Why You Think You Want a Porsche Speedster (But Really You Want a Cabriolet)

This is a 1957 Porsche 356A Cabriolet finished in Aquamarine Blue Metallic over Tan. It’s breathtakingly beautiful. To be fair, under the hood it only has a little engine. But it doesn’t weigh much and, most importantly, has wind-up windows and a proper roof.

Then there is the iconic Porsche Speedster, a symbol of great style and ultimate cool, made such by equally iconic actor-sportscar enthusiasts like James Dean and Steve McQueen. Ironically, although Dean met his untimely demise at the wheel of a Porsche 550 Spyder, he had traded in an Ivory Speedster to buy it.  McQueen, arguably the King of Cool, owned a black-on-black Speedster with Rudge knock-off wheels, notable for being the first car he bought brand new. His son, Chad, a race car driver like his father, owns the car today and has restored it to as-new condition.

Nice cars but poor choices in my mind. Guys, you got it wrong.  Sure, it’s cool driving with no windows, but that lasts maybe a week.  Not a problem if you want to drive alone for the rest of your life. The moment you collect your sweetheart in such a car it’s all over.  Too cold, too windy, too much hair in the face.  There are just too many variables, I’m just saying it’s nice to have the option to turn towards civility instead of turning back to take an Uber.  

Photos by John Hebert. The car is a 1957 Porsche 356A Cabriolet.

Keep the sweetie and the cool with a Porsche 356 Cabriolet.  With slightly less rake to the windshield and different layout to the dashboard, it offers every ounce of charm the Speedster ever did, with just a hint of real-life practicality.  I’m not talking air conditioning and cruise control but I am talking a modicum of comfort that might just save date night. 

Fortunately, the vintage car scene has never been more popular, making a ’57 356A Cabriolet increasingly easy to care for. With specialty workshops in abundance globally, you can take your pick of which one will maintain your prized vehicle in tip-top shape.  More challenging, however, is finding one. As in any collector market, money talks. But money alone will only get you so far. These cars are rarer than the filet mignon at Delmonico’s. Once they’re acquired, people are loath to part with them, meaning very few actually change hands. It takes time and effort to hunt down the perfect one, or at least a good enough one to tide you over until the perfect one turns up.

Patience is a much better course of action than plunking down the pennies or the bitcoin on a near-Speedster. The car is one of the most replicated vehicles of all time, a Volkswagen Beetle hiding in a fiberglass mold of a Speedster. Clever stuff—in theory. But like a fake Rolex, things don’t quite add up to those in the know.  

I must confess—I’m guilty of having once owned a replica. Okay, twice. I was young and it was a guilty pleasure, pure mindless fun. I’m old enough now to know better. With more than a decade of experience to my credit, I can categorically tell you that a replica lacks all the magic of the real thing—neither authenticity nor sensory fulfillment. 

The vibrations, the smell, the vehicle in motion, are as unrefined as … well …  a VW Beetle, not to take potshots at an otherwise fine and inexpensive ride. The real deal is a time-traveling experience, from the Bakelite switchgear to the light but affirmative shift of the transmission. The peppy engine revs up faster, goes faster, sounds faster, and rides smoother. 

Here’s the good news: No one’s ever replicated a Cabriolet, so there’s no confusing it for a fake. 

This car has been fully restored, mechanically and cosmetically, inside-out and upside-down. For all intents and purposes, it’s a new old car. You’ll need a casual understanding of how the carburetor works to start it and keep things moving, but it’s nothing to fret over and truly cool when you’re able to make it all look so effortless. Cool as Dean and McQueen, with a smiling partner at your side.