The shows would go on, damp but undampened.
The rain poured down in wind-driven sheets as the crowd at Carparc USA, a Porsche restoration shop in Costa Mesa, Calif., peered from under the open garage doors.
A small river rushed down the gutter past a Porsche 911 – a valuable early one – parked in the street out front. Pelted by the fat drops, the black beauty seemed emblematic of the soggy weather being dished out by the Southern California skies during the events of the Porsche and Vintage VW Literature, Toy and Memorabilia meet.
But it didn’t really matter. This was the major annual gathering of the Porsche faithful, with tens of thousands coming in from all over the country and the world to indulge their passions for the little rear-engine sports cars from Germany.
The shows would go on, damp but undampened.
Known simply as the Lit Meet, the Saturday literature, toy and memorabilia show has taken place at the Hilton Hotel adjacent to the airport for the past couple of decades and has spawned a collection of related social events, the “shop crawl” of open houses at the many local Porsche restoration businesses, and a big Sunday swap meet in Anaheim.
California and the Southwest have been in the grip of a vicious drought, so it was with mixed feelings that we ducked under cover as rain fell during all three days of the Porsche lovefest. But nothing was going to wreck this key Porsche weekend, and we joined all the others who shrugged off the weather to join the fun.
And it was well worth it. That quickly became obvious during our first stop Friday at Callas Rennsport in Torrance, which repairs and restores some of the rarest and most valuable Porsches in existence. One of the true exotics of the 1980s was the Porsche 959, and here were three of them parked outside, and another one on a lift. Value? Who knows.
A member of our group, Erik Black of Phoenix, ecstatically eyed every inch of the very first 1967 Porsche 911 R race car, which was parked in one of the bays. He pointed out the serial number: 11899001R.
“This is the number one 911 R,” Black said in a reverent tone. “It’s so significant, it’s not even funny.”
At Callas, we met a star of Pikes Peak racing, Jeff Zwart, who has pounded Porsches to the top of the mountain nine times.
“This is really a great event, the greatest gathering of Porsche people in the nation,” Zwart said of the Lit Meet weekend. “It really is a special deal.”
The actual Lit Meet was Saturday inside two large ballrooms at the hotel, so the weather was not an issue as Porsche fanatics packed in to browse, buy and carry away the myriad stuff brought by more than 250 vendors. The goodies included rare books and literature, original posters and advertising, loads of vintage models and toys, and an impressive selection of new-old stock and reproduction parts for the classic 356 and early 911 models, which have become increasingly valuable in recent years.
That was a major takeaway from the weekend: The rising interest in and booming values of 911s from the 1960s and early ’70s have heated up restoration efforts of the iconic sports cars because it’s now more economically feasible to turn rusted basket cases into polished gems. Some shops, such as Carparc, have become dedicated to finding and restoring early 911s.
Tate Askew, a restorer and collector visiting from Atlanta, was checking out a pristine 911 at Willhoit Auto Restoration in Long Beach. He said these cars are his focus. “I have five ’65s that I’m building right now.”
Askew, who has been a regular at Lit Meet events for many years, noted that California is the center of the universe for Porsche enthusiasts, with some of the best work coming out of the So Cal restoration shops.
“California is Porsche Mecca,” he said. “Back East, when we see a great paint job on a Porsche, we call it a ‘California paint job’.”
The immaculate Willhoit shop, one of the premiere Porsche restoration facilities in the nation, is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
“Porsches are my passion and I’ve been lucky enough to have it work for me,” the affable John Willhoit said as he chatted with his many visitors.
Nearby, people gazed up at a red 1964 356 Carrera 2 that was held high on a lift to display its underside, including its exotic four-cam engine. Prices for these very-special performance cars have climbed into the high six figures. This one was the best of show winner at the Dana Point Concours d’Elegance
One of the most fascinating stops on our shop-crawl tour was Steve Hogue Enterprises, where metal craftsmen create steel and aluminum bodies and parts for restoration efforts. The shop is famous for its intricate reconstruction of the 1951 Glockler Porsche, crafting the aluminum body over a handmade wooden buck.
Among several current projects, the metal men are creating the body for an early Porsche race car, the RS61 Spyder.
“We have the (original) frame and we’re making the body for it,” Hogue said, pointing out that the reconstructed front section of the body that came with the frame was not up to snuff and would be discarded. Perfection rules at this shop.
Sunday’s big swap meet on the grounds of the Phoenix Club in Anaheim harkened to the days before the Internet when one of the few ways to locate rare parts involved everyone toting their collections of bits and pieces to events like this to buy, sell and trade.
Of course, the social aspect to the swap meet is critical, with the annual gathering providing an opportunity to meet and greet old Porsche buddies. The occasional cloudburst hampered some of the activities, although the attendance was pretty strong.
Or as one vendor noted when asked how he was doing, “Not bad. It would be better if the weather was cooperating.”
With much of the swap meet contained in a large tent, the only real downer regarding the weather was that it reduced the number of local Porsche owners who brought their cars out to display. Usually, the grassy field adjacent to the swap meet is filled with personal Porsches. There was a good number of them scattered around the grounds, just not the usual horde.
A meaningful moment happened Saturday at European Collectibles, a Costa Mesa restoration complex that throws one of the biggest parties of the weekend. Dozens of gorgeously restored 356 and 911 models were lined up outside in the rain, water beading up on their gleaming finishes, while hundreds of visitors were huddled in the open-sided shop, eating barbecue and sipping beers.
Gradually, the rain stopped and, to the delight of everyone, a rainbow arced overhead, rising above the beautiful old Porsches. These cars were a true pot of gold.
See ClassicCars.com on Saturday for an Eye candy gallery
from the Porsche Lit Meet weekend.