The history boy
Up a Californian dirt road, vintage Porsche parts hoarder Matt Hummel finds peace in the imperfect
In a ramshackle barn in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada , Matt Hummel rummages through a pile of cardboard boxes. “The Holy Grail!” he shouts suddenly, holding up a handful of green plastic lumps. “My ex-girlfriend and I spent our last vacation in search of them.” Notice the ‘ex’ prefix: the bits of green plastic are knobs from the instrument panel of an early Porsche 356.
Matt Hummel is the Indiana Jones of Porsche parts, searching out long-lost relics from around the world and storing them haphazardly in his rural Californian home. In part for reuse and recirculation admittedly, but also for the purer purpose of worship. Matt’s relationship with classic Porsches is reverential, but not in the traditional vein of immaculate restoration. He handles a Pre-A headlight socket in the same way that a historian with white gloves and brown teeth fingers through a first edition of The Canterbury Tales. For him, originality is key.
An hour earlier, in a plume of dust and gravel, Matt’s 1956 356 A Coupe left the glossy Sacramento tarmac and roared up the dirt track towards his remote hillside house. Stuffing bursts from original seats, trim flaps and panels creak. The dusty floor pan is bare metal. “This 356 is in precisely the condition that I found it in. I love its authentic quality. The car has lived through so much and it’s still here. I want to keep it like a time machine – not restore it back to what we think was its original state.”
From the outside it looks too far gone to turn over, let alone tear up the Californian back country. But dry heat, combined with Matt’s seemingly bottomless supply of knowledge and parts, means his 356 is mechanically excellent, albeit with the dented and flaky patina of something abandoned in the desert for atomic era weapons testing.
And it’s one of many. Alongside this 356 coupe sits a slightly later Super, an ’86 Carerra 3.2 and a 912 from 1966. All resolutely unrestored. His prize possessions, however, are two 356 Cabriolets from 1952. They have sequential chassis numbers, meaning they rolled off the Zuffenhausen factory line one behind the other. And here they are together, 65 years later, in Matt’s yard on the other side of the world. Similarly ‘unloved’ and yet, in reality, loved as much as any Porsche anywhere in the world. Probably more so.
Scruffy and unshaven, in battered baseball cap and oily hoody, Matt busts a preconception or two about classic car collectors. He is a man whose love of this rare and high-grade old tech has seen him eschew perfection in favour of originality. What was brilliant then is brilliant now, even more so for looking as old as it actually is. Nothing needs to shine. The beauty is in the design, fabrication and application, all of which was and still is peerless. Clearly this is some sort of clinical obsession, but it’s one that’s impossible not to admire.
Lifting up the vented rear panel of one 356 Cabriolet, you are greeted by nothing but darkness. “Its engine is in the living room,” explains Matt with a grin. You begin to wonder what, not who, is now sharing his bed.