With 55,000 rac­ing miles un­der its belt, Ernie Naga­mat­suʼs Speed­ster has ev­ery right to look slightly bruised and abused, ev­ery knock and scrape a proud tro­phy of a life well lived and a race hard fought

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Steve Wright Pho­tos: Antony Fraser and Ernie Naga­matsu

The tale of a 356 Speed­ster that has raced ev­ery year of its life…

Itʼs fair to say rac­ing cars have a hard life. Itʼs in­evitable that parts break, paint gets swapped and things get bent, so they are usu­ally patched up, parts get re­placed, or more of­ten than not over the long term the cars get re­stored or even scrapped. Cer­tainly the lat­ter was a fairly com­mon out­come in pe­riod, es­pe­cially if the cars be­came un­com­pet­i­tive and could­nʼt be de­vel­oped to keep up with more mod­ern ma­chin­ery.

Back in the day many were re­garded as just an old car that had seen a hard life and con­sid­ered vir­tu­ally worth­less. Few peo­ple cared enough to put in the ef­fort, time and money to main­tain, let alone race, them.

But whatʼs in­ter­est­ing is that if you look at pe­riod rac­ing pho­tos from the 1950s and ʼ60s two things al­ways stand out: firstly the in­no­cence and risk in­volved (roll cages were nonex­is­tent and the pop­u­lar think­ing of the day was it was bet­ter not to have seat­belts so you could be thrown clear of the rolling car!), and sec­ondly the sheer vol­ume of Porsche 356s on the grid, es­pe­cially Speed­sters.

Cer­tainly in the US in the late 1950s it was not un­com­mon to see a grid with two-thirds com­pris­ing Porsche ʻbath­tubsʼ. Their light weight, agility and re­li­a­bil­ity com­bined to make them the weapon of choice for pri­va­teer rac­ers.

This is the tale of a ʼ58 356 Speed­ster owned by two men, one who started the story 53 years ago and one who con­tin­ues as cus­to­dian of it right up to the present day – both rac­ers through and through. The first of th­ese was James Kil­patrick, a fighter pi­lot in the US Air Force who be­came a Brigadier Gen­eral. He bought the Speed­ster on th­ese pages with a friend in 1964 and im­me­di­ately took it rac­ing in the SCCA (Sports Car Club of Amer­ica) E Pro­duc­tion class. Itʼs been rac­ing ever since.

Now thatʼs not a word of ex­ag­ger­a­tion – what makes this par­tic­u­lar Speed­ster so rare and the story so in­ter­est­ing is that itʼs been raced con­tin­u­ously since 1964, year in, year out. Think about that; vir­tu­ally ev­ery mile this car has ever seen has been on a race track. Ev­ery rev­o­lu­tion the en­gine has made has been at rac­ing speed. Ev­ery twist and turn of the wheels has been while un­der rac­ing loads.

And to race a car ev­ery year con­sec­u­tively for that length of time beggars be­lief. I just look at my own at­tempts to do a few races each year and canʼt be­gin to imag­ine what ef­fort

was re­quired to do that for all those years – 33 con­sec­u­tive years, in fact, un­til James died in 1996!

Thatʼs a lot of race cir­cuits, a huge amount of travel be­tween events, and an im­mense un­der­tak­ing to have the car pre­pared and ready ev­ery time. The prepa­ra­tion James did ex­tended to all the me­chan­i­cal work and even re­build­ing the en­gine when re­quired. You build an im­mense bond with a ma­chine when youʼve taken it apart, re­built it and raced it year af­ter year.

Now take a look back at the pho­tos on th­ese pages and mar­vel at the his­tory etched on ev­ery panel and com­po­nent. Thereʼs a pe­riod pho­to­graph of the Speed­ster back in the mid-six­ties look­ing fresh and al­most brand new (no­tice the num­ber 7 de­cal lines up with the chrome strip down the car, a tell­tale sign of the fas­tid­i­ous­ness of the owner...).

We tend to for­get that th­ese cars were once new, es­pe­cially when theyʼve been pre­served with so much his­tory and patina col­lected over the years. So this is­nʼt some badly re­paired or beaten up old car, but a liv­ing, breath­ing time- ma­chine, some­thing that al­lows us to peek into the past and touch 55,000 miles of rac­ing. Yes, fifty five thou­sand miles! We know the race mileage to be gen­uine be­cause fighter pi­lots have it drilled into them to be me­thod­i­cal and metic­u­lous in their prepa­ra­tion, so James doc­u­mented ev­ery mile, ev­ery oil change, and ev­ery re­pair, start­ing with Del Mar Races, Cal­i­for­nia, in 1964 and fin­ish­ing with its fi­nal race in 1996 at Sears Point Race­way. The his­tory file for the car is im­mense. There are build sheets, pho­tos, ar­ti­cles, scru­ti­neer­ing tags and all man­ner of other bits and pieces. One of the ar­ti­cles, a piece from the lo­cal Fresno, Cal­i­for­nia news­pa­per from 1978 pro­vides a lovely snap­shot of the Brigadier Gen­eral and his car: ʻSo what does some­one who flies planes at Mach II do to re­lax? He goes mo­tor rac­ing! Itʼs not just the rac­ing that re­laxes me, I en­joy the prepa­ra­tion of the car and just go­ing out and be­ing com­pet­i­tive.ʼ That re­ally gives you an in­sight into the kind of per­son he was.

Thereʼs also a fan­tas­tic pe­riod photo of James har­nessed


up in the Speed­ster, look­ing ev­ery inch the fighter pi­lot – it could be the Aviator sun­glasses but I think itʼs the in­ten­sity of his look that tells you the man did com­bat. That fi­nal race was also his fi­nal act – James passed away pre­par­ing the car in the pad­dock at the age of 71.

If youʼre go­ing to go then I canʼt imag­ine as a petrol­head and racer go­ing in a more suit­able way, do­ing some­thing you ab­so­lutely love. In hon­our of James and the Speed­ster, the San Fran­cisco branch of the SCCA re­tired the race num­ber 7 in their hon­our im­me­di­ately af­ter the race.

But rac­ing life was­nʼt over for the Speed­ster. New owner Ernie Naga­matsu had been long time friends with the fam­ily and had known about the car for some time. He was just the man to take up the torch and keep it burn­ing just as brightly. Like James, heʼs also a keen racer, hav­ing started over 35 years ago with For­mula Fords in com­pet­i­tive SCCA rac­ing in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Ernie raced FF Swift DB-1S and even­tu­ally he started vin­tage rac­ing, firstly with his 1964 Shelby Co­bra, then Old Yeller II, a proper US Buick Nail­head-en­gined hot-rod of a race car, be­fore pick­ing up where James left off, con­tin­u­ing to race the Speed­ster in the US and else­where.

Ernie is a typ­i­cal petrol­head but dif­fer­ent from many in that he truly is a cu­ra­tor. His view is that he is just a care­taker, keep­ing the car and its his­tory in­tact for to­dayʼs and fu­ture gen­er­a­tions to en­joy. Ernie raced the car on and off un­til it was shipped to the UK in 2014 to be re­stored by Ian Clark and Sean Mc­clurg.

Now the term ʻre­storedʼ is prob­a­bly in­ac­cu­rate, cer­tainly if you look at the body­work in the pho­tos, but the re­mit from Ernie was to pre­serve the car but do what needed to be done to en­able it to con­tinue to be raced as itʼs done from new. As is usual with race cars it had ob­vi­ously seen a hard life and had been crashed mul­ti­ple times: in fact James once rolled it and buried it in the sand on the edge of the cir­cuit!

It had at some point also been con­verted to coil-over rear sus­pen­sion, no doubt to keep the car com­pet­i­tive. Ernie wanted to race in Fia-sanc­tioned events so that meant it had to be re­turned to swing-axle rear sus­pen­sion, so the car saw much time on Seanʼs jig, be­ing pulled straight.

While con­vert­ing the rear sus­pen­sion back to the orig­i­nal swing-axle set up, Sean also mod­i­fied the roll-cage, re­tain­ing the main cage but re­plac­ing the manda­tory Scca-style roll hoop that blights many US cars with a sim­ple but ef­fec­tive pe­riod-cor­rect roll-over hoop.

The next area of fo­cus was the electrics, which bet­ter re­sem­bled a birdʼs nest than a wiring loom. Given re­li­a­bil­ity was a ma­jor fo­cus for Ernie, a new cus­tom-made loom was in­stalled. Mean­while Ian was go­ing through the mo­tor and gear­box. The en­gine had been re­built a few times by James

and many race miles had taken their toll, so Ian re­placed most of the ma­jor me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents such as bar­rels and pis­tons (JE 12.5:1), crank (Scat Ul­tra-lite) and rods (forged Car­ril­los). Ian also re­built the Solex 40 P11 dual-throat carbs and re­built and ported the cylin­der heads. It now pro­duces a re­li­able 150bhp.

One of the mod­i­fi­ca­tions made in pe­riod was to con­vert the car to disc brakes rather than orig­i­nal drums, as was per­mis­si­ble in SCCA rac­ing to al­low the car to race against more con­tem­po­rary ma­chin­ery. Itʼs a mod­i­fi­ca­tion I can sym­pa­thise with as drums arenʼt great for rac­ing – they pro­vide a lot less re­tar­da­tion and go ʻoffʼ af­ter any pro­longed use in an en­durance race. I know as Iʼve gone straight ahead at the end of the main straight at Oul­ton Park when the pedal went to the floor!

Itʼs taken us an age to get the ex­pen­sive GT drums to work, so discs are a more cost-ef­fec­tive way of get­ting a far bet­ter brak­ing ca­pa­bil­ity than could ever be achieved with drums. With this set up Ernie raced the car all over the US tak­ing in the ma­jor Porsche and his­toric race events, and has taken the car all over the world, as far as my home coun­try of New Zealand where it was tremen­dously well re­ceived.

Itʼs fair to say that Ernie is a won­der­ful am­bas­sador for Porsche and this car in par­tic­u­lar. With­out fail he sets up the dis­play boards that tell the story of the car and he al­ways finds time to chat to spec­ta­tors and rac­ers alike about the his­tory of the car. He also per­ma­nently wears a smile that is in­fec­tious, just like his en­thu­si­asm for the car and its his­tory.

We chat­ted at the Sil­ver­stone Clas­sic in the pad­dock where we were both com­pet­ing in the Royal Au­to­mo­bile Club Tourist Tro­phy race for pre-ʼ63 sports cars (which, by the way, is the long­est con­tested race in mo­tor­ing his­tory) and it was won­der­ful lis­ten­ing to him re­count the sto­ries and his­tory of the car. It re­minded me that th­ese cars col­lect his­tory ev­ery time theyʼre driven, not just from grainy black and white pho­tos from years gone by. Some­day some­one might look at pho­tos of your car in the same way youʼre look­ing at th­ese…

Any­way, Ernie kindly let me squeeze into the car – the


cock­pit is tighter than my coupe be­cause the roll cage side­bars are higher to re­in­state pro­tec­tion lost with no roof, but you sim­ply open the door, stand on the seat and slide your feet un­der the steer­ing wheel to get in. None of this hu­man origami is re­quired in a coupé!

Ernie also re­tains the orig­i­nal Speed­ster seat on its slid­ers that puts the seat up slightly higher than my mod­ern Re­caro race seat, but with­out the roof there is a lovely sense of space and vis­i­bil­ity as the lack of roof pil­lars pro­vides great vis­i­bil­ity. The cock­pit is sparse but func­tional, with a smaller than stan­dard steer­ing wheel (al­most manda­tory in a 356 race car to avoid cross­ing your arms mid-cor­ner) and the car re­tains a set of air­craft gauges – I doubt they pro­vide any info on the car ʼs per­for­mance but they are a lovely touch and re­mind you that this car was orig­i­nally owned by a fighter pi­lot.

Un­for­tu­nately cir­cum­stances got in the way of me driv­ing the car that day, but what I can tell you is itʼs beau­ti­fully bal­anced and a joy to race. How can I know this? Well, Sean Mc­clurg did the chas­sis set up on both my car and Ernieʼs, and Ian built both our en­gines, and I know my car is a hoot to race. With less weight and disc brakes Iʼve no doubt that the Speed­ster would be a blast.

Cer­tainly it kept a fighter pi­lot used to fly­ing at twice the speed of sound en­ter­tained, so you can be pretty sure itʼs fun to drive! If you get the chance to see this car in the flesh then take a good long look at it and drink in the de­tails. Chat with the proud owner and lis­ten to the sto­ries – this is one hell of a Porsche and a ver­i­ta­ble time ma­chine. Long may it con­tinue to race. CP

Above: ʻOl Yeller IIʼ is Ernie Naga­mat­suʼs other his­toric race car. Speed­ster bears the scars of a life spent rac­ing with the SCCA and around the world

Be­low left: Cur­rent ʻcus­to­di­anʼ of the Speed­ster Ernie Naga­matsu (left) shares a few sto­ries with fel­low 356 racer Steve Wright Be­low: Tech de­cals hint at a life hard fought…

Top left: En­gine was re­built by Wolfs­burg Per­for­mance Ser­vices us­ing JE pis­tons, a Scat Ul­tra-lite crank and Car­rillo con­rods to give a re­li­able 150bhp Above left: Cock­pit still re­tains a pair of air­craft gauges fit­ted by the orig­i­nal owner. Note hefty s

Above: Ernie bat­tles with a pair of Lo­tus Elites at the re­cent Sil­ver­stone Clas­sic

Above: While fully-re­stored Speed­sters may be mak­ing top money at auc­tion, you canʼt put a price on the his­tory of a car like this…

Be­low: James Kil­patrick was a fighter pi­lot in the US Air Force. He bought the Speed­ster in 1964 and im­me­di­ately took it rac­ing with the SCCA

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