Porsche’s first-ever Le Mans winner rediscovered
When Cameron Healey bought a little red Porsche 356 spyder in 2009, he knew that it was a special early Porsche. He just had no clue how special it really was.
Before the Porsche family relocated their company back to the Stuttgart area in 1949, Ferry Porsche made a limited run of aluminum-bodied coupe and convertible versions of the 356 in Gmünd, Austria. Fifty-two aluminum 356s were completed before the move, with a few more unfinished bodies fabricated. Those bodies were completed by Tatra under contract and then shipped to Zuffenhausen, including #356/2-063, a coupe, where assembly was finished.
In 1951, Porsche competed for the first time at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The team at Zuffenhausen prepared a number of cars for the race but accidents during testing and training meant only one Porsche actually competed, 356/2-063, with Auguste Veuillet and Edmond Mouche driving. They averaged 87.61 mph over the 24 hours, taking a class win, Porsche’s first victory at Le Mans.
The car was slightly modified, moving the turn signals and adding better lighting for the Liège-Rome-Liège road race, and then set three world records in time trials at the Montlhéry track south of Paris. Its competition days over, Porsche repaired and repainted 2-063, bringing it up to production specs, and sold it, along with two other 356 SL cars, to U.S. importer Max Hoffman.
The car passed through a number of owners in the 1950s, including racer Johnny von Neumann, who had coach builder Emil Diedt remove the roof in order to save weight. Number 2-063 eventually ended up on the possession of Chuck Forge, who had the car restored (as a spyder) in 1981, adding a roll bar to be able to compete in historic racing. Porsche enthusiast Cameron Healey knew about it and stayed in touch with the owner, but Forge didn’t want to sell the vintage 356.
After he passed away, Healey purchased the Porsche from Forge’s estate.
Healey turned the car over to “356 Outlaw” Rod Emory who started to restore it in his North Hollywood shop. Emory discovered details that indicated it wasn’t just any Gmünd aluminum convertible, and in fact hadn’t started out as a spyder. There was evidence of the relocated turn signals, as well as scratches on body panels and damage to a wheel cover that matched period photos from the ’51 Le Mans race.
Healey researched the Porsche archives in Zuffenhausen, discovering documents indicating that his 356 was likely to be Porsche’s first Le Mans winner.
“I couldn’t believe it at first, but all the evidence suggests it’s 063,” said Healey
The other two Gmünd aluminum coupes that Max Hoffman imported still exist. Emory made a wooden buck from laser measurements taken from those cars, and remanufactured a new aluminum roof, using period-correct metal forming techniques. While the 1981 restoration wasn’t done poorly, it was mostly a cosmetic restoration, done to the era’s tastes. Emory, however, did a period-correct restoration, taking the little red Porsche back to its original silver finish.
As rare and as valuable as it is, it’s still in regular use, street legal and registered in California. You can see Healey driving it on California’s twisty Highway No. 2, wearing the same #46 that the 46 horsepower car carried when it won its class at Le Mans. Ferry Porsche wouldn’t have it any other way.