BACK TO LIFE
Jon Devereux has restored a matching pair of 1952 356s
“THIS WAS A TURNING POINT FOR THE 356…”
ʻAfew years ago we were driving the Coupé down to Murano for the 356 International, and we got caught in a snowstorm going over Innsbruck,ʼ Jon Devereux recalls, with surprising calm. ʻIt was fine – it was a bit hectic because the wipers couldnʼt cope so we were looking through a slot as the snow built up on the windscreen, and on three and a half-inch crossply tyres, you always have to be aware. But I wouldnʼt put these cars on a trailer, theyʼre not designed to go on trailers.ʼ
Against a backdrop of escalating values, Jonʼs vision of classic Porsche ownership is a little different to most. A love not only of owning the earliest cars in the companyʼs history, but of the process of reviving and using them as they were built to be used. But heʼs hardly a typical 356 owner; Jon spent years in the air-cooled Volkswagen scene, known for his Small Car Specialties workshop near Bournemouth, and more recently heʼs gone back to his roots. The 356B heʼd bought and restored as a 20-year-old in 1972 laid the foundations for an enviable collection of early 356s today; a Pre-a Speedster, ʼ50 and ʼ53 coupés in stages of restoration, and these matching ʼ52s.
This was a turning point for the 356. The Model 52 (as the car was often referred to in internal memoranda), built between March and October of that year, bridged a gap, combining the body bumpers, rectangular tail-lights and inboard indicators of the first 356s with the cleaner design of the single-piece bent
windshield used on the late Pre-a versions.
ʻI didnʼt specifically want a Model 52, but I wanted a body bumper car as thatʼs the purest of the pure,ʼ Jon explains. ʻItʼs as close to a Gmünd as possible, and Iʼm not going to find one of those. The purity of the shape – the coupé particularly – is just perfect. Historically, itʼs quite an important car.ʼ
Itʼs also worth travelling for. Jon uncovered the coupé in California back in 2009; it was a work in progress but instilled enough confidence for his partner, Amanda, to book flights while he was on the phone to the seller: ʻThe previous owner had a good list of everything that was missing – which was quite a lot of it – but it was a nice, rust-free California car. He also told me it had been raced, I have no evidence of that, but it was a bit battered on the corners, had the later transmission, and the bumpers had been taken off and lost years ago. So itʼs possible, but theyʼve all been raced – havenʼt they?ʼ
Slowed by post-credit crunch shipping delays, the brushpainted primered shell and its myriad boxes of parts arrived in the UK in early 2010 and Jon dismantled everything, systematically reassembling what he had to get an accurate picture of what was missing. Those missing pieces of the jigsaw come in from all over the world, including a trip to Classic Parts in Saarbrücken to collect a 1500cc engine, then hunting down the early synchromesh transmission – introduced in 1952 – to go with it.
ʻThe engine was expensive and worn out – it had thrown a big end, so needed to be rebuilt. Itʼs not so much difficult to track down parts for these cars, but theyʼre bloominʼ expensive if you can find them! So if you wanted the rectangular rear lights then original oness are $800–900 a pop. Things like steering wheels are $2500–3000 dollars.ʼ
By comparison, the Cabriolet may have looked like an easier job; again found as a disassembled project car on Thesamba.com, but this time in south Oregon. ʻIt had been taken off the road in 1971 – the chap I bought it from had no idea why. But it had been through several people, notable Porsche people, and nobody had got stuck into it – frightened of it, I guess. There was a guy called Tom Birch
(who runs the 356 Split Registry in California), and the Aase Brothers had it at some point. So it had been trailered here, there and everywhere and nobody had done anything with it, other than starting it, as it was in hundreds of bits and the bottom third of the door had been replaced.
ʻOnce I got it back here and really got into the car, I found out how good it was; it was very straight, and remarkably clean and rust-free, but it wanted the engine and transmission rebuilt. It had a crash ʼbox in it and, in taking that apart, I found the crownwheel had a couple of teeth missing – I guess thatʼs why it was taken off the road in the 1970s. So I sourced one of those and that transmission is in the car now, whining beautifully,ʼ he smiles.
Soft-top aside, itʼs a point of separation between the two cars: ʻHaving a crash transmission does take the edge off the driving pleasure a bit – Amanda disagrees, but for me itʼs slow and youʼre always going to get a crunch, no matter how much double declutching you do. And itʼs noisy; first and second gears are straight-cut, third and fourth are helical so theyʼre quieter, but you always get the diff groaning and they make a bit of noise. But they are 65 years old… What do you expect?ʼ
While thereʼs a couple of years between the two builds, the process was the same. Jon assembled both cars to test- fit parts and make sure they were complete, before stripping them down to shells ready for paint. Itʼs a process heʼs picky about, the colour matched using a spectrograph-analysed swatch from Willhoit in California to get it as correct as possible, and layered over the 356ʼs curves by Ross Packard Paintwork in New Milton.
Even so, itʼs an interpretation to Jonʼs taste rather than a direct restoration: ʻBoth of them were originally Fish Silver Grey, but itʼs a very uninteresting, dull, boring silver, and made from the metallic particles of ground-up fish scales – so itʼs almost impossible to replicate. Radium Green is an original colour for the year, but not original to either car. Itʼs a great colour for the shape, and the quality is exceptionally good. Much better than it should be, probably.ʼ
Each has its own identity inside. The Coupéʼs reassembled interior finished in green leather with matching box weave carpet, while the Cabrioletʼs beige seats are coded to its fabric hood, a ʻmasterpiece of stitchingʼ which Jon says took research to find someone capable of recreating. Robbie Oʼrourke may be best known for restoring Ferraris, but whatʼs here is faithful recreation of what the car left the factory with.
And not for the sake of creating a museum piece. After a year-long restoration, Jon ran-in the Coupéʼs engine with a
return trip to the 2011 356 International in Vaals, in the Netherlands, and thatʼs been just the start. Between them, the cars have toured most of Europe, from Portugal and Italy up to Sweden, regardless of the weather and never on a trailer. For Jon and Amanda, driving them is the whole point.
ʻThe Pre-a cars, from ʼ53 to ʼ55, were not the same car as what I call the Pre-pre-a, from ʼ50 to ʼ52,ʼ he says. ʻItʼs an early effort at a GT, but itʼs a bit like the difference between a 356 and an early 911. Thereʼs half the length of suspension travel, so they tend to be a bit firm, but once youʼre on the motorway theyʼre equivalent, I would say. A bit noisier as you have the earlier transmission, and you have to plan braking but you drive accordingly, but if youʼve got it in a slide, theyʼre quite controllable on crossplies, and they will go on to 90–95mph. Itʼs good fun.ʼ
For the most part, thereʼs been no need to tamper with Porscheʼs original engineering. Though, with a view to making the cars better suited to long-distance use, both run transistorised distributors from 123ignition, while multigrade Valvoline racing oil cuts consumption in half and reduces running temperatures, too. The 356 may be durable, but thereʼs room for a little modern technology to keep it happy.
ʻIf Meccano made a car, it would have been a 356 or a Beetle. Thereʼs that Germanic approach to a problem in manufacture and design, and itʼs really appealing for an engineer like me. I take great pleasure in working on those cars; I know their foibles, what makes them work properly. But Iʼm not in it for the trophies, Iʼve done that; if Iʼve driven a thousand miles then Iʼd just as soon get to the bar than start polishing the car. If there are flies stuck to the front because weʼve done more than 50mph, so be it.ʼ
Perhaps thatʼs the most appropriate way to honour the engineering Jon loves. Once built to offer luxurious Continent-crossing ability, the 356 may have become a sought-after classic, but appreciating these cars for their visual appeal would seem to be missing a trick. CP
“IF MECCANO MADE A CAR, IT WOULD BE A 356…”
Below right: Both cars feature these desirable and hard to find ʻturbo ringʼ aluminium wheel trims
Above right: Coupé was lacking its 1500cc engine when found, a replacement unit in need of a rebuild being supplied by Classic Parts in Saarbrücken
Below left: Thereʼs not a lot of luggage space under the bonnet of a Pre-a, most of the available space being taken up by the tank and spare wheel
Above left: Accessory VDO interior mirror in the coupé incorporates clock
Above: Cabriolet was sourced via the Thesamba.com website as a disassembled project in Oregon. It had last been on the road in 1971
Below right: Cabriolet also has a Telefunken radio, this time an IA 50 model
Below left: Cabriolet interior is finished in tan leather and looks sumptuous. Upholstery is the handiwork of Ferrari specialist Robbie Oʼrourke
Above: Like the Cabriolet, the coupé was originally finished in Fish Silver Grey, but Jon preferred the look of Radium Green – a hard colour to photograph!
Below left: Light grey interior of the coupé contrasts with the green dashboard. Petri ʻbanjoʼ wheel is a great finishing touch
Below right: Rare Telefunken ID 51/52 push-button radio features in Jonʼs coupé
Above: Built by Reutter, the Cabriolet strikes quite a dash out on the road. Its aerodynamic styling must have stopped people dead in their tracks back in 1952
Below left and right: Jon is a great believer in driving his cars, despite their age and value. The two Porsches have taken him all over Europe on trips to a variety of early Porsche events