You didn’t think we’d make it through the 2016 HCOTY nomination process without seeing a Porsche represented by your resident Porsche nerd, did you? While my initial idea (Leh Keen’s Safari 911) was stolen by my Cammed & Tubbed co-host, Mister Jason See-Oh-Double-Enn Connor, I came up with a second, even better, Porsche to nominate. Feast your eyes upon the very first factory-entered Porsche to ever win its class at Le Mans, way back in 1951. The vintage racer turned Pebble Beach honoree, 1949 Porsche 356SL. It shouldn’t surprise any of you that I’m nominating this car, I am absolutely enamored with the details of this car, and the stellar restoration that was committed over the last 36 months or so. Rod Emory did a fabulous job restoring this car, and it deserves your votes. Read on for more.
This is a car with a storied past. One that has more recently been brought to light by its restoration captain, Rod Emory. After months of research, the car in their care was proven beyond doubt to have been Porsche’s first Le Mans winner. Way back in 1951, this car won the 1300cc category. Without much pomp or circumstance, the car was then sold by a fledgling Porsche, still strapped for cash, and promptly forgotten about. Decades later, the history has caught up with the car, and it’s been restored to its as-raced condition. Much had to be done, and I’m so glad it was Emory who did the work. The bodywork here is second to none, and the car is perfectly imperfect.
Last fall (2015), I attended Porsche’s phenomenal self-congratulatory event called “Rennsport Reunion” at Laguna Seca, and it was the first time I’d laid eyes upon this beauty. Back then, the car’s bodywork was being shown in full display, having just a thin coat of clear on the steel (bumpers and doors) and aluminum (pretty much everything else). Sitting there in the NorCal sun, the diminutive German coupe appeared almost as a toy sitting alongside Porsche’s 917 (dressed up to look like the 1970 Le Mans overall victor) and their 919 show car (dressed up to look like the 2015 Le Mans overall victor). As you can see in the photograph above, the 356 is quite small compared to the other two, as all three of their front nose cones were lined up perfectly.
Then, the following summer, I saw the car again, this time complete and ready to share its beauty on a world stage. Having completed the restoration phase of the car’s life, it was shown off at the Pebble Beach Concours D’Elegance. Emory and his crew did a fantastic job of returning this car to its former glory, and while it didn’t win the competition, it won my heart.
At first glance, this car doesn’t look quite right. It’s got a bit of rubber hose behind the right side auxiliary lamp, it has uneven panel gaps, it has some bits here and there that just don’t look like they belong. The beauty of that, however, is that they do. Emory and his crew spent a long time poring over photographs of this car from Le Mans. The Porsche archives, their own archives, and photos from myriad sources, that showed the car in as-raced condition. The piece of hose was there to point the right hand lamp down at the apex of some of the darker corners on the Circuit at night. The panel gaps are exactly as they were hand-hammered and hand-assembled back in a sawmill in Gmund. Perfectly imperfect.
The judges saw what the car was trying to be, but the competition in this class was stiff. It still placed pretty darn well for being the only Porsche on the show field. I loved it, mostly because of the story it told.
The most recent time I saw this car was at the Porsche Club of America’s Tech Tactics West event. Rod was the keynote speaker of the event, and he spoke all about the process of the car’s restoration. You see, this car, when it was sold to an American racer in California, had its roof chopped off to make it lighter. It continued racing in vintage circles through the 2000s without a top. Emory, then, during the course of the restoration, had to build a top for the car from scratch. Emory’s speech, in full below, was all about leveraging technology in restoration, being that he had to combine scans from a couple other Gmund coupes of the era in order to properly replicate the shape of the roof he then had to construct. The finished product, I would say, is pretty damn good. And worthy of your HCOTY votes.
[Photos copyright Bradley C. Brownell, video by PCA HQ on YouTube]