ON A VISIT TO THE GOODWOOD REVIVAL MEETING, OUR MAN MALLETT STUMBLES ACROSS A RARE SIGHT: A SPEEDSTER WITH A BENCH SEAT. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING OF?
Mallett’s mental meanderings
ʻAre you sitting comfortably? Then Iʼll begin.ʼ I doubt if many Classic Porsche readers are old enough to remember the opening words of ʻListen with Mother ʼ from the days when radio was far more magical than TV. Those words of course have little to do with Porsches but sprang to mind when at the recent Goodwood Revival meeting I spotted the bench seat photographed below.
Nothing remarkable about bench seats per se, but this one was in a Speedster, a spartan vehicle not normally associated with sofa-like seating arrangements. The fact that the car was imported from California perhaps gives a clue to it possibly being ordered more with cruising the boulevards of Hollywood in mind than attacking the sinuous curves of Mulholland Drive.
Even so, it was ordered from Competition Motors, famous for supplying sports cars to the stars – James Dean among them – and they surely would have protested.
For those unfamiliar with the 356 bench seat, it is a hefty affair, a kind of Siamese-twin arrangement of two ordinary seats joined at the hip. The bench does as promised, spanning the width of the cockpit, but the backs are quite separate allowing a different rake for driver and a single passenger.
However, as the objective of the seat is obviously to accommodate a third passenger, he or she will be inconvenienced by the presence of a gap between the seat backs and the proximity of the inner reclining mechanisms at coccyx level. Legs will also have to be splayed either side of the central tunnel and gear changing will invariably result in a potentially embarrassing familiarity between driverʼs hand and passengerʼs nether regions – particularly in second and top gears.
The rake of the backrests will also have to be mutually agreed between driver and outer passenger if passenger number two desires equal support for both shoulder blades. Taking this into account, I canʼt for the life of me see why anyone would really want such a seat in what is supposed to be a lightweight sports car. Given the potential to produce a bed-like platform when fully reclined one can only but speculate that there may have been other motives for specifying the seat – you know what these Hollywood types are like.
Another possibility is that the first owner was an early adopter of one of the mega-bottoms that seem to have become fashionable across the western world and could readily absorb a Speedster seat in its totality.
More common, and more justified given the unyielding firmness of the Speedster buckets, was to specify the normal coupé seats. My own right-hand drive Speedster was delivered with the almost bench-like square-backed reclining seats – which came into their own on my honeymoon trip to Spain in 1969.
On day one, somewhere in rural France, the Speedsterʼs dynamo ceased to charge the battery and we were stranded miles from any help and had to sleep in the car. Not at all comfortable, even on recliners, but much more so than attempting a snooze in a Speedster bucket!
Later I replaced the coupé seats with Speedster versions – a Speedster without Speedster seats is like strawberries without the cream – and the original seats have long been relegated to the roof of the garage, along with, strangely enough, my own bench seat, bought many, many years back and which in my ownership has yet to see the inside of a car.
Another peculiarity of the bench seat is the fore and aft adjuster. Without a passenger to synchronise releasing the adjusters it would be impossible for the driver alone to shift the seat. Porsche therefore rigged a somewhat hefty and Heath Robinson-like exposed cable that runs across the front of the seat from the driverʼs release lever and disengages the catch on the passengerʼs runner.
The Speedster was built down to a price to make it competitive with other imports but it could be ʻspecʼd upʼ to a certain extent by consulting the Accessories Catalogue. (If you havenʼt been there before and have an hour or two to spare go to Charlie Whiteʼs ʻDerwhiteʼsʼ catalogue site and have an entertaining and informative browse.)
In the 1957 catalogue you will find that standard coupé seats for your Speedster will set you back an additional $28.60. Leather headrests were $13.50 but for two dollars less you could have them in leatherette or a mixture of leatherette and corduroy. The bench seat, with recliner mechanism, panned out at $26.20 – surprisingly cheaper than the standard seats.
Also listed is what must be one of the rarest of Porsche accessories – a foam cushion for the driverʼs seat at $3.30. I wonder if any were ever ordered and if any of them have managed to survive the ravages of time?
And talking of ʻravages of timeʼ, is the disintegrating seat in this Speedster worth preserving in its current state? The craze for so-called ʻbarn-findʼ cars is so difficult to discuss in any rational manner as the question of to restore-or-not-to-restore is down to personal taste. Patina has its attraction but ʻfashionʼ seems, temporarily I hope, to have suppressed common sense when it comes to preserving what only a few years ago would have been categorised as rubbish.
If, say, Steve Mcqueen had once perched on it preservation might just make sense as an amusing talking point, but unless evidence surfaces to identify occupation by a bum of significance, my advice is this: retrim now and make an unusual seat better. Or better still, fit Speedster seats. CP
“A KIND OF SIAMESE-TWIN ARRANGEMENT…”
A bench seat in a 356 Speedster? Surely not, says Mallett…
Many would describe Delwyn Mallett as a serial car collector – one with eclectic tastes at that. His Porsche treasures include a pair of 356 Speedsters, a Le Mansinspired Pre-a coupé and a 1973 Carrera RS. Some of them even work…