15 September 2016

How a Porsche find gets found

They arrived at the agreed-upon time. Bob Lange and his son, Jason, walked up to the ranch-style house with the detached garage. It had a dented door and its paint was faded by years of near-desert California sun. That November day, though, it was mild in Yucaipa, an eastern Los Angeles suburb on the freeway to Palm Springs, and they were excited to discover if there was really a Porsche 356 hiding somewhere on the property. Except that Scotty Gates, the homeowner and their contact, wasn’t there.

The younger Lange had organized the meeting with Gates via a classmate of his. Dave Adkins and Jason Lange were firefighting students and friends at Crafton Hills College, where Adkins casually mentioned that his grandfather, Gates, had an old Porsche. Adkins thought it was a 356, but wasn’t certain. It was parked and hadn’t been driven in ages. Bob Lange owned a 911 at the time and asked if he could see the retired sports car on an upcoming California vacation. It was set.

But when they finally arrived, Gates was absent. Fortunately, Adkins answered the door after a few knocks and led them to the garage. He opened the side door, dust dancing in a column of light, and shined a flashlight inside. All they could see were boxes, curtain rods and plastic sheeting. Adkins led them into the warm garage, stumbled over some crates, and shoved a box aside to reveal a taillight. There was a Porsche, and it was a 356.

Rather than tearing the garage apart, the Lange decided to leave and call Gates back to see the car properly. They then learned the car was a convertible, probably from 1955, “because that’s the year I bought it.” It was parked in 1963, though, for engine repairs, and never completed.

They returned, and this time Gates was there. He wanted to sell the German convertible so that he could make room in the garage and buy his wife a new car. The negotiation was quick and easy. After a few minutes of removing boxes that had sat for years, a red, brush-painted Porsche 356 with white hardtop sat before them. Except it wasn’t a 1955, and it wasn’t a convertible.

It was a ’54 Speedster.

The engine, type 546 — a 1.5-liter flat-four — sat in a few dusty, oily boxes scattered around the garage. Its number matched the chassis number. Gates had torn it down after his wife “blew it up,” but the odometer showed just 33,000 miles. Lange called a flatbed, inflated the Porsche’s now-flat tires and shipped it straight to John Wilberg’s German Parts Obsolete (then located in Southern California, now in Dunkirk, NY).

Wilberg opened his doors in 1988 and built his business finishing parts and cars to concours and museum standards. Lange’s speedster is no exception. Upon arrival at Wilberg’s shop, it was stripped and cataloged, revealing that it was originally Speedster Blue and one of only 44 Speedsters (of the 200 built) painted this color in 1954. The only option the original owner selected was a U.S. speedometer.

There was also evidence that at some point the little Porsche was driven through a chain link fence. Regardless, Wilberg completed the car in 2000, at which point Lange began driving and enjoying it on local drives and shows. And while the following may be sacrilege to the Porsche Wahrheitsgetreu, he also used the car to deliver renderings, plans and art to his landscape architecture clients.

Never has there been a cooler little delivery car with a better story than Porsche #80130.

14 Reader Comments

  • 1
    David Ingham L.A., CA September 22, 2016 at 13:42
    I grew up in a family of gearheads. My next door neighbor owned a Speedster (now, he owns an Airstream and a CB450 Honda). In 1974 I owned a '67 Mustang GTA convertible (390, every option, 34k miles, paid $900 for it.) and I and my neighbor's son were employed by a local liquor store to deliver booze, me in the "Deathwish" he in the Speedster. a couple years later, he sold it for $3k, astronomical money then. I sold the GTA just after for $600, couldn't afford the 78 cent/gallon gas as a poor student.
  • 2
    ryan KY September 22, 2016 at 14:07
    Looks like they found it with the motor in it to me. Story doesn't add up.
  • 3
    Ken Florida September 22, 2016 at 17:59
    In 1971 while living in Nassau Bahamas I bought a 356A from a Swiss hotel chef who was leaving for $300. I used to drive from my home 15 miles to Nassau to work. The back road was largely empty at night so 80mph speeds were common. One night I hit a large dog at speed. The body was flung forward then up coming back and wiping out the windshield. Unable to get a glass and frame I parked the car at an abandoned gas station. Several months later while back in the US I received a letter from a local offering me $150 for the engine and transmission to which I agreed and sold to him. Missed opportunities!!!!!
  • 4
    S. Lange Phoenix, AZ September 22, 2016 at 20:41
    I can see how the valve covers, rocker arm assemblies, heads, cylinders, and pistons could easily have been removed with the engine in its compartment and soon after the effort to repair came to a stand still. Wonderful new life for the Speedster.
  • 5
    Steve SoCal September 22, 2016 at 23:01
    So how much did he purchase it for? How much did the resto cost? Useful info for your readers (customers)
  • 6
    Charley Robinson Kerrville, TX September 23, 2016 at 06:36
    Details Ryan, details.
  • 7
    steve michigan September 23, 2016 at 19:18
    The pictures at the top right show the car in the garage, red with a white hard top. Neat little car, probably got it cheap but I bet the restorer emptied his wallet.
  • 8
    Daryl Downing ks September 23, 2016 at 09:01
    What do they mean it wasn't a convertible, or is the blue one a completely different car?
  • 9
    Yoav Gilad Traverse City, MI September 23, 2016 at 10:09
    Hi Daryl, there is a difference between a Cabriolet (convertible) and a Speedster.
  • 10
    Tony Stiebeck Chicago, IL September 28, 2016 at 18:24
    yet another boring porsche article. so unique!
  • 11
    David Barrod Moorpark, CA November 4, 2016 at 16:37
    In 1970 I had a perfect 65 sc. Got married and could not afford the $50 a month car payment. I paid $2400. Today it's worth 50 times that. Who knew?
  • 12
    Dana Novato, CA November 4, 2016 at 12:14
    While checkbook restorations may not be that interesting, it's a car's story that true carguys enjoy.
  • 13
    John Wilberg Dunkirk N.Y. November 5, 2016 at 23:03
    Its Interesting to read comments,From Readers, as some may guess,, It had a Cheap, aftermarket fiberglass hard top when first seen- as well as the original , frame for the soft top,, The engine parts (engine out and apart) was collected from a dusty bench many engine parts had found there was to the floor,, were all collected, up, every "nut and bolt", luckily found,, It Took me Three years to complete a full concour restoration,, Bob Has had the Pleasure of Showing the car at many events including Pebble beach ,, Being a "1954" first production run of 200 cars,, He has a True Treasure,, I'm Pleased, To see Him enjoy !!
  • 14
    Dale GA November 8, 2016 at 10:36
    I was a hot rodder and drove a '51 Ford Coupe with a Chevy/Corvette engine my last 3 years of college, but I also liked sports cars. In 1965 I bought a 1961 Porsche 356 with a sun roof from a PCA member while living in Atlanta. I drove that car every day for five years and never had a problem, loved that car and wish I had it today.

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