We call in on Robert Kahn to talk Speed­sters and spe­cial­ist 356 parts

Classic Porsche - - Contents - Words: Stephan Szan­tai Pho­tos: Andy Tip­ping

Cars reigned as king in and around Los An­ge­les dur­ing the late 1950s/early ʼ60s, with Porsches rep­re­sent­ing only a small frac­tion of the lo­cal scene. If truth be told, kids at the time were more of­ten than not in­ter­ested in do­mes­tic au­to­mo­biles, such as a 1957 Chevro­let or a hopped up 1932 Ford road­ster. Drag rac­ing had a huge fol­low­ing, too, as Robert Kann – you can call him Bob – will con­firm: ʻMy first pas­sion was drag rac­ing. I just did­nʼt know about Euro­pean sports cars at the time. And where I was grow­ing up, ev­ery­one was into street rac­ing, so I was pay­ing at­ten­tion to that as well.ʼ

Like many So-cal young­sters, he even­tu­ally be­gan tin­ker­ing with Volk­swa­gens. ʻI had a 1966 Kar­mann Ghia mod­i­fied by a VW dealer from the East Coast – it was my poor manʼs Porscheʼ, he con­tin­ues. ʻIt had Porsche 356 wheels, ad­justable shocks, a tach re­plac­ing the clock and a mild cam, although the en­gine was rel­a­tively stock. I road raced it and thought I was the king of the hill. But an en­counter with a great friend dur­ing the early ʼ70s led me to take no­tice of his Speed­ster.ʼ

This new­found ap­pre­ci­a­tion in­spired him to buy his own, a ʼ58 model, back in 1976. The cost of $6500 might seem like a killer deal to­day but keep in mind that the av­er­age price of a new car was around $4000 to $5000 that year…

By now youʼve prob­a­bly guessed it: this is the same car adorned with the ʻ76ʼ num­bers on the doors shown here! It has played a huge part in Bobʼs life; in fact, he has­nʼt owned that many other Porsches over the years since, apart from a ʼ65 356SC coupé and a ʼ69 912, both sold long ago. He also ac­quired a Sa­hara Beige ʼ57 356A T1 coupé, which he re­stored be­tween 2005 and 2012. Itʼs in the back­ground of the pic­ture on the left.

In the early ʼ80s, an in­ter­est­ing turn of events led Bob to rent a com­mer­cial fa­cil­ity, be­cause he was in the midst of en­tirely re­mod­elling his house and needed a place to store his ve­hi­cles. So, he found a per­fect can­di­date in the nearby city of Los Alami­tos, in the shape of a car-friendly com­plex in an in­dus­trial area. Although he has changed units four times within the build­ing since, he still uses it as a hobby shop/place of busi­ness to this date! It cov­ers 1400 squarefeet and proves ideal for his daily grind, ei­ther tak­ing care of his per­sonal cars or han­dling the Gtwerk or­ders.

Gtwerk is a niche busi­ness, hence Bob works alone at his own pace. He launched the com­pany in 1996 some­what by ac­ci­dent… He wanted GT lou­vres on his Speed­ster and

no­body made lou­vred alu­minium skins at the time. It just hap­pened that Urs Gretener, a Swiss-born neigh­bour toil­ing in his in­dus­trial com­plex, had the tool­ing and ex­per­tise.

Urs was schooled as a coach­builder in Switzer­land, fin­ish­ing top of his class, so he pos­sesses amaz­ing skills. This led to more qual­ity restora­tion prod­ucts ide­ally suited for GT and out­law project cars, aimed at 356 en­thu­si­asts and vin­tage rac­ers – Urs at GPE still sup­plies 90 per cent of these com­po­nents to this day.

Browse through Bobʼs web­site (gtwerk.com) and you will dis­cover a vast range of in­ter­est­ing com­pe­ti­tion-ori­ented com­po­nents: lou­vred alu­minium deck­lid skin, alu­minium GT and 550 Spy­der mir­ror hous­ings, roll bar, finned gas cap, gas filler neck/rain tray, Gt-style brake back­ing plate con­ver­sions (with scoops and screens), GT bumper trim… And thatʼs not men­tion­ing other good­ies, such as leather win­dow and hood/bon­net straps, al­loy ton­neau cover with head­rest, Plex­i­glas win­dows, wheel spac­ers and plenty more. Ad­di­tion­ally, Bob dis­trib­utes GPE per­for­mance shocks and spe­cialised Car­rera com­po­nents, oil tanks, cool­ers and steel oil lines in par­tic­u­lar.

His in­ven­tory does not take much space, thus al­low­ing him to play with his 356s at ease. There was a time when he used to in­stall some of his own prod­ucts on cus­tomersʼ cars, although it only hap­pens on rare oc­ca­sions nowa­days. Bob also oc­ca­sion­ally re­stored 356s for clients in the past, but he now shies from them as ʻthere are so many com­pe­tent re­stor­ers in South­ern Cal­i­for­niaʼ, he pon­ders. As our pic­tures will con­firm, the shop is well equipped, in­clud­ing a lift – the per­fect play­ground for any en­thu­si­ast who likes work­ing on old Porsches.

But what of the Speed­ster? As men­tioned above, Bob took a lik­ing to road rac­ing thanks to his Kar­mann Ghia, which led him to get his Porsche ready for track bat­tles as

well. He first used it in POC (Porsche Own­ers Club, founded 1955) and PCA (Porsche Club of Amer­ica) time tri­als, though he be­gan con­cen­trat­ing on vin­tage rac­ing in the early ʼ80s. The car en­joyed its share of race track time, in­clud­ing the renowned Mon­terey His­toric, start­ing 1981 – Porsche hap­pened to be the fea­tured mar­que that year. The Speed­ster has also seen plenty of ac­tion at other tracks, such as Wil­low Springs, La­guna Seca, Sears Point, Las Ve­gas, Port­land, Watkins Glen, Day­tona, etc.

Over the decades, the white car turned into a fierce vin­tage racer, with Bob at­tend­ing six to eight com­pe­ti­tions an­nu­ally. ʻMy phi­los­o­phy about vin­tage rac­ing has gone full cir­cle: I be­lieve the ve­hi­cles should be en­tered as raced back in the day, not what they could be to­dayʼ, he adds. Even the paintjob has that cer­tain pe­riod-cor­rect look. ʻThe car has had a one-off mix of white since the early ʼ90s.

ʻWith a friend, racer Bata Mataja, we then brain­stormed about paint­ing my car, af­ter study­ing late ʼ50s/early ʼ60s pho­tos to see what Porsches looked like when they were raced back then. Many had some kind of fender teardrops or a mask in front of the car. We came up with the spe­cific de­sign on my car, af­ter di­gest­ing these dif­fer­ent looks.ʼ

Mo­ti­va­tion comes from a 1620cc flat-four, a dis­place­ment ob­tained cour­tesy of a fac­tory stroke (74mm) and larger pis­tons/cylin­ders (83.5mm). Bob used the case from a Euro­pean 356 in­dus­trial en­gine, which does­nʼt dif­fer much from those used on late 356/early 912 mo­tors. That same mo­tor gave up its crank, con­nect­ing rods and mildly ported heads.

A pair of trusty Zenith 32NDIX carbs sup­ply the fuel/air mix­ture; they have been mod­i­fied in the spirit of old rac­ing Porsches, with ma­chined down ven­turis com­ple­mented with cus­tom ve­loc­ity stacks. The car re­tains its orig­i­nal dis­trib­u­tor and six volt electrics, while Urs Gretener fab­ri­cated the stain­less-steel ex­haust sys­tem. Power trav­els through a 1958 Speed­ster gear­box with early syn­chros, though Bob added a lim­ited-slip dif­fer­en­tial, plus a 7:34 ring and pin­ion, al­low­ing him to eas­ily use third and fourth gears at most race venues.

As you might ex­pect, the chas­sis re­ceived its share of al­ter­ations to com­pet­i­tively tackle most tracks, start­ing with a non-ad­justable 19mm front sway bar com­ple­mented with new tor­sion bars. Bob ad­di­tion­ally in­stalled 28mm tor­sion bars in


the rear, with a cam­ber set around one de­gree. GPE/JRZ sup­plied the ad­justable shocks used at the four cor­ners, which def­i­nitely help keep the Hoosier 500 TD rub­ber on the ground. Wrapped around 4.5Jx15 356 rims, these tyres have been a pop­u­lar choice with vin­tage rac­ers.

The orig­i­nal body re­ceived the whole gamut of Gtwerk good­ies, from the lou­vred alu­minium deck­lid skin to the leather bon­net straps. In true rac­ing fash­ion, the car lacks bumpers, although it re­ceived a five-point roll bar and a frame­less wind­screen. Bob pro­duces the lat­ter, in­spired by the Speed­ster unit, but laid back about 7 de­grees. He also re­painted the shell dur­ing the early ʼ90s, keep­ing the same un­known hue se­lected by the pre­vi­ous owner. Check out the ton­neau cover, too, as seen on many Speed­sters back in the day.

Be­ing track-ori­ented, the cock­pit shows no frills and even re­tains its fac­tory gauges, ex­cept for the ʼ65 356 elec­tric tachome­ter which is more ac­cu­rate than the stan­dard ca­bledriven unit. Be­hind it re­sides a re­pro­duc­tion Der­ring­ton wood steer­ing wheel – a sim­ple car­pet cov­ers the floor as well. While a Speed­ster seat re­mains in place on the pas­sen­ger side, the driver en­joys a more sup­port­ive GTS Clas­sics bucket, newly in­stalled and some­what rem­i­nis­cent of an Abarth Car­rera/911r seat. Bob com­ments: ʻI used to have a Speed­ster seat, but would come home af­ter a race with a blis­ter on my left knee. The new GTS seat con­tains me and I donʼt move around as much. It makes the car so much bet­ter to drive.ʼ

Af­ter tak­ing a break from rac­ing, Bob has been back be­hind the wheel in com­pe­ti­tion for the last cou­ple of years; he even man­aged to join the field at La­guna Se­caʼs 2018 Rennsport Re­u­nion, though get­ting ac­cepted was no small feat con­sid­er­ing the num­ber of ap­pli­cants.

Among the sea of com­peti­tors, the white ʼ58 Speed­ster stood out due to its long rac­ing pedi­gree, very few en­tries hav­ing en­joyed as much track ac­tion in over four decades, and weʼre de­lighted to show it here in the pages of Clas­sic Porsche mag­a­zine. CP


Gtwerk Catalina St. Suite G Los Alami­tos CA 90720, USA Tel: (562) 431-1523 3841

Well-equipped work­shop is home to Bob’s Speed­ster. The 1400sq ft build­ing is lo­cated in a car-friendly com­plex in Los Alami­tos. His Sa­hara Beige coupé is just vis­i­ble in the back­ground

Below left: 1620cc en­gine runs Zenith car­bu­ret­tors equipped with cus­tom ve­loc­ity stacks. Ex­haust was made by friend Urs Gretener

Below right: Guess where Bob got his spac­ers? Gtwerk, of course!

Left: Race-le­gal fuel cell fol­lows style of orig­i­nal Speed­ster tankBelow: Bob has been rac­ing his Speed­ster for close to 40 years all over the USA, and most re­cently ap­peared at the 2018 Rennsport Re­u­nionBot­tom: Bob pro­duces a range of parts aimed at the 356 out­law and race scene, in­clud­ing Car­rera-style mir­rors, cen­tre-fill fuel kits and lou­vred en­gine lids

Above: Seat from GTS Clas­sics holds Bob firmly in place, but Speed­ster bucket is re­tained for pas­sen­ger use

Below left and cen­tre: Car­rera brake back­ing plate con­ver­sions are pop­u­lar, as are the bil­let wheel spac­ers

Below right: Love the dash­board de­tail!

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