The ultimate Porsche reunion: NZ's first ever 356s meet again after 10-year hunt
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It sits in the window, peering at the passing Auckland traffic.
To its left is a Porsche 911 GT2-RS 61 years its junior — a $580,000, 340km/h battle axe, layered with countless winglets and slashes of naked carbon fibre.
In the shadows it could be mistaken for a minter like its new-age stablemate, but the strong light coming in lays bare its stone-chip battle scars. And I get the feeling its owner, Graham Lister, wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I saw it in a side street in Napier in the early 1980s,” he says.
“I belonged to the Porsche club, and found out that the owner of it was a member. So I contacted him, saying 'I saw your car in a side street in Napier’, if you decided to sell it would you consider me?'
“And, the phone rang five years later.”
Lister’s 356 is a former Intermarque Concours d’Elegance Masters Class winner. In his words, “there wasn’t much more to win”, so he decided to drop the pursuit of pristine perfection in the early ‘90s. In the time since he’s used it to navigate some of New Zealand’s best roads, as well as some of Australia’s tarmac delicacies, like the Great Ocean Road in Victoria, Australia.
“It's just fun. When you're driving, you just have a smile on your face. It's not spine-snapping powerful or anything like that; it's just a lovely car to drive. It loves New Zealand roads.”
But, when you're as invested in a car as Lister is, the simple act of owning one is sometimes not enough. Figuring that right-hand drive Porsche 356s can't possibly be a very common commodity, he and a friend in England began to dig.
"A friend of mine in England was researching the number of right-hand drive 356s that were made. Porsche made just over 76,000 356s during the whole span of production, and there was always this belief that only 4000 of them were right-hand drive. So, he being in England, he went to Germany and asked Porsche if he could go through the archives, and he found that it wasn't anything like 4000.
"He won't tell me the number, but it was a lot less."
Lister eventually found out that the number of right-hand drive Porsche 356s that came to New Zealand new wasn't in the hundreds. Not even close.
"There were 20, only 20, from 1955 through to 1965," he says.
"They were under allocation, there was crippling duty, we favoured British cars in those days because all our produce and everything went to the UK so we were expecting to buy British cars and return. But slowly, Porsche got a foothold in New Zealand."
Armed with that knowledge, the next logical step was to see how many were still on the road. It was a 10-year process, which eventually went full circle with one heck of a reunion.
Out of the 20 Porsche 356s that came to New Zealand during that 10-year period, amazingly 19 of them still exist. And after a nationwide (and sometimes global) effort, 11 of them recently got together at Auckland's Giltrap Porsche showroom.
"There are 17 in New Zealand at the moment. One is unfortunately destroyed in an accident, so it's no more. But the other 19 are above the ground. Two are overseas unfortunately; one's in the UK and one's in Japan. But the other 17 are here in New Zealand.
"Three of them are off the road going through restorations. This one has actually only just come out of restoration in the last week. We found that car in Australia. One of the guys is a nutcase — a bit like me — on 356s. He bought it, got it back, and he's restored it. Of the cars here, two of them we found in Australia.
"We were looking for needles in a much bigger haystack, and we found them."
As you'd expect, diving deep into the histories of these cars unearthed a long series of interesting tales. These included the aforementioned late race-against-the-clock from an Australian owner to complete his restoration, and the curious case of the 20th car, which — crashed and subsequently stripped down — was buried on a Hawke's Bay farm.
The subsequent tales of woe, recovery, and survival have all made it into Graham Lister's hard-cover book on the subject. It's called The Twenty, with Lister describing it as a "social history on the introduction of the marque to New Zealand."
Just 356 editions of The Twenty will be produced; each coming individually numbered. Among the contributors is Sir Colin Giltrap himself. He owns one of the 20 Kiwi right-hand drive Porsche 356s — the beautifully pristine off-white cabriolet pictured below.
It's curious timing. Porsche are at a point where electric technology looks set to soon infiltrate cars like the 911. I can't help but ask Lister for his thoughts.
"Everything today is evolution and revolution. I don't have any problem with that," says a circumspect Lister. "Porsche are big enough and clever enough to do whatever they think is best, and they have a marvellous following worldwide."
Regardless of the future, Porsche's past will always be preserved thanks to the manufacturer's many loyal owners and collectors worldwide. But, few of them can say that they own something as rare as the 17 rather special 356s dotted around New Zealand.