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A Gem of a 1955 Porsche 356, and Other Restored and Modded Wonders

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 8/26/2021 Elana Scherr
a green car parked on the side of a road: What is the Porsche Classic Restoration Challenge? We swung by the West Coast semifinal to find out. © Tyler Clemmensen - Car and Driver What is the Porsche Classic Restoration Challenge? We swung by the West Coast semifinal to find out.

Look at this little mint julep of a Porsche 356. It's barely a car—more of a snack, really, a Jordan almond, a Jell-O salad on wheels (I say this as a great fan of '50s cookbook photography). If I'd been judging the West Coast meet of the Porsche Classic Restoration Challenge, the Porsche Santa Clarita roadster would have taken all the awards. But I wasn't asked, so another car won.

What is the Porsche Classic Restoration Challenge? Good question, but let's start with a different one: Why is the Porsche Classic Restoration Challenge? Because who doesn't want to see a spiffed-up older 911 return to the road. To encourage vintage rebuilds and bring attention to Porsche dealerships that specialize in restoration and classic sales, Porsche Classic is hosting this year-long build competition.

Dealers enter a restored Porsche—any model is eligible—and the winners from each sales region go on to compete in a national event. What I expected to find when I visited the West Coast stop last weekend: classic Porsches restored. And mostly, that’s what I saw at the Porsche Experience Center in Carson, California. But there were a few surprises.

When you think "restoration," you probably picture lovely examples of 911s, like the two nearly twin green '66 coupes I saw at the front of the center's showroom. Choosing between them would be based more on which interior you prefer—light tan or saddle brown—than any notable flaws. I overheard that one of them almost met a deer on its test drive, which would have certainly set them apart. Would have been a shame for both car and deer, though. Luckily, both made it in one piece, and one is moving on to the finals. Don't ask us which. The green one.

a group of people in a car: 1966 Porsche 911 © Courtesy of Galpin 1966 Porsche 911

Quirkier but still giving off the expected classic-resto vibes were an icy-blue '79 Targa and its creamy '86 counterpart. The later cars were fun to examine, as the options sheets got longer. The '79 had A/C; the '86, a cassette stereo. So loaded.

Video: Porsche Santa Clarita 1955 Porsche 356 Restoration (Motor Trend)

I almost missed the entrants in the back, which would have been terrible, as front-engine Porsches are underrated as collector cars, and it was great to see a 924 and a 944 in such pristine condition. (I may have a rather neglected 944 in the driveway at the moment.)

While most of the restorations were, well, restorations, a few dealers got a little wild. Porsche Ontario built a bold red and black number to answer the question, what if there were a 1989 Carrera Targa RS?

But nobody was wilder than Porsche Santa Clarita. The minty-green exterior on the '55 356 came to owner Beau Boeckmann in a dream. Painter Dave Shuten told me Boeckmann came in to the shop and said he wanted a color that was neither blue nor green, but both, depending on whether you saw it against a blue sky or a green hillside.

Other stories have called the 356 "tastefully restored," and I must respectfully roll around on the floor laughing, because this little Skittle, with its Easter-egg palette and blazing tartan interior, is a hot-rodded custom that would make its original seller, famed European sports-car importer Max Hoffman, choke on his schnitzel. Then again, Hoffman was a racer at heart, so maybe he'd recognize the Indy-car Halibrand wheels and smoothed bodywork as the decisions of a kindred spirit.

What Boeckmann, Shuten, and Porsche Santa Clarita tech Nicolas Briseno have done with the 356 is reimagine the roadster as a 1960s-era custom. Little details around the body were filled and filed to give it the sleek finish of a car-show queen. The rocker moldings and rear reflectors are shaved, the rear decklid was louvered, gone are the rubber bumper guards, and "everything that could be unbolted" has been chromed. The magnesium wheels required extensive modifications, including narrowing the axles, and machining the brake drums and custom adapters to adjust from the stock bolt pattern to the knockoff hub. They are finished in a House of Kolor gold mixed to match the Speedster badges on the fenders. "It's not like we could get the wheels in a different pattern or offset," says Shuten. "They came off an Indy car in 1960, and that's what we were stuck with. We just had to modify the car to fit them rather than the other way around."

The Santa Clarita 356 won the fan-choice award by a wide margin, but it won't be moving on to the next round of the resto competition. After a close battle, the '89 RS got the win. Boeckmann and Shuten took it in good humor. "You can never expect to break all the rules and win," says Shuten. "It was a restoration competition, and we came in with a custom. But winning the people's choice speaks volumes about how the car was received."

I went to the show expecting some well-done classics and left with a sense that the Porsche community has room to appreciate a stock 911 and much more. As I was leaving, the owner of a brick-red '69 912 waved me over. "Wanna see my driving gloves?" he asked, holding up a pair of well-used gardening mitts he'd labeled with a yellow Porsche sticker. "I don't like people who take cars too seriously," he said. "I like them to be fun."

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