There is a model in Porsche’s family line-up that receives little coverage and, as a result, it does not enjoy the attention it so richly deserves. The Speedster played an extremely important role in Porsche’s early popularity in America and this latest piece of work by Berlin Motor Books, Porsche Speedster: Legends 1954-2020, certainly does this model justice.
We said about their previous offering, Porsche 993: 25 Years 1994-2019, that this publisher has been steadily raising its profile on the quality automotive book scene since its inception in 2011. Well, we were right because they have just received the “Motorworld Book Award” for that title (see our Facebook page for photo), and thoroughly deserved it was too!
Why is the Speedster important?
We need to take a step back for a moment and examine just why the Speedster is such an important model in Porsche’s history. If it were not for the 356 Speedster introduced in 1954 at the insistence of Max Hoffman, the American Porsche importer, it is possible that the name of Porsche would not have been nearly as prominent there as it is today. It was the super light and very quick 356 Speedster that captured the attention of those interested in racing their 356s, and the resultant successes on the track helped to spread the company name and the brand on the west coast of America. Car culture on the west coast was important, and subsequently the 356 Speedster was paraded up and down the boulevards of California’s cities by those lucky enough to own one, and so the Porsche name became synonymous with the leisurely lifestyle and sporty motoring.
And so it was the motorsport victories of the 356 Speedster that initiated the success of the brand in America, which would become Porsche’s most important market. Besides the motorsport successes of the Speedster in those early days, the practicality of this model helped sales and the brand quickly gained in popularity. In those early days, the Speedster was produced in quite healthy numbers, but this was at a time when the brand was still gaining a foothold in the US market. Authors, Andreas Gabriel, Manfred Hering and Achim Kubiak recognised the importance of the Speedster models from those early days, and have unpacked the history behind those first models, and each subsequent iteration, in this book.
Between the years 1959 and 1982, the Speedster was not offered as a model by Porsche. It was Helmuth Bott, Porsche’s head of development, who proposed in ’82 that a new Speedster be considered and this was extremely well received by the staff at Porsche. However it was several years before a 911 Speedster would actually be available to the general market, and here the authors take the reader through the design and development phase of the Speedster concept which eventually appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September 1987. A couple of design concepts were produced in the early ‘80s but these had to be hidden from CEO Ernst Fuhrmann who flatly forbid such a development. Fuhrmann’s replacement, the American Peter Schutz on the other hand, knew the value of a Speedster in the model line-up and he actively encouraged Bott to continue development of the concept.
It is such background information that makes the Speedster story so compelling. Interviews with Porsche veteran Herbert Linge, Friedrich Bezner (project manager for the Porsche 911 from 1979 onwards) and Bernd Kahnau (project manager for the first 911 Speedster in 1989), make the legend of the Speedster come alive.
Although the initial reason for the introduction of the 356 Speedster in 1954 as a stripped down lightweight racer is no longer relevant these days, the current day Speedster does offer the Porsche buyer a lightened, simpler 911 for increased driving pleasure. There are those purists amongst the vast number of Porsche’s enthusiasts who still prefer the simpler, less-sophisticated drive offered by the Speedster model. This is of course a relative notion as today’s Speedster includes features that had not been dreamed of back in 1954.
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