How barn-find Speedsters went from rust to gold

Neglected, scruffy old Porsche Speedsters have been appreciating steeply. Over the last 15 years, not only have they regularly exceeded the prices paid for usable – even restored – cars, they have frequently exceeded the bounds of reason.

It is tempting to fall for a neglected, abandoned old car, if only for the accolades that marque aficionados will confer on the savior who resurrects a car seen as beyond recovery. Like ancient pottery shards lovingly sifted from the earth, it’s history preserved. However, the derelict car’s price coupled with a herculean restoration usually exceeds the cost of simply purchasing a fine example from the outset.

Following are several examples that trace the Speedster’s price trajectory, dating from 2002 to the recent Arizona auctions. Finding reason in the results is beyond a challenge; it is impossible. This timeline – note the dates of each sale – with car descriptions in the unembellished language used by auction analysts confirms that the price trend, at least, seems consistent.

May 18, 2002: 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster Red with a black leather interior. Presale estimate of $55,000 – $65,000.

This was an unrestored original in No. 3- condition. Poor old repaint over generous filler, worn original interior, some pitted chrome trim. Rough and mostly original, floors appear sound. Door gaps are even and doors close well. Needs comprehensive attention, yet it appears to be a sound starting point; still, it is essentially unusable in its present condition. This is a $50,000 car … after it is restored.

Not sold at the hammer bid of $50,000. Christie’s Rockefeller Center, N.Y.

Jan. 19, 2012: 1955 Porsche 356A Speedster Silver/Black leatherette, black leatherette top. Estimate $80,000 – $100,000.

Unrestored original, No. 4 condition. Chrome wheels, Prototipo leather-rim steering wheel, four hubcaps, bumper overriders. A barn find with dull paint, stiff upholstery, stripped dashboard, but little rust; new floors and battery box included. The nose has been repaired. Titled under the engine number; the engine has been removed and disassembled. This was the first of several barn finds Bonhams brought to its first Scottsdale sale and represents a straightforward restoration project.

Hammered sold at $86,000; add the 17 percent commission and the final price comes to $100,620. Bonhams & Butterfields, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Jan. 17, 2015: 1958 Porsche 356A Speedster Silver/Red with a black top. Estimate $275,000 – $375,000.

Unrestored original, No. 4+ condition.  Sixty horsepower engine, 4-speed, Dynaplastic accessory hardtop, side curtains, bumper overriders, painted wheels, hubcaps, blackwall tires, Motorola radio and both original and installed cabriolet seats. Represented as matching numbers. Single ownership until September 2014. Free of rust or damage, paint is evenly faded but retains a good tone, but still a fabulous garage find with the kind of originality that’s too important to do any more than dust, tune up and cover up some of the failed trim. The most expensive 356A Speedster in auction history with a staggering price 17 percent over the presale high estimate.

Hammered at $440,000 plus a 10 percent commission for a final price of $484,000. Gooding & Company, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Oct. 7, 2016: 1957 Porsche 356A 1600 Speedster Red with black hardtop/black vinyl. Estimate $200,000 – $250,000.

Unrestored original, No. 4 condition. Coupe seats, hubcaps, two tops, Bendix Sapphire II AM-FM radio, oil filter, Solex carbs. Dull, scraped old repaint, torn upholstery, rusty bumpers. Runs but doesn’t stop. Chassis, engine and gearbox numbers match the Porsche Kardex. A dry, solid Texas garage find with no serious rust and no holes. A ratty (but solid) example that needs everything, not to mention some new seats.

Watch this if you’d like to learn more about this Speedster’s history.

Hammered sold at $310,000 plus 10 percent commission for a final price of $341,000. RM Sotheby’s, Hershey, Penn.

Nov. 5, 2016: 1957 Porsche 356A 1600 Speedster Aquamarine Blue/beige vinyl with white vinyl top. Estimate $200,000 – $250,000.

Unrestored original, No. 4+ condition. Hubcaps, cast headlight guards, bumper overriders, coupe seats, Kardex documented. Put away in 1975 with the top up, includes side curtains and the original upholstery. Original engine and gearbox, new carburetors. Dirty, dusty but probably recoverable original paint; sound but stiff original upholstery. Crusty engine compartment. A complete barn find that runs but doesn’t stop. The stage for this sale was set by RM at Hershey a month earlier (see above), where $341,000 was thought to be a staggering result, but it turns out this car sold for effectively twice as much. As some sage noted at the auction, “When restored, it’ll be worth $400,000.”

Hammered sold at $605,000 plus 10 percent commission for a final price of $665,500. Auctions America, Hilton Head, S.C.

Jan. 20, 2017: 1958 Porsche 356A Super Speedster Dark Blue, Primer/none; no top. Estimate $200,000 – $275,000; no reserve.

Unrestored original, No. 5+ condition. Fitted with 75-horse Super engine, rear bumper overrider, no front bumper. Mostly there, in sad, battered condition but not rotten. Too far gone for anything but restoration. Said to be the original numbers-matching Super engine. A day after this sale, Gooding sold a 1600 Normal Speedster with an unrestored original hardtop and a 40-year old repaint, sound and usable with matching numbers engine for exactly the same price, and later the same day RM sold a ’57 356A Normal Speedster in better-than-new condition for $330,000. Never before have 15 additional horsepower been more expensive.

Hammered sold at $310,000 plus commission of 10 percent, final price of $341,000. Gooding & Company, Scottsdale, Ariz.

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