A Very Special Little Car

Around 1995, a good family friend told me that she had met an unusual person. He was a frequent customer, along with his wife, at the trendy restaurant she and her husband owned. This fellow was well known since he had been the attorney for the famous/notorious financier Marc Rich, the same Mr. Rich who was pardoned by President Clinton on the last day of his presidency. At the time of our discussion, he and his wife were prominent in the Austin social and political scene as well as major philanthropists and supporters of the arts.

For some reason, the subject of classic cars came up and the customer let it be known that he owned many special cars, that he and his wife were going to downsize their Austin area residence and were going to sell many of the cars in his collection. My friend was aware that I had owned several of the iconic Porsche 356 models over the years, was without one for several years, and was looking for a nice 356. I had owned two 356C sedans and one 356B cabriolet previously and was totally hooked on the cars. All my previous versions had been daily drivers, and were in good shape, but certainly not the more rare and unusual types of this special little beast.

He mentioned he had a special little car, a "baby blue" Porsche Cabriolet, in his collection and gave my friend his contact information. Within a week, I drove out to his place, accessible on a half-mile long private drive way and unseen from the highway in a lovely area overlooking the chain of lakes outside Austin. He met me in the driveway outside the impressive home. As one might expect, he had an air of authority mixed with smoothness and we made small talk as we walked to the "car barn," several hundred feet away. Entering the sizable structure, a car museum of the highest order, I could hardly believe my eyes! Top end vehicles included two Rolls Royces, an open-air Mercedes touring car that had been used to drive Hitler through parades in pre-WW2 Germany, Jaguars in the famous green racing colors, and so many other wonderful cars that it was hard to believe. Included were several top-end motorcycles as well. And then he showed me his blue 1959A Porsche cabriolet!

1959 Porsche 356 A Cabriolet in Amalfi Blue color

It was hard to believe ... such a beautiful car. I was overwhelmed. The car was not blemish free or concours d'elegance by any measure (more on that below). A small "crinkle" was obvious in the bonnet (or hood) where someone had tried to force it down after getting gasoline or some other occasion to open it. (The spare tire and gas tank and its access are inside the front bonnet.) The front bonnet also included the original tool set in its kid leather pouch, an unusual and attractive feature. After ten or fifteen minutes of gawking, peering and walking around, looking at the small engine as best I could through the rear opening, checking the glove box and finding the car to appear much like a personal auto would look after twenty or so years,  I made an offer on the spot. Probably not the best poker move, but as it turned out he had a firm price in mind and was knowledgeable about the market ... as you might expect. I did not want this car to be offered on any national market, as California buyers would swarm on it for sure. After one or two back and forths, and his assurance that the car was as-described with the original engine and no major rework, I agreed to his price, which was his starting point! We arranged for me to come back and pick up the car following a bank transfer. This was a heady experience for me on a lot of levels.

According to him, he was the second owner of "Baby Car." The original owner was the wife of the Porsche dealer in San Antonio. After he died unexpectedly, the dealership was sold. The wife did not know how to maintain the car and probably wanted to erase any memories of the sad occasion, so it was put up for sale. He said that he found about it through word of mouth, flew to San Antonio to inspect the car and bought it on the spot. It was transported to New England where he lived at the time, for inspection and a maintenance check by his mechanic. In retrospect, his stories were colorful, but had holes in them, as Baby Car had several non-stock components including a cheap Bendix transistor radio, non-standard seats for that model, and non-standard wheels and hubcaps for that year. I advertised in a national Porsche magazine for 356 models and found a wonderful original Blaupunkt vacuum tube AM/FM/Marine band radio from a man who restored them in Minnesota. The radio worked perfectly and I could hear the buoys in the Houston Ship Channel transmit their signals, but it was the European model so the FM band was a bit different: the bottom non-commercial part of the band was the same, but the commercial portion was truncated at somewhere around 101 MHz or so. That did not bother me.

Blaupunkt AM/FM/Marine Band Car Radio

The motor was the original, matched all the numbers, and ran like a top. The original German tool kit (stored in the bonnet) was complete, along with the indispensable car jack and spare tire.

On-the-road maintenance tool kit and lift-jack for 356 Porsche cars. Don't leave home without them both!

The car had no rust at all, which tracked the San Antonio provenance. It was a "normal," which meant the engine was only 67 HP as compared with the 75 HP "Super" or the 90 HP "Super 90." The 1600 CC engine had two two-barrel carburetors, so each of the four cylinders got its own jet of gasoline. It would go 100 MPH (I tried it once) and handled like a dream. Because the "Normal" engine was so conservatively rated, it was very reliable. All in all, it was a wonderful little car and often people would stop me in town and ask what it was, saying it was the "prettiest car they had ever seen." I kept it nearly twenty years and had the bonnet "crinkle" fixed, all the aging rubber work replaced, and the body repainted at one point after lots of driving. After my wife's stroke, I was not able to drive it as much as needed and sold it to a friend in the Porsche club who was an expert and collector in Houston. As I understand it, he replaced the wheels and seats. Baby Car now lives somewhere in New England, so the circle is completed. The car will live and be loved for a long time and probably will end up in a museum or collection. It is that special.

As an addendum, a tragic one, the prominent man from whom I purchased the car later was killed when his twin-engine plane crashed into the Florida panhandle. He and his flight instructor were the only two persons aboard.

Comments are welcome and will be published, pro and con. Make your comments below, or send to me via email at n3bb@mindspring.com. Email comments will not be identified.

Enjoy life; it's the only one we will get.

J.K. (Jim) George

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15 Responses

  1. I had a subscription to Car and Driver and later to Sports Car Graphic in those days. Patrick Bedard was my hero. I had read about and lusted after a Porsche in C&D but I had never seen a 356 before I spotted one glittering in the summer sun outside the Greyhound Station in LaGrange, Georgia around 1962. It was a pure vision of Glory, and I paced around it again and again absorbing every last detail! I fell pretty hard for Corvettes after seeing my first one in 1963. I ultimately had a 1969 L71 with 435 BHP. It got 8 MPG if you pushed it hard, and 11 if you drove it sanely, which wasn't easy to do. It ran a 13.3 second quarter mile, and I got it up to 140 MPH one time before I chickened out. It was, to say the least, not a handler. And I never did get that Porsche 356. Glad that you've given this joyful recollection of yours!
  2. JK James George
    From Anon-1 (a family member): Great post! I do miss that car... (not as much as you do, I'm sure). it was a beauty.
  3. JK James George
    From Anon-2: The little car was certainly a beauty. Thanks for sharing the detailed story of its life with you. I enjoyed reading it.
  4. JK James George
    From Anon-3: Nice story! I have lost all interest in cars but for my intention to make my next purchase an electric vehicle, maybe in two years.
  5. JK James George
    From Anon-4: Hi Jim, I really enjoyed this column on your baby blue Porsche 356 and sent it off to my old friend (and professor from my early days) (deleted) in Victoria on Vancouver Island. He has had a close relationship with a number of roadsters, starting with a TR3 and most recently, two Honda S2000s. He and I drove an S2000 down the coast highway from Victoria to Visalia in 2013 -- well, I drove and he gritted his teeth about my amateur cornering and his new Portenzas -- and had a great time. Gee I wish we lived nearby, so we could hang out. And that was a beautiful car. The picture is exactly what I love about it, the profile shape.
  6. JK James George
    From Anon-5: Oh Man! I had a 365B for a couple of years back in 1966 range. It was best, most-fun car I ever had. Biggest mistake was selling it to get a 911.
  7. JK James George
    From Anon-6: Jim, it takes a very special person to own a very special car. Or a very special anything for that matter. I call it “honoring the hand of the maker.” Serving as a steward of these special things in our lives is a joy, a privilege, and sometimes a chore. Our lives are enriched by the association. Well done!
  8. JK James George
    From Anon-7: Another great story. My first car was a 1974 Audi Fox – also had it in the Phoenix area – it had AC but it was an aftermarket afterthought… You could feel that little engine shudder when the compressor kicked in and I sometimes had to turn it off to keep the engine from overheating… Used to dowse myself with water on drives for that free evaporative cooling effect. It would go through a set of plugs in 5000 miles before I homebrewed a serious CD ignition out of mil-spec parts bought from the (deleted) Electronics parts store. Delivered about twice the energy as commercial CD ignitions – the plugs no longer fouled – they just pitted away eventually… Loved that car… My college lab partner revised the “Chevy Van” song in honor of the Fox – “She reached over and she grabbed my rocks and we made love in that Audi Fox.” No truth to that song but not for lack of trying…
  9. JK James George
    From Anon-8: Hello Jim Had I known you wanted to sell it!?! My father owned a blue '59 356 Convertible D which I drove for most of its life, both locally in Kansas City and coast to coast. I would have been very interested in purchasing your Cabriolet . . . He purchased his for about $3300 new. Hemmings has a '59 Convertible D [one of 1331 produced, says it] listed for $169,000, so they have appreciated somewhat. I very much enjoyed your story, but, being a pilot, I have to question your description of crashing INTO the Florida panhandle. Wouldn't it be more proper to say the plane crashed IN the Panhandle?
    • JK James George
      Hmmm. That is a good observation. From the photos on the web (he was well known) it looks like they hit at about 45 degrees. About half of the plane is more or less in one recognizable shape. Hard for me, as a layman to know what went wrong. He was with his flight instructor, so the other guy certainly must have taken over at some time. I can give you the info privately if you want.
  10. JK James George
    From Anon-9: Jim – Really enjoyed reading this story about the 356 Porsche. You truly have a gift for writing.
  11. Jim: The parents of former FOC member Jim - K1MEM (SK) had one of those cars in their garage in Westwood, MA. It sat there for many years waiting for a restoration that never came. I suppose it went to someone when the family sold the house and contents. My first car was an Austin Healey 3000 and I so wish I still had that little sports car. I do own 3 Model A Fords...a 1930, Coupe, a 1930 Station Wagon and a 1931 Fordor Sedan. Enjoyed your story very much.
  12. JK James George
    From Anon-10: Thanks Jim. My buddy up here has a 356B coupe. He was salivating over your picture!
  13. JK James George
    From Anon-11: I consider this one of the best things you’ve written. Your love, passion and history with an inanimate object (albeit beautiful), is in every line. Good job.
  14. JK James George
    From Anon-12: Jim, I enjoyed that blog. I never owned a Porsche—closest I came was my first car, a green (not British Racing Green) ‘64 VW beetle—but I always enjoyed looking at those Porsches and seeing them in SCCA races at Watkins Glen, and in CT at Thompson and Lime Rock. Seeing a car from that era on the road always brings back pleasant memories.

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