is it the Holy Grail of Lost 356 Prototypes or just another VW-based custom?
by Wallace Wyss –
Back at the beginning of Porsche, you might say all options were open because, at that converted sawmill in Gmund that they were using for a factory, body materials were hard to find.
So they had to use whatever they could find and if someone else came up with an idea for a car, they would look at it and sometimes give tacit permission for them to build them, though the factory wouldn’t sell these Porsche-powered cars built outside of Porsche.
The first official Porsche 356 numbered “001” was built in May 1947. Porsche 356s began rolling down the line in Gmünd, Austria in the winter of 1948 and the 356 was formally presented at the Geneva Motor Show in 1949. The bodywork was wrought of aluminum and, though I heard they had three guys that could bend alloy, I guess the most notorious and skilled one was Friedrich Weber.
When Weber was in his cups, though, cars didn’t get built. That adds fuel to the legend of how a fellow named Hans Waibel became involved. In the legend, Ferry Porsche turned to a friend of his father, Hans Waibel, who was an industrial bodybuilder and who had built two VW prototypes before the war.
Now the story I read on Ottority.com published August 3, 2015 and authored by somebody who only bylines himself by his first name, Ryan, said that Ferry Porsche offered Waibel two Porsche chassis but that Waibel was so busy he declined them.
But the same story says that, at the end of 1948, Waibel was approached by a client, Rupprecht von Senger, who asked to build a similar car, only this time on a VW chassis 27 cm longer than the Porsche 356 chassis that arrived in Switzerland on October 18, 1948. This story says he removed the body and fitted a Porsche light alloy cabriolet body and Porsche engine.
For some reason, the story says the car was finished in ’59 but not sold to von Senger for five more years. And then changed hands several times.
The author says that, in 1988, Waibel said it had a Porsche chassis and was built prior to the Gmünd “series” cars (of which there were nearly 50) and “three cars Beutler” (here’s where I differ, I went onto Google and there you can count at least six Beutlers of varying styles—Author).
This story of this car being built prior to the Gmunds seems to run counter to history when it wasn’t finished until after Porsche had built many more cars.
This green car underwent a full restoration in the US by no less than Hill & Vaughn (the “Hill” being Phil Hill) and was painted green with a tan interior when shown at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance in 1992.
Now one interesting tidbit in the “famous owner” category is that it supposedly went in 1988 from von Senger to a California restorer Michael Rizzuto, and then from him to “Monty” Montgomery, a Hollywood producer who was born in 1953 and presumably is still around. He is an American film producer, director, actor and screenwriter.
Montgomery is best known for such films as Wild at Heart, The Portrait of a Lady and The Loveless.
Montgomery is also known for playing the role of The Cowboy in the David Lynch film Mulholland Drive.
And so, here I am, writing a 356 history and I come across pictures of this car and I am in the dark if it should be included? As much as I like to toot the horn when I find a good “barn find story” I don’t want to include any pretenders to the throne, only bluebloods.
The question then is: does this car in point of fact have a genuine Porsche chassis underneath or is it naught but a custom VW? The value could swing a lot either way if it was a documented Porsche.
One reader of a story about it on a site called Autobahn Bound pointed out that, if the car was so damned historical, it would be in the Porsche museum (I imagine welcomed back with a great fanfare of publicity, like a long lost son…). The fact that Porsche knows it’s out there and has turned a cold shoulder to it is a good clue it’s a custom bodied VW.
At least two of the stories I found on the net have these chassis numbers but have no idea if they are Porsche chassis numbers.
Chassis #: 1-085552
Engine #: 115914
I remain open to opinions, and hey, Monty, if you’re out there, gives us a shout and let us know the straight skinny…
Let us know what you think in the Comments.
THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of the revised Porsche 356 Photo Album, scheduled to be printed soon by Enthusiast Books.