DELWYN MAL­LETT

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?

Classic Porsche - - Contents -

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…

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