Its been 25 years since we started 356Restore. It’s time for reflection. Our past newsletters and website allow us to review our progress in getting these great cars back on the road. We have restored one hundred and twenty two 356s. Either a battery box floor or a full restoration and everything in between.
Jim had always had a interest in cars. When he got his driver’s license the first thing he did was shave the nose and pin stripe the family ‘52 Chevrolet. He wrote a car column for the San Diego High School newspaper (and dated the editor-see side bar).
After the Air Force Jim took a job in software management with Control Data in St. Paul, Minnesota. One of his programmers shared his enjoyment of cars. The programmer bought a ‘57 Coupe and Jim noticed it was right hand drive, had holes in the floor and gas was dripping under the dash. Jim eventually bought the 356 which by then had a flat floor welded in. The 356 turned out to be a Carrera GS with a bent sunroof. It did not have a Carrera engine. Details on this 356 can be found in an article written for the 356 Registry. (Check the magazine archives). After some rough repairs Jim traded the ’57 Carrera for a ’63 Sunroof Coupe. Jim participated in the restoration of this 356 under the tutelage of an experienced 356 restorer. The ’63 is Jim’s daily driver today and will be passed on to his son BJ.
Jim enjoyed 356 restoration work and his next project was a ’62 Twin Grille Roadster which became his wife Barbara’s daily driver.
Then Control Data began to downsize and eventually went out of business. Jim found a job with a subsidiary in Denver. After five years it too began to downsize. Jim took an early retirement. What to do? Jim had enjoyed restoring and driving the Porsche 356s and decided to start a business-356Restore.
After more than twenty five years, we are still learning about these cars. The design was unique and engineering excellent. The factory didn’t plan for these cars to last fifty plus years but that design and engineering speaks for itself.
Of the 122 356 we have restored, thirty three were shop cars. These were projects planned to be restored by the owner but never completed. In the seventies you could buy a project 356 for a thousand dollars or less. 356Restore would later buy these projects for two to four thousand dollars and restore them. Finding sheet metal panels in the early days was difficult and we learned to fabricate panels. Most of these project 356s came with extra parts which has contributed to our inventory of parts today.
Many of these project owners were “gearheads” and bought lots of engine and mechanical parts. 356Resotre has never done engine rebuilding or painting. These two activities take time and by subbing this work we were able to restore the number of 356s we did in twenty five years.
On our website-356Restore.com we have a list of all completed 356s, That is how we determined the following data:
· Of the 122 356’s 83 were Coupes
· Thirteen of the 83 Coupes were Sunroof Coupes
· Of the 83 Coupes, 27 were 1964 models
· We restored a 356 from every year from 1952 to 1965
· We restored ten Speedsters but only one Notchback and one Carrera
· Seven Roadsters were restored including two Twin Grille Roadsters
· Sixteen Cabriolets were restored.
When we started 356Restore we hired a helper. Ryan an Ex Army Ranger in his twenties. He had experience restoring Sunbeam Tigers with his Dad. Ryan made some great contributions even fabricating a Pre-A fender when
they were not available. At one time, we moved from our home shop to a bigger facility and had additional part time help. Jim didn’t want to be an owner/manager. He wanted to do hands on 356 restoration, so he moved back to the home shop. BJ moved to Denver in 1999 and joined Jim at 356Restore. BJ learned to weld, fabricate body work and reassembly of 356s. After learning those skills we bought a ‘64 Coupe project and Jim said “It’s all yours”. BJ did all of the disassembly, metal work, bodywork and reassembly. Jim only consulted. When finished BJ had the option to sell. He decided to keep it and it is his daily driver. The biggest shop move was recent when we designed and moved into a new home/shop. A little less room but a new lift, a quiet air compressor and good organization.
Barb and Jim participated in a Canyonlands tour with other sportscars. Sort of a mini Colorado Grand. On the tour was a ’57 356 Coupe painted in the colors of the Mexican flag; cream with green and red stripes. It had raced in the Southwest but had a few problems on the tour. Later when Bill Frey and Jim were at Steamboat Vintage Races we saw the ‘57 was for sale. Bill, who raced in SCCA in the seventies said we could make it into a racecar, which we did. We both joined Rocky Mountain Vintage Racing (RMVR) and went to Drivers School. Bill was the better driver and we both drove at tracks like Second Creek, Mountain View, Stapleton, LaJunta and Pueblo. Bill drove at Steamboat and set the fastest time of the day when he was erroneously black flagged and came in and went out only driving half the course.
At Drivers School, Sunday was the first race. Saturday had been follow the leader, practice starts and red flag procedures. Jim was on the grid with five
minutes to the start when he heard a noise, he looked to his left and saw a sports racer with a loud exhaust on the right side. Must be the exhaust noise. On the track, we took the green flag. Jim passed two cars and finished the twenty minute race. Pulling off the track Jim heard the noise again; stopping and popping the rear lid you could see the lower pulley moving in and out. Jim had raced for twenty minutes, passed cars and did this with a broken crankshaft!
BJ’s wife Jennifer also attended Driver’s School and raced the ‘57 Coupe in the Ladies Group. Most of the ladies drove their husbands or boyfriends cars so you got a mix of cars from Mini Coopers to Corvettes.
Previous newsletters have documented how we found the ‘52 Coupe for $800 which was to become our next racecar. Bill Frey and Jim did a great job on this 356. We got the weight down by making Plexiglas windshields and removing extraneous items. We weighted it on the scales at Pueblo and it came in at 1,640 lbs. And of course we built a better race engine. Both Bill and Scot Petitt drove this 356 in some exciting races.
In the past twenty five years, Barb and Jim have participated in sixteen 356 Holidays. We would usually drive Jim’s ‘63 Sunroof Coupe or Barb’s ‘62 Twin Grille Roadster. A few we flew to or trailered..
The most memorial Holiday was Santa Fe in 2013. Over 200 356s’ and a great venue.
BJ and Jim have attended all five Porsche Rennsports and plan to attend number six next September. The most unforgettable Rennsport was number five in Monterey. The factory provided lots of cars, in fact we have possibly seen most of the factory museum cars at Rennsports.
We have also attended most of the local charity concours showing many 356s and also judging. One thing we always did was let kids sit in the 356 for pictures; except that kid with the ice cream cone.
The most enjoyable and unforgettable 356 related event was the inaugural US. Vintage Racing National Championship at Circuit of the Americas in Austin Texas in 2013. Jim, Bill Frey and Scot Petitt entered Jim’s ‘52 Coupe with a fresh engine by Bill. With Scot driving, we beat Vic Skirmants, and six other 356s plus five 911s and two 914-6s in the Enduro. We detailed this event in our newsletter, but it is worth reading again (check out our website for all the 356Restore newsletters for the past twenty five years).
Jim has always enjoyed writing and decided to write a book about what he had learned restoring the Porsche 356. This was a risk as there were many Porsche 356 restorers that could be critical of the book.
We had been in the habit of taking pictures of our restorations so we had a good start to illustrating a book. We were also usually working on two 356s at different stages of restoration so we could add illustrations.
The book was organized from the start of a project to the first test drive. It was titled “Porsche 356 Guide to Do-It-Yourself Restoration”. The first edition was published in 2004. The cover arranged by the publisher was unique; a picture of a young man sitting behind a project 356 reading the book (a picture within a picture). Many people asked us if the young man was BJ; it wasn’t , just a friend of the photographer.
The book was well received; all positive comments , never a criticism.
The book is used by both beginning restorers and body shops.
The book went out of print and Jim decided to do a second edition in 2009. Writing the first edition Jim got to a point of “Lets just wrap this up and see if it sells”. For the second edition, Jim spent more time on reassembly and the cost of restoration. The book continues to be appreciated and has sold over 4,000 copies.
There is a lot of satisfaction restoring a Porsche 356. The process of disassembly is fun. On an unrestored 356 you can find factory chalk marks, paint brush strokes and different assembly techniques. On project 356s you can find traffic signs and related signs used as floor pans. Not to mention the chicken wire/bondo and expanding foam repairs. Organizing the parts during disassembly and determining which parts can be restored or replaced lets you know that you are moving forward. After media blasting, metal work is also enjoyable. To remove a piece of rusty metal, make a correct patch and do a great job welding the patch is very satisfying. The next phase-body work is demanding and perhaps less enjoyable. Getting the lid and door fit can take time and many repetitions. Then there is the sculpting of the body. You need bright lights and a good eye for this. It is also repetitive. At 356Restore we would take the body to 80 grit and let the painter make it perfect. A good experienced 356 painter can really improve the body work. Before the painter, you have to dry fit all the external parts. This is also enjoyable as you can see the 356 becoming an almost finished car. Then comes reassembly, the most enjoyable part of 356 restoration. Taking you time, making it just like the factory. Ending each day with a
After the mechanical work is done and then the real fun begins, driving a Porsche 356.
feeling of accomplishment.
There is one downsize to 356 restorations. That is the “know it all” customers. Some can be quite critical and taught us to ask “What are your expectations?”. If they want concours level for a cheap price, we say no and explain the time and money required for a concours level We do driver level and some of these 356s have won concours. It all depends what you start with.
So what’s ahead for 356Restore? Well, Jim is 76; his cataract surgery means he has to wear glasses for the close work. Glasses under a welding helmet is difficult, so Jims leaves most of the heavy welding to BJ. Jim misses laying down that perfect welding bead and the noise that accompanies a good weld. At 76 Jim doesn’t get up and down easily and there is a lot of up and down work when reassembling a 356. The new lift will solve this problem but with eight 356s in the shop, we will have to finish some to use the lift when needed. What will probably happen is Jim will turn the shop over to BJ and take on a consulting role and skip the up and down reassembly fun. Jim may also get into the parts business. To date our large inventory of used parts have been for 356Restore projects and sales to friends. We really don’t need 42 valve covers.
Favorite Story Side Bar
Not 356 related.
We mentioned earlier that we dated the editor of our high school newspaper. She moved out of town early in our senior year but we still asked her to our senior prom.
Jump ahead three years. Jim is working his way thru college at a Pizza Parlor. If Jim wants a Saturday night date, he has to open the pizza place for the Saturday lunch crowd. So there he is all alone anticipating the light lunch crowd, when he hears some noise. He looks out the front window and sees twenty Hells Angles backing their bikes to the curb. They all want beer and pizza but Jim can’t do both. One of the Hells Angles says he will pull the pitchers and Jim notes that he is doing a honest job. So Jim starts making pizzas: taking an order Jim looks up and there she is; his prom date is a Hells Angels Mama.