August 2007 Newsletter

BJ is getting the Shop ’54 Coupe ready for paint. He discovered a problem with the rear lights that required a little more metal work. In March of 1957 the teardrop taillight was a new feature on the 356. The beehive taillights which had been used since 1953 were dropped.

Some owners wanted their 356 to look newer so they took off the beehives and cut holes for the new teardrop taillights. The issue is they are not in the exact same location. BJ found the ’54 had been converted to teardrops and then back to beehives but in the wrong location. No problem, he just took measurements from Bruce’s ’54 Speedster 80013 which we have in the shop. We have seen the beehive to teardrop conversion many times and it has probably fooled many people. (At Autoweave years back we saw a Hudson hot rod with Porsche teardrop taillights mounted vertically; looked cool.)

When restoring 356s it is a great help to have another 356 of the same model available for measurements and location of parts. We usually have A, B and C models around for comparison. When Tom Scott restored his Manhattan Trophy winning 356 he had another 356 of the same year and model he referred to as his library.

I am almost done with metal work on speedster 80013. Just the bumpers and hood left to do. 80013 is probably average when it come to 356 metal work; floor repair and replacement, closing panels, diagonals, battery box, longitudinal repair, front and back of doors, etc. The same damage we see all the time and have repaired many times. We have kept track of the hours spent on metal repair on 80013. Since we have been working exclusively on 80013 this has been easy. Usually we bounce between various 356 projects and it is hard to keep track of work and time spent on a particular 356. So far on 80013 we have spent 170 hours just on metal work. We probably have another 50 hours to go.

So let’s say 225 hours for average metal work on a 356. This would be $10,000 to $15,000 at typical shop rates and you still have paint, interior, mechanical and parts to restore. Something to consider when thinking of a 356 project. Also an incentive to keep your 356 in good condition!

Speaking of 356 projects, we are concerned about prices. In the past, we have paid $3,000 to $6,000 for rusty, damaged, non-running, parts missing 356 project cars. Now with the 356 market hot, we see asking prices for 356 Coupe projects from $8,000 to $15,000; asking prices for 356 open cars are higher; close to ridiculous. What this means for 356 RESTORE is hard to tell. Maybe we will only do customer 356s or maybe the buyers of these high priced projects will sell them to us at a loss when they find out what a 356 restoration costs. A concern is a return to cheap restorations i.e. the chicken wire and bondo repairs that happened in the seventies when 356s weren’t worth much.

The fellow in Las Vegas that is making the special low bow top frame for 80013 is almost done. He has been sending us pictures and it looks great. As mentioned last month, the early Speedsters had a unique top frame and we were fortunate to find someone with the skills to make one. Of course, on a Speedster the top is always down. They leak in the rain with the top up. However, all open 356s should be store with the top up and latched. We got a tip from Ron at Autoweave when we had a Cabriolet top that wouldn’t close. He suggested keeping wet towels on the top in the sun. It worked! The steamy towels relaxed the top and it closed. We left it closed until it set.

On 80013 we had a repair that we have seen a few times before. Someone didn’t know how to remove the starter bolt that secures the 356 engine to the transmission. Of the four bolts that secure the engine, the starter bolt is difficult to remove. So they cut a big hole in the back seat area to get to it. The hole had been repaired with a metal plate tack welded over the hole. To repair this we cut a piece from a wrecked 356. Of course, the replacement piece was from a later 356 and wasn’t an exact match. But we made it work and this is part of the enjoyment we get from restoring 356s.

I once said when I worked behind a desk my job was to anticipate and avoid problems. Working on 356s is a problem solving job and very satisfying.

Tech Tip
For years, when we needed to strip small parts of paint and didn’t want to use the blast tank or take them to Blast Tech, we used a product called Aircraft Stripper. It was nonflammable which was important and worked.