As Porsche ramps up production of the latest 911 Speedster, the company looks back to the origins of the stripped-down sports car that dates back to 1952, when the young manufacturer produced the 356 America Roadster for the U.S. market.
With a hand-built aluminum body, the Roadster shed more than 350 pounds compared with the 356 coupe. The open-top sports car, while quick and agile, was also expensive and exclusive, and just 16 of them were built.
But the Roadster pointed the way to a new kind of Porsche, based on the classic, minimalist roadster format.
“(The America Roadster) already featured key elements of the Speedster design with slot-in windows for the doors, a folding rain-cover top and lightweight bucket seats,” according to a Porsche news release.
US importer Max Hoffman, who was invaluable in helping Porsche gain a foothold in America, saw the America Roadster as the template for a more-accessible roadster model, and he convinced Porsche there would be a strong market for such cars. And he wanted them priced lower than Porsche’s existing premium models.
“He requested an inexpensive Porsche with reduced furnishings costing less than 3,000 dollars,” Porsche says in the release. “In autumn 1954, Porsche produced a significantly less-expensive version than the 356 America Roadster, which included ‘Speedster’ in the model name for the first time and quickly caused a sensation in the world of motor sports.
“It combined the sheet-steel body of the cabriolet with a raked windscreen, reduced interior equipment and a rain top. In the USA, the 356 1500 Speedster cost just 2,995 US dollars and became an instant hit in the sunny coastal states.”
The Speedster continued through subsequent 356 generations, reaching its peak of performance and desirability with the 356 A 1500 GS Carrera GT Speedster, which featured the brand’s race-bred 1.5-liter dual-overhead-cam flat-four replacing the standard pushrod engine. The Carrera engine produced 110 horsepower and could propel the Speedster to 125 mph, the highest yet for any Porsche production model.
The 356 Speedster is a very basic car, without rollup windows or other creature comforts, but its stylish “bathtub” shape and motorsports performance has vaulted it to the top of the desirability chart for vintage 356 production models.
Porsche retired the Speedster toward the end of the 356 era, concentrating instead on fully equipped convertibles. With the advent of the 911 in 1964, the Speedster seemed all but forgotten.
But in 1988, a Speedster version of the 911 rolled out to cap the G model generation, which was being discontinued.
“The most open of all the 911 models was based on the 231 PS 911 Carrera featuring a wide turbo look,” Porsche said. “It was optionally also available in export markets with a leaner car body.
“The windscreen was shortened, and a manually operated rain top disappeared under a large plastic bubble painted in the vehicle color.”
A total of 2,103 G model 911 Speedsters was sold.
Between, 1992 and 1993, Porsche built 930 of the 911 Carrera Speedsters in the 964 generation, all of them in the “lean” look. Another 15 were produced with wide-body turbo styling. These Speedsters recaptured the simplified 356 models, with no air conditioning nor electric windows.
The rarest of all Speedsters were those built in 1995 in the 993 generation. Just two of them existed, one made especially for Ferdinand Alexander “Butzi” Porsche, who designed the original 911. The other went to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, who is well-known as an avid Porsche enthusiast.
The last Speedster version of the 911 came in 2010 as a variant of the 997 model 911 generation.
“In best tradition, the striking profile of the new 911 Speedster was defined by the 60-millimetre lower, more raked windscreen, the flat contour of the sporty-look manual soft top and the characteristic double bubble on the convertible top compartment lid,” Porsche said. “This made the body of this rear-wheel drive two-seater with its 44-millimetre wider rear end stand out even more.
Porsche celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018 with the debut of the 911 Speedster concept car that was revealed at the 70 years of Porsche Sports Cars anniversary in Zuffenhausen, Germany.
The production version of the new 911 Speedster was unveiled in April at the New York Auto Show. Porsche has begun manufacturing the limited-production sports car, continuing the 65-year lineage.
The latest 911 Speedster, the last of the 991.2 series 911 GT cars, is available by special order, Porsche says. Power comes from a 4.0-liter flat-6 engine that develops 502 horsepower, vaulting the streamlined projective from zero to 60 in as little as 3.8 seconds and a top speed of 192 mph.
“The 2019 911 Speedster is the first developed by the Porsche Motorsport department in Weissach and is immediately recognizable as a Speedster,” Porsche says in a separate release. “The low-cut front windshield and side windows as well as the manually operated lightweight fabric top are characteristic for a Speedster model and make the car stand out from other series production 911 models. The two streamliners atop the rear decklid are made from carbon fiber are yet another design highlight rooted in the model’s history.”
While the 2019 version channels many of the original 356 Speedster’s characteristics, low price is not one of them. The latest Speedster has an MSRP of $275,750, including shipping. An optional Heritage Design Package can be added for $24,510.