Intrepid drivers travel cross-country in small 1950s and '60s air-cooled cars to attend national-club event
A small, simple Porsche 356 sports car from the 1950s or ’60s might not be what immediately comes to mind when envisioning a road trip across the continental United States.
Yet here we were, in Flagstaff, Arizona, with people who had driven their air-cooled treasures from such faraway places as Florida, Massachusetts and Washington. Many of them planned to continue with additional trips around the Southwest before turning around and heading back home.
Not at all surprising, if you know 356 drivers.
An impressive flock of Porsche 356s from all over the U.S. and Canada converged on Flagstaff for the High Desert Holiday hosted last week by the Arizona 356 Outlaws. About 180 of them made the trip, some of them trailered but most making long treks under their own slight power, once again cementing the 356 reputation for durability.
Paul and Peggy Raben of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, were among the faithful who took their Porsche, a silver 1964 356 C convertible with a removable hardtop, not only from there to here but, over a two-week period, adding thousands of miles to the trip by stopping at scenic locations along the way, Peggy Raben said.
“We’re tent camping, actually,” she said. “What doesn’t fit in the car goes in a bag on the roof, a black canvas bag.”
“So, there’s a lot of extra wind resistance, which we just love, especially going up hills,” Paul Raben said with a roll of the eyes.
The Porsche 356 Holiday was the destination, he said, but the couple decided to make it into a longer adventure.
“We had planned this for a year, to drive to this event and we were going to camp,” he said. “We decided to put the bag on top and just go for it.”
Several months of maintenance and repairs preceded the trip to ensure that they would make it, but the intrepid little tub (as 356s are affectionately known) made it through without major mishap. Although after they arrived, the 6-volt generator signaled that it had stopped generating, which would turn out to be a straightforward repair.
Paul expects they will have traversed 7,000 miles by the time they return to Florida.
As well as driving to the Holiday, most of the Porsche owners drove on tours to famous Arizona landmarks, including the Grand Canyon and Meteor Crater. The 4-day event concluded with a concours d’elegance that awarded the finest of the bunch.
The driving of their Porsches, including those in show-worthy condition, is what sets 356 owners apart from so many collector car owners who would rather keep their valuable vehicles in pristine condition than drive them. In the 356 world, that attitude elicits scorn.
Even what was likely the most valuable car at the event, a 1960 356 Carrera GS with its original 4-cam engine and a set of chrome Rudge knockoff wheels, is on its third coast-to-coast trip, according to its owner, Chip Perry, who was driving alone from one home in Santa Monica, California, to his other in North Carolina.
“From here I’m going up to southern Utah to hit a few of the parks, and from there I’m driving to North Carolina,” Perry said. “I’ve already driven this twice across country, so I know it’s going to make it.”
Many of the Porsches caravanned on their journeys, such as the contingent from North Carolina that included Porsche 356 Registry national president Curt Dansby, who drove his 1963 356 Super 90 Cabriolet to Arizona.
“We took three days to get here,” Dansby said, noting that he was accompanied by a group of other 356 drivers and a modern van driven in the rear in case of breakdowns.
The High Desert Holiday was a particularly well-attended edition of the Registry’s annual national meets, he said, selling out in just three days after it was publicized, disappointing some members were not quick enough on the draw. The Arizona 356 Outlaws club has hosted the Holiday every 10 years for the past 40 years, the last time in Sedona, he added.
“It’s hard for us to know who wants to go, and we weren’t expecting that,” Dansby said of the quick sellout. “I think the proximity to California where there are a large number of cars, people were willing drive this distance. Although, we do have people who drove from Florida and Massachusetts.”
Dansby said he wasn’t sure how many states were represented, but among more than 400 participants were those from four foreign countries: Japan, England, Australia and Canada.
One of the most remarkable cars at the Holiday wasn’t a 356 at all but an entirely hand-crafted replica of the very first Porsche, the 1939 Type 64, the pre-war precursor of the first 356 that debuted in 1948.
Built by metal craftsman Dave Miller of China Grove, North Carolina, the striking Type 64 coupe in bare aluminum with fender skirts on all four wheels made quite an impression on the Porsche fans, who gathered around and peppered Miller with questions about the build, which took 5 years. So far, since it’s not entirely completed.
“People really like it,” Miller said. “Positive reactions everywhere we go. People are curious about it, and nothing but compliments.”
The coupe might be odd-looking to the unintiated, but Miller said he had become obsessed with the seminal design by Ferdinand Porsche from the moment he saw it.
Miller’s car strongly shows the evidence of being hand-wrought – he built it in its entirety from flat sheets of aluminum onto a Volkswagen chassis, using drawings of the original car from Porsche as his guide.
“There were three cars originally built and all three had variations,” he said. “So, when I built this car, I felt I had license, I didn’t have to copy one of the original cars, I could make a fourth. If they had continued to build them, the fourth would have been different than the other three.
“The body is a little further forward on the chassis than the original car. The body is exactly the same, it’s just where the wheels are in the body are a little bit different. Aesthetically, it appealed to me more.”
The 1.6-liter flat-4 engine is from a 1960 Porsche Super, he noted, and the entire car with its light all-aluminum body weighs just 1,520 pounds, about 300 pounds lighter than a 356.
Dansby spoke with admiration of Miller’s efforts, as well as his cross-country drive with the North Carolina group.
“He spent five years of his life building that thing; he’s just haunted by that shape,” he said. “Originally, he built a small model to try to get it out of his system, but after he looked at the model, he said, ‘that’s not going to do it, I have to build the car’.”
Miller’s traveling companion, Beth Weiss, said the long drive was somewhat grueling because of transmission noise (they had to wear earplugs; a new trans is in the offing) and the car’s sensitivity to crosswinds, which made it “a challenge keeping it in its lane.”
But she’s enjoying the overall experience, she said.
“It was a lot of work, but you know what? We stayed in our lane and we got here,” Weiss added. “Now, we just have to make it home.”
The Saturday concours was a sight to behold, with such a vast array of 356s spread out for all to admire. The oldest car was a 1952 356 Pre-A coupe, and there were quite a few custom “Outlaws,” as Porsche people call cars that deviate from stock in performance and appearance.
The Best of Show winner was a freshly restored 1959 Porsche 356 Convertible D owned by Tod Detro of Los Altos, California.
They next national West Coast meet for the Porsche 356 Registry will take place in October 2020 in Bend, Oregon. Dave Miller said he plans to drive his Type 64 all the way there from North Carolina.1 comment