A lithe young woman with big, teased hair leans against the driver’s door of a white Porsche, flashing her beguiling smile at a seemingly older and clearly enthusiastic man at the wheel. It’s not an ad for male “assistance.” It’s the cover of Motor Trend’s June 1988 issue, and it set off some sparks with a cover line that coyly posed the question, “Porsche’s New Speedster?”
How could anyone not pick up the issue and speed through its pages to confirm the answer?
The car, which at a quick glance might have suggested a concept for a future 911, was not a Porsche creation at all. Rather, it was a coachbuilt one-off from Canada, called the Spexter. And it sure got some attention.
Spex Design was a small firm run by Paul Deutschman and Kell Warshaw. In the mid-1980s, they created the Elf, a cheeky roadster body kit based on the first-generation Honda Civic. A couple dozen were made, and Deutschman still owns one.
Clyde Kwok, a Montreal Porsche aficionado and collector, noticed the Elf. His business, Wingho Auto Classique in Montreal, had started commissioning one-offs. One of those, the futuristic wedge-shaped Concordia II, played a fictitious 300-mph prototype called the Black Moon in the forgettable 1986 movie Black Moon Rising.
For a more down-to-Earth project, Kwok approached Deutschman with the idea of creating a contemporary Porsche Speedster. “He owned classic 356 Speedsters and wanted to see that kind of ‘bathtub’ design modernized,” Deutschman says.
The timing was interesting, to say the least. The commission from Kwok came months before Porsche showed its own 911 Speedster concept at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September 1987. (The production version came to America in early 1989.)
Opportunity of a lifetime
A Quebec native who studied design in England, Deutschman welcomed the challenge to reimagine the 911 while retaining clear Porsche character. “I really wanted to show what we could do,” he says.
Most Porsche enthusiasts would probably consider the 911’s shape inviolable, but that hadn’t stopped outside designers from applying their own vision to the iconic sports car. Italy’s Bertone showed its one-off 911 in 1966. Though a fairly attractive car, it cast all Porsche identity aside with a shape similar to the Fiat 850 Spider that Bertone had unveiled the year before.
Although based on the 911 Targa, the Spexter used none of its body panels. Deutschman captured the essence of the 911’s persona with rounded front fenders distinctly separated from the hood and tipped by dark-tinted, flush-mounted oval headlight covers.
He took the original 356 Speedster’s stripped-down persona to an extreme. Instead of a lowered windshield, as on the original, there are no A-pillars at all, only an ultra-low plastic windscreen. The body’s center section curves inward in a Coke bottle form, and then sweeps outward to envelop the rear wheels. A dark-tinted taillight panel stretching the car’s width, black bumperettes flanking the license plate, and a large single tailpipe conveyed a Porsche vibe, if the general shape did not.
“The biggest challenge with a 911 is that the engine is so far back,” Deutschman says. “If I had another shot at it, I’d try to pare down the rear of the vehicle.”
There is no top of any sort, nor roll-up windows or side curtains. Overall, the Spexter’s clean appearance was even less adorned than the original Speedster.
“You see in auto design today a tendency to throw in all kinds of character lines,” Deutschman says. “I think that immediately stamps the date on a design. I prefer to let the shapes and proportions do the speaking.”
The hood and fenders essentially continue into the cockpit, where the Spexter takes function and simplicity to an extreme. The seats are molded into the same fiberglass structure as the dash and console, with black foam affixed to form the seating surfaces and headrests.
A triangular instrument pod housing three large gauges recalls the original 1950s Speedster. Ahead of the shifter are switches for the ignition, hazard flashers, and parking brake.
The Spexter build, which took nine months, went “remarkably smoothly,” Deutschman recalls. “There were no real issues. We used a 911 Targa, which had the added strength already built into the floors.”
Even though Porsche had already revealed its Speedster prototype the previous fall, it was the fully drivable Spexter that seemed to steal the media show.
“We think, as a whole, the Spexter represents fine work true to its inspiration, while being innovative at the same time,” Motor Trend’s Jack Nerad wrote 31 years ago.
Road & Track also expressed a preference for the Deutschman design, saying, “The true spirit of the Speedster is much better captured by the Spexter. It is a proper example of coachcraft with wholly original contours that still say ‘Porsche.’”
The biggest media “hit” came from a short article in AutoWeek, Deutschman happily recalls. The magazine had conveniently included Deutschman’s phone number, and a certain Reeves Callaway from Connecticut called.
“That’s how we first connected,” Deutschman says. “He had not yet seen the Motor Trend story, which had come out a couple of days before. We started talking about the first Callaway project.”
Callaway, who was then building the B2K twin-turbo Corvette, needed a more aerodynamic body design for a top-speed special he was building, which would become known as the Sledgehammer.
“I said I’d do some sketches, and two weeks later he flew his Aerospatiale Gazelle helicopter to Montreal and landed next to the garage where the Spexter was stored,” Deutschman says. “It was a fabulous moment, and we have been working together ever since.”
What did Porsche think?
Did the Spexter predict the future? Deutschman visited Porsche’s design studio a few years after it was built.
“They had noticed the Spexter,” he remembers, “but they didn’t express any kind of obvious significant reaction.”
Later, in January 1993, Porsche unveiled a new concept car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, and Deutschman was there to see it.
“The cover comes off, and it’s called the Boxster, which isn’t too far removed from Spexter,” he says. “Then, I get a poke in the ribs, turn around, and it’s John Lamm, the Road & Track journalist. And he says, ‘Paul, doesn’t that piss you off?’ It was a bizarre moment. It was flattering that he thought there was some link between the Boxster and my Spexter.”
The Boxster, of course, would become instrumental in saving Porsche’s fortunes when it went into production four years later. As for the Spexter, the idea of making copies never went beyond a couple of conversations. “We never took reproducing it too seriously,” Deutschman says.
Three decades later, he continues to design road cars and race cars for Callaway, while also working on such varied projects as campers and the recently-launched Lion8 electric delivery truck built in Quebec.