A long time sleeping.
It sounded simple. “Create a 356 that retained its original character and was of show winning quality.”
Our client knew the difference between the good and the bad. He had already experienced previous restoration disasters before coming to us; cars that were not delivered, or cars that were poorly restored. Our client had commissioned the rebuild of a lovely ’67 911 with us a year previously, so had a high degree of confidence already. Sending this 356 all the way from Texas seems like a big deal, but shipping is inexpensive and as it is outside of the EU, the work is nett of VAT .
What arrived at the docks? An exciting 356 A cabrio from 1958. Sporting an inspection sticker in the screen (which we saved), dating from 1988 when it was last on the road. Graham Kidd, our head of restoration, was delighted. This 356 had a lot of components that we could reuse and therefore retain a character.
Our first job was assessment and recording all the existing detail on this Porsche 356; we wanted to put it back together just as the factory delivered it. However, putting it back together as 1958 factory standard is no longer an acceptable level; nowadays, a restoration on this level, a possible show car, will come under massive scrutiny of many expert eyes. They will note every imperfection! Fortunately, paint, technology and accuracy are now beyond that which would have been accepted in 1958.
This 356 enjoyed the same process as all the full restorations we manage. We record and photograph as we dismantle, choosing what to repair, replace or reuse in conjunction with the owner. Replacing everything with new is easier, but much of the car’s history and personality is lost. By reusing key parts, you can enhance the originality and authenticity of the car. This was important to our client.
Particularly noticeable and hard to achieve on a 356 is the panel fitment, the accuracy of the gaps and the consistency of body shape. The standard of many 356 restorations can be judged by the way the trunk lid (bonnet) fits onto the car, how the shape of the doors to sills (rockers) appear. These areas must be corrected long before it goes for paint. Beyond that, knowing what’s ‘right’, both with components and the fitting and finishing of them, is something else. That’s where you need decades of model-specific experience (and our Graham has just that). Managing the job, finding components, attending to the detail all require a high level of skill and experience.
Once fully disassembled the components head off in different directions. The bare shell was media blasted and then corrosion protected. Once ‘cleaned’, all corroded or damaged areas are revealed and the metal fabrication expert can begin to see the extent of the work. To retain originality, the minimum of new metal is carefully formed and seamlessly welded into the tub. Panel fit on a 356 is difficult, with curves in many directions; many hours are spent getting this just right. Although easier to spread filler over the whole car and then reshape it, we prefer to achieve fit and finish from the metal, using the minimum amount of filler for the finest blemishes.
Our bare 356 body was then placed on a jig to correct and keep the body true, supports welded in to stabilise before the longitudinals (sills-rockers) were cut off. Any hidden corrosion in these structural parts must be rectified, particularly important to maintain strength for a cabriolet.
On this car, the old accident damage to the front left wing and rear end were repaired and the kinked bonnet straightened. Any repairs were smoothed using body lead, as would have been done originally in the Porsche factory. A shell takes 100’s of hours to get it ready for paint. Prior to paint, we temporarily refit the lights, handles, bumpers and window frames to ensure that once painted, everything fits perfectly.
Whilst the body was being rebuilt, the original engine and gearbox were tackled. Once stripped it was discovered that the barrels and pistons were worn. On our advice, the client chose to increase performance from the standard 60bhp which we achieved with larger capacity barrels and pistons. We further improved performance with a replacement camshaft, polished and matched the cylinder ports and manifolds. The flywheel ring gear was replaced with a slightly lighter version. The original Zenith carburretors were stripped and cleaned and the venturis bored from 24 to 28 mm and the jets upgraded to suit. The result was an increase to 1,720 cc and approximately 90 bhp.
The freshly painted body shell returned for final fit-out. The original colour was replaced by a factory Pre-A shade called ‘Fish Eye silver’. The convertible roof and beautiful interior renewed in dark blue with a grey/blue square weave carpet.
Although easy to do, the customer decided not to upgrade the suspension or the brakes, so everything was rebuilt to standard with new Koni shocks. The original wheels were fully refurbished. 6 volt 356 electrics were converted to 12 volts and the headlamps upgraded to Halogen units. All the brightwork was re-polished with only a few pieces re-plated. The bumper overriders were removed to give cleaner lines.
Finally, at the end of a year-long journey, the 356 was ready for road testing, allowing us to check everything and make any minor adjustments to the fit and finish and rectify any rattles or wind noise. Only when we are 100% certain that the car looks, performs and handles as it should, do we sign it off for collection.
Before the 356 returned to Texas, our client came to see his reborn ‘Hugo’ and arranged for James Mann to photograph the finished article. Before leaving for the US, it was featured in Classic Porsche magazine. Since then, ‘Hugo’ has enjoyed many outings and has taken top honours at the odd show or two. The owner continues to enjoy this beautiful 356