Classic Porsche from 1963 restored inside and out
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Jacqui Madelin goes for a drive in a beautifully restored Porsche 356 from the 60s
This is owner Angus Cooper's second classic Porsche 356. He's retained as many of the original specs as possible.
A Porsche 356 stands out when parked among the surf-mobiles at Piha, but this one would stand out almost anywhere. It was one of a pair of 1963-model 356 cars that came second in the Teams competition at 2013's Ellerslie Concours, quite a feat.
"It was off the road for eight, or more like 12 weeks to prepare," says owner Angus Cooper.
He'd initially owned a 1964 Porsche 356C but after he sold it had serious "seller's remorse", and set out to find another.
"It was going to be for my 50th birthday but I jumped the gun - when a car like this comes up you have to take the opportunity, there are a few around but they're not sold that often."
It was in good condition, but he started doing a few bits and bobs to it, which led to a repaint from "herring grey" to this deeper tone, and a whole new interior - from black vinyl to the luscious red leather I nestled into for our brief drive. It's a matching numbers car that had a 1600cc air-cooled four-cylinder four-stroke engine with twin Zenith carburettors from factory, now 1720cc: "At some point it had a big bore kit in it."
He's planning to store this engine and replace it with one he's building with Nelson's Kip Colvey, the 356 expert who owns the car he teamed with at Ellerslie. The new 1925cc engine will take it from 67kW to 93.
"It'll look the same as the factory motor and use the same kind of components, but with increased piston size, work on the heads and cams and a few other things."
He's not worried the four-speed manual transmission, original drum brakes and Koni suspension won't cope? Nope, the top-of-the-line Carrera put out 97kW, so this looks about right.
He's not aiming for top speed. As standard the 935kg 356 topped out at 160 to 185km/h depending on variant, and this was never a track car, but the new motor will deliver stronger acceleration and better revs for hills - not that it's troubled by Piha's steep ascent.
Angus likes the way this car handles, and that it'll keep up with modern traffic. He recently drove a borrowed one for a 3200km tour of the western US and isn't afraid to use his thoroughbred - he's driven it from Auckland to Nelson.
He also does some of the work himself - indeed, when Precision AutoWerk painted it, he disassembled and reassembled the car. He's also researched it with the help of the factory workshop manual, a mighty tome he slapped down on our café table.
Angus Cooper bought the 1963 Porsche 356 as an early 50th birthday present. Picture / Jacqui Madelin
I joked about concours fanatics cleaning beneath their cars with Q-tips, but he deadpans that it's problematic for the 356 as the factory hand brushed a tar-type sealant on to protect it, so its belly never looks as shiny as a similarly prepared Mustang would.
"They were practical, and didn't want it to rust."
I see him as being fairly practical too, so why a 356?
"Neil Tollich has a beautiful old Speedster. I was in my 30s, and I didn't know what it was.
"He threw the keys at me and told me to take it for a drive, and after that I wanted one."
The cabin's as immaculate as the exterior and again, apart from the colours it's period-correct, right down to a working Blaupunkt radio, "you can even play an iPod through the five-din plug".
The only options Angus fits are those available when the car was new. Even the white indicators - in place of orange - and the tiny red tip to the radio aerial were original fitments once, while the headrests and chrome wheels were a factory option. He plans to add the once-optional tacho for the larger engine, mounted as per the workshop manual's instructions.
"And we'll upgrade to what was called the European heater system - this was an American car and the heater was like holding a candle up."
This model comes along only rarely.
Classic car owners come in all types and sizes - and budgets, for many are far more affordable than most folk think, even something like this car.
"People look at it and think it's flash," he says, "but that's my boat. People have a boat and park it up, especially in winter. Well, I don't fish off it, but I use it more often."
And he points out it would cost much the same to restore an almost equally elegant Karmann Ghia, but the value at the end is quite different.
Would he sell it?
"No, my daughter wants it. She's always loved the car."