Antipodean antics with the venerable Porsche 356

2w ago

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New Zealander Paul Higgins remembers with absolute clarity the moment his Porsche journey started, at second-hand car dealer ‘Clarks of Khyber Pass’ in Auckland. ‘I saw this 911 SC, from 1980, in perfect condition. It was a left-hand-drive model and therefore not too expensive. They said to me: “Take it with you over the weekend, drive it a bit and tell us on Monday what you think.”’

That was in 1985. ‘I was just over 30 years old,’ Paul says, ‘an architect just starting out and already infatuated with Porsche. The simplicity of the design, the flowing contours, the perfect proportions and the lack of any superfluous, ornamental gimmicks. No matter from what angle, the 911 always looked perfect. And then there was the feeling of lightness when driving, the engine sound, the German engineering. So that was that: I brought the 911 home. My wife was heavily pregnant and not very impressed. We already had two boys, and the birth of our third child was imminent. She was certain that it would be a boy again. That is probably why she said: “If it’s a girl, you can keep the Porsche.” Our first daughter was born a few days later at half past one in the morning. And at half past seven in the morning I was standing impatiently outside ‘Clarks’. And that’s how it started.’

Fun with four camshafts: Paul Higgins (l) talks about high engine speeds, low torque and the magic of the 1.5-litre boxer engine with 100 PS. Higgins had the dismantled engine rebuilt by Bob Garretson in California.

Fun with four camshafts: Paul Higgins (l) talks about high engine speeds, low torque and the magic of the 1.5-litre boxer engine with 100 PS. Higgins had the dismantled engine rebuilt by Bob Garretson in California.

Paul’s passion for Porsche grew exponentially over the decades. He competed in club races with the SC before graduating to a 3.3-litre Turbo. In December 1988, a Grand Prix White Carrera RS 2.7 was added to the collection, before his allegiance changed and a 1961 356 B Roadster arrived from California. This was soon followed by a 1957 356 Carrera GS 1500, found in Sweden, and then a ‘58 356 A Super Coupé.

German jewels in New Zealand – the Meissen Blue Coupé from 1958, the 1961 Roadster and in the middle the 1957 Carrera. In the background: the 3.3-litre Turbo, the RS 2.7 and the 962 C.

German jewels in New Zealand – the Meissen Blue Coupé from 1958, the 1961 Roadster and in the middle the 1957 Carrera. In the background: the 3.3-litre Turbo, the RS 2.7 and the 962 C.

By his own admission, Paul came to the 356 relatively late: ‘I was always a 911 man and thought that the 356 was just an old car. Then the Porsche Club New Zealand issued an invitation to participate in a trip to the East Cape of the North Island. A friend lent me a black 356 Coupé with whitewall tyres. A beautiful car. My wife and I set out on the five-hour journey from Auckland to Napier, and I was filled with enthusiasm about the 356 after only half the distance. When I got back from this trip, one thing was clear: I had to have a 356.’

The first would be the Roadster, Signal Red and a bit of a project. But before he could start work, the GS Carrera appeared for sale online in Sweden, engine out, interior stripped. ‘I contacted the owner through the President of the Porsche Club Sweden. At the time, he owned all the 356 Carrera cars that there were up there – three two-litre Carrera 2 models and this 1500. None of the cars was roadworthy. Bob Garretson in Sonora, close to San Francisco, did the four-cam for me and now it is a jewel. Starting isn’t that easy because it has large ports for high engine speeds, but when it is running and you press the accelerator, there is no stopping it. It’s pure pleasure.’

356 A Super Coupé and Lake Tekapo. Higgins likes the Porsche styling because of “the simplicity of the design, the flowing contours, the perfect proportions and the lack of any superfluous, ornamental gimmicks”.

356 A Super Coupé and Lake Tekapo. Higgins likes the Porsche styling because of “the simplicity of the design, the flowing contours, the perfect proportions and the lack of any superfluous, ornamental gimmicks”.

The Meissen Blue 356 A Super Coupé is the only right-hand-drive car in Paul’s collection. ‘The Coupé came from Zuffenhausen directly to Australia, and then travelled to New Zealand in 1961,’ Paul says. ‘At some point we heard that it was going to go back to Australia. I didn’t want to let that happen, because there are only very few attractive A Coupés in our country.’

But there is yet another 356 that will soon by vying for pride of place in Paul’s sprawling garage. It’s a 1950 356 Cabriolet built by Reutter, chassis 5.135. ‘Reutter built twelve of these Cabriolets,’ he explains. ‘As far as I know, five or six have survived and three have been restored. Ours is the fourth.’ Still undergoing its own painstaking restoration, the car is currently in Brixen, Italy, awaiting its original Radium Green paint. When it arrives, it will be the oldest 356 in the Southern Hemisphere.

View across the cockpit of the Carrera. The 356 A Super Coupé was originally delivered to Australia; the 356 B Roadster originates from California.

View across the cockpit of the Carrera. The 356 A Super Coupé was originally delivered to Australia; the 356 B Roadster originates from California.

The racer lives on in Paul, evidenced by the presence in his collection of a Brun Motorsport 962C. He bought this car in England and following another extensive restoration has since driven it at Spa, Goodwood and Le Mans classic events and at the most recent Rennsport Reunion. But there is something about the 356 that wins out every time these days. “There is this saying that fits perfectly for the 356,’ Paul says with a smile: ‘It is much more fun driving a slow car fast than driving a fast car slowly.”’

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