Period Perfect Porsche

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Written by Tom Suddard

From the May 2017 issue

Posted in Features

Period Correct.” If you play with cars, it’s a buzzphrase you’ve probably heard. It can mean something as basic as installing vintage-style wheels on your classic instead of billet aluminum copies of what your son has on his Hot Wheels. But ex-Porsche mechanic Michael Malamut’s 1955 Porsche 356 Continental coupe takes period correct to a whole new level.

Rare Porsches are nothing new to Malamut: Out of the 200-car collection he has housed in his private museum, he estimates that about 40 carry a VW or Porsche badge, with each car being a significant model in some way. This Porsche is noteworthy not just because it’s one of the last “pre-A” 356s, but because it carries more period correct accessories–many of them factory-installed–than you could shake a stick at.

Foremost among them is the rarest of 356 options, and one that can’t easily be added during a restoration: a sunroof. Malamut’s “sunroof coupe” (we’ll let you figure out how it came by that name) is one of an unknown number produced. Porsche did a poor job of tracking which 356s had which features, so there’s no firm tally for how many were produced with holes in the roof. We do know, anecdotally, that these were exceedingly rare cars. Next, and also on the exterior, you’ll notice a few other neat features–including a spotlight mounted in place of the driver’s mirror, driving lights on the front bumper, mudflaps, vent window wind deflectors, and wheel fans reminiscent of Formula 1’s brake cooling devices. These fancy trim rings are directional, and do provide a tad more cooling to the car’s four-wheel-drum brakes.

Climb inside, adjust the mirror, and–wait, what’s that? Inset in the rearview mirror is a tiny clock, clearly assembled by the sort of optimistic, mechanically minded hands for which the 1950s are famous. The view through the rearview mirror is hampered by another period part–louvers that are mounted inside, against the rear window, to protect against the sun in a time before window tinting was mainstream.

What are you sitting on? Good question: It’s a bench seat, which Malamut says is unheard-of to most people. Most Porsche buyers opted instead for buckets, but this 356’s throne affords more room to stretch out on long drives. Also handy for road trips: An optional Telefunken radio in the dash. Even the original steering wheel, itself a rare commodity in early Porsche 356 circles, wears a horn button that Malamut admits isn’t original, but was found somewhere in the depths of a German autojumble.

What do you do with a rare car full of rare options? After a restoration by Porsche expert Eric Meyer, this 356 has been making the concours rounds. But Malamut hasn’t relegated this piece of history to a trailer. In fact, we spotted this car on the Classic Motorsports Orange Blossom Tour, where it was being subjected to nearly 1000 spirited miles just days before its date with the judges at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance. Aside from one flat tire, it handled the drive admirably, even venturing on track for a few hot laps (and one spin) before tracking back to Amelia Island to be prepared for the show field.

Malamut concedes that the 356 isn’t as nice a driver as a later 911, but part of that blame lies on the period-correct 16-inch wheels and bias-ply tires. He says that while he went through a few periods of thinking “What the heck am I doing?” while touring old Florida, his drive did earn him serious props from Amelia’s judges. They loved his story as much as they loved the car’s period perfection, and presented him with a class award at the 2016 event. Want to see this car for yourself? Visit the Malamut Auto Museum’s website for details.

“Concours judges loved his story as much as they loved the car’s period perfection, and presented him with a class award at Amelia Island”

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