The Mille Miglia’s coming up. After spluttering and stalling to a halt earlier in the year — something to do with a pandemic? — the annual historic rally has finally got the green light. But what to drive? How about a lovely 1925 Bugatti Type 35? Too old, probably. Or a 1930s Alfa Romeo 8C? Beautiful, but unreliable. No, you want something comfortable, practical and beautiful — no mean feat.
And yet, here stands a glorious Porsche 356 Carrera 1500 GS Speedster. Red of colour and buggy of eyes, this cheery 1955 motor is parked at the crossroads of fun and functional. It’s currently for sale through RM Sothebys’ automotive arm and, proudly proclaimed on its auction listing are those magic words: ‘Mille Miglia eligible’.
That’s an achievement in itself. It’s notoriously tricky to gain entry to the fabled heritage car event — one that peels from Brescia to Rome and back again every year in a flurry of handsome old motors. And, while there are many ways you could sneak a period-appropriate car past the organisers, the sole way to ensure consideration is by entering a model that actually took part in the original 1927-57 race.
The 356 Carrera did. And it did well. In fact, the name ‘Carrera’ means ‘race’ in Spanish. This particular car came to be in 1954, after Porsche’s Dr. Ernst Führmann created the complex Carrera “Four-cam” engine to power the automaker’s 550 Spyder. Porsche decided, after the racing success of the smaller Spyder, to make the engine available in its production coupés. And so the Porsche Speedster was born.
A one-off 356 coupé fitted with a Führmann engine — much like the car above — won the gruelling Líege-Rome-Líege Rally in 1954, and this pushed Porsche to begin low-volume production of the cars just months after. Only 15 Pre-A Carrera Speedsters were actually built — and this is one of them.
It rolled off the production line on 13 December, 1955, with its 1,488cc four-cam engine, four-speed manual transmission and a tan leather interior. Destined to be sold in the US, it had sealed-beam headlamps, instrumentation in miles and was delivered to the Hoffman Motor Company in New York.
Over the years, the car has changed hands several times — tearing through five different owners before an early ‘80s overhaul at the renowned John Willhoit Auto Restoration Centre in Long Beach, California.
It was patched up, and the usual rust repairs and metal-finishing were completed, before it was resprayed in its original Speedster red — and the interior reupholstered in fresh tan leather.
A new windscreen was fitted, all the instruments refurbished and the trim given a new lease of life. A model-correct new twin-outlet exhaust system was fitted, and Willhoit even gave the Speedster a new ‘Spyder’ extractor exhaust he sourced from Germany. Add to that new asymmetrical trim rings and a pair of bumper-mounted fog lamps, and the car was ready for another 30 years on the road.
It’s done that — and then some. Recently, German Carrera specialist Karl Hloch of Schorndorf refreshed the engine and switched the crankshaft from roller bearings to plain bearings to improve drivability and reliability. And so stands the car you see before you — poised to take on the Mille Miglia and offered with a starting bid of over £1 million.
So what do you think? Could you be the latest owner of this extraordinary motor?
Looking for something with a smaller price tag? These are the best affordable classics to buy this year…
Become a Gentleman’s Journal member. Find out more here.