Sports car fans in the mid-fifties would usually be in one of two camps. In the first camp were those who thought the Porsche 356 was the neatest thing since sliced bread, appreciating its quality construction, handling capabilities, and a design that set it apart from those other sports cars, which all tended to look alike. These fans were willing to pay a price premium over British sports cars of the day. In the other camp were those who just didn’t get it – why would anyone pay a high price for a car that looked odd, didn’t seem to be very fast, and could turn around and bite you if you tried to do things at high speeds that were OK in “normal” cars?
A common thread in both camps was the higher price of the Porsche. The price for a basic 356 coupe was $300 more than the faster Jaguar XK 120. One person who recognized the price problem firsthand was Max Hoffman, the leading purveyor of imported sports cars in the U.S. Max had a showroom in New York City that sold just about every sports car there was and, being Porsche’s largest U.S. distributor, he spoke with Ferry Porsche himself about an entry-level Porsche that he could sell for under $3,000.
Porsche obviously did not want to displease their best customer, and in 1954 they put their collective heads together with Max to come up with a solution. The solution was the Porsche Speedster, a bare-bones 356 Cabriolet with a single-layer removable fabric top, removable side curtains instead of roll-up windows, a cut-down windshield, lightweight bucket seats with fixed backrests, and instrumentation limited to a speedometer and a temperature gauge. For an extra cost, you could add a tachometer and/or a heater. The car had no sound insulation.
Max Hoffman knew what he was talking about—selling for $2,995, the car was an instant hit, particularly in Southern California where wannabe racers could drive their Speedsters to the race track, take off the windshield, tape up the headlights and not only go racing, but be competitive.
Porsche offered the Speedster from 1955 through 1957. Sales peaked at 1,171 cars in 1957 and when sales started to decline it was replaced in the Porsche lineup in 1958 by the Convertible D. The Speedster remains one of the more collectible Porsches from the 356 era.
Image by Michael Barera