Five years ago I did the unthinkable and blundered into the purchase of a replica of Porsche's now ageless icon, the speedster, originally manufactured in 1954-1958. Over the years I have owned numerous open-air Porsches and a host of 911-based sports cars, the idea of buying a copy and not the real thing, was a dilemma that evaporated the instant I rolled my suspect vehicle off of the transporter's truck! Here is what I've learned and what you can look for in crossing that motoring threshold yourself.
Replicars as I like to call them, resemble an original make or model car. In the beginning many replicas were build-it-yourself kits. Over the years the tag 'kit' has remained though many small manufacturers dot the landscape and offer completely finished cars called 'turn-keys' for those of us less mechanically inclined. Most replicars are primarily fiberglass-bodied, some really custom builders work in metal. Metal rusts, fiberglass fades...rock,paper,scissors, you decide!
Many replica speedsters originated from related body moulds. I don't know how many body moulds are owned and controlled by the various replica builders today as opposed to bodies imported in a rough stage from some third world source. In either event the preparation prior to paint can be very different from maker to maker. More blocking in the beginning means a smoother finished product. Painting can be as close to original as practical or can reflect today's more modern approaches.
In reading ads for replicas some will state they are a '55 or a '56 or a '57. They are all the same. The only tell-tale difference is the choice of tail lights the builder selected. Half way through 1957 Porsche went from two beehive taillights each side to the teardrop. Solid red teardrops are equated with US cars while the two-tone amber/red is a euro-thing.
Replicars can represent whatever year they want. A friend of mine designed his car to look like a 1958 Carrera GT. It was pretty special and his detailing was period correct. It recently sold on eBay and is leaving the states for Denmark. Another friend opted to copy a Carrera speedster circa 1956. His too is period correct to the max, but in looking at the two cars, there are numerous differences. It may be important to you in shopping for your speedster replica or it could mean absolutely nothing. More detailed cars can command higher prices than generic replicas.
Porsche and Volkswagen fall from the same family tree so the basis for your Porsche replica is most often VW-based; a pan (the bottom of the car) that holds everything together, shortened to replicate the dimension of a speedster and an air-cooled engine hanging out the back. While early VWs were somewhat plebian, speedsters had a bare-bones nature about them as well, so concerns for a lot of fluff added options or high-tech wizardry shouldn't be a concern as you page through the auction sites under the heading '356' or 'Porsche speedster'.
That said, not all replicas are created equal. Among the companies building speedster replicas, whether it is a build-it-yourself creation or a factory-built beauty, some still use the VW pan or something similar. some have a combination of a pan connected to some tube frame components and another builds his own frames entirely. This basic difference in manufacturing approach and design can be a sales point if you are a real sports car aficionado, or it may be 'much ado about nothing' if you're looking for a cute old timely-looking car with many up-to-date mechanical features!
Along the same lines of frame development, the replicar's power plant has evolved. The most common engine is a reworked VW Type 1 engine capable of producing 75-80 horsepower at one end of the scale all the way to machine-work marvels generating 140-150 HP out of the same basic set up. Keep in mind you are looking at an eighteen hundred pound vehicle whose namesake weighed substantially more and got along with 60-90 HP! The heart of your replicar is efficient, easy to work on and parts will not require a second mortgage on your home. More on engines later.
So if I have improved power-to-weight ratios, will I be able to rope it to a halt safely? Most replicas have VW brakes circa 1960-70s, an improved drum-brake operating model of the originals. Again, parts are still readily available and going beyond basics, many replicars are fitted with a combination of disc brakes up front and drums in the rear (which I have found more than adequate for my 230 HP racer replicar) or discs at all four corners. While on the subject of brakes, original speedsters had an 'umbrella-handled' emergency brake tucked up under the dash. Most replicars have their eBrake handle between the seats just like a VW (and later Porsches). A replicar sporting an umbrella-like handle and fabrication is flirting with real high-dollar detailing!
The grace of Porsche's speedster is often equated with its simplicity. Respecting this aspect, the details that embellish a replicar are also simple. Some enthusiasts labor on copying exact knobs, badges, handles, gauges while others customize to their own design standards. The offerings from the primary professional builders may vary but the flavor is there. This is a place where the importance of a concourse judge's list is no longer important; it is a replica and open for interpretation!
Interiors are offered in vinyl and leather and depending on the maker, the seats may truly resemble the originals. Carpeting in the day was known as 'square weave' and many builders opt for this look today. Ribbed rubber floor mats would be my choice were I doing it over again, then I could just turn a hose on the whole car when I wash it!
Another area of concern are the electricals of your replicar. I personally had to rewire my car as the systems were under-wired and the circuits were overloaded. The car is built for today's driving, the replicar is fitted with blinkers, decent headlamps and wipers. It needs a third brake light! Each of these areas are worthy of upgrading and when shopping for a replicar, read about what the seller has done (or not done). Driving lights, as an example, look cool and retro, but in my car's case are way superior to the builder's basic headlamp offering! I wouldn't go out at night without them!
This brings me to an area of the replicar I would call its Achilles heel, by today's convertible standards; most replicars are drafty and they leak! The original tops were referred to in the Porsche owner's manual as emergency tops. The replicar top comes in pretty true to that description. It is unfair to expect a replicar, based on 1950's style and charm to provide the same interior cabin comforts of say a Lexus 430 'vert. The top is one (sometimes more) layer of canvas, glued to a piece of bent wood, which clips to the windshield in front and is snapped with snaps secure to the body along the back cowling. It is operated by hand and has fixed side curtains for windows stuck into the doors; lots of gaps, just like the originals!
Worthy of note in shopping for a replicar there are cars with roll-up windows, more substantial tops and even fitted with air-conditioning (often used to defog a windshield). A good friend of mine has heated leather seats that the manufacturer provided as a terrific upgrade! These creature comforts bring me to radios; these cars will not replicate a concert hall. I have a two hundred watt amp and six speakers in my replicar and listening to music is just a notion; something 'there' riding along with me... In looking over replicars for sale don't be overly impressed with a lot of hi-fi gadgetry; a good MP3 or Ipod capable hook-up is about top-of-the-line and I'm not suggesting headphones as that is illegal in most areas (but they could fit under my old leather flyer's helmet).
Insuring your new car is not a walk in the park but not expensive either. Expect to pay in the neighborhood of $500 annually (driver's records will impact that figure as with any policy). Many insurance companies limit the number of miles you drive annually, some categorize the car as classic and require an appraisal and some won't insure them at all regarding them as a 'kit' and somehow not roadworthy. Getting a 'stated value policy' is something I have been doing for years as most of my cars are a little outside of the norm. I pay a higher premium but that's to be expected.
What to look for
In a nutshell buying a replica of a Porsche speedster requires a certain knowledge of the product, not unlike scrutinizing a real speedster for authenticity or the dreaded RUST creature that eats your real-steel investment like a starving man at a Bob's Big Boy buffet!
Look at the replicar's mechanicals and think how you will be driving.
Think about the weather, hot, cold and wet
Think about your motoring motivations; classic, hot-rod or ???
This is a good time to talk about high performance features. The speedster was the created to be the 'giant-killer' in its day. It was a car with maybe half the power of Ferrari, Healy and the lot, but it was competitive, surprising many with its numerous victories. The replicar options in this performance arena are many. Some builders have developed a water-cooled offering with a Subaru engine while others have fitted actual six cylinder 911 Porsche engines in theirs, WOW!
There is a huge 'after-market' in VW-based performance parts, engine kits and the like. The cost for increased power can be a simple addition of dual carbs and larger heads equaling a thousand dollars or a top-to-bottom build with blue-printing and balancing for say, five thousand dollars. By today's performance standards there will be a lot of Jettas passing you up, but so what, they don't look near as cool as you! (Oh yeah, and you will likely out perform a lot of real 356 P-cars)
Extreme engine builds vary and you can easily muscle up to the super-car categories, but you have to remember more HP means other components of your car need bracing and bolstering! I happen to like the Type4 engine that was used in the Porsche 914; lots of low end power and acceleration, virtually the same weight and dimensions of a Type1... My minimum engine size recommendation is a 2110 CC with 40mm dual carbs.
1600-1776 CC pretty stock, maybe 75 HP
1800-1915 CC pretty stock, maybe 90 HP
2110-2165 CC stroked & massaged 100-130HP
2275-2332 CC stroked & massaged 150+HP
These are just averages and are subject to all sorts of variants based on cam, carbs, head polishing and all manners of mystery stuff. I had my first engine (1776) rebuilt to 135HP as one example and it is still kicking butt in a friend's car.
How to Buy
You have the choice of buying a previously-owned replicar, one that is a 'standard build' offered directly from the manufacturer or a broker or you may opt to have your car custom built. I did OK buying from a fellow car enthusiast and call me Pollyanna, so far all of my on-line car transactions have gone very well, both buying and selling!
Limited warranties may be available when you buy direct from the manufacturer, remember you are not dealing with Ford or GM! The further removed you are from the build-source when you buy, the further you are from accountability. Also worthy of note, the more folks you have between you and the builder on a new replicar purchase, the more you are likely to pay. If you want it now, it has to be silver with red interior and a guy in Colorado has it in his showroom, well do I pay a two thousand dollar premium and avoid the possible wait dealing directly with the manufacturer? Your call. Maybe you only have a driving season that is three months long and that is the equivalent wait time for manufacturer's direct delivery!
I don't want to get involved with a builder's 'rating system' but I have learned a lot over these past five years. There are three major manufacturers of replica speedsters: Intermeccanica, JPS and Vintage Speedsters. There is also Thunder Ranch (cool name, huh?), SAW and old namesakes in the replica business, CMC or Beck. I apologize in advance if I left any out, but in car club activity and going to car shows, these are the primary builders or providers of rolling kits I have seen.
Real or Replica
Real versus replica is a forum topic I have read over and over on a major replica website, SpeedsterOwners.com . I have owned both and will own more of each. I just love these little beauties but for different reasons. I participate in shows and rallies where both real and replica come to play and have my fair share of victories. The 'blank canvas' or no holds barred approach to replicars appeals to me and many of my enthusiast friends. We choose to spend our money differently than the Porsche purist.
So what should you pay for a replica of a Porsche speedster? Pretty wide-open market out there. A used fiberglass body ten or more years old, may need some body detailing and a repaint. Another car may have every mechanical horsepower trick in the VW-book and sport custom-made designer badging (I saw it at the Knotts show year before last with its 300 HP turbo-charged engine and 19" wheels, not my cup of tea, but quite a ride all the same!) or, well the factors that help determine value go on and on.
Replicas can be had for $15-20K and you might get had as well!
Expect to pay $25K and up for a used ride of better-than-average condition and appointment.
Quality used replicas are in the high twenties to forty thousand dollar range.
The cream at the top is a pretty subjective market; my friend's tribute to the Porsche speedster with the heated seats all original P-car parts, etc, etc, would easily command sixty thousand dollars used and cost more than that to build new!
New replicar prices are available on the various manufacturers websites. A conversation with the builder of choice will further fine-tune cost and options.
Replicars are for driving and enjoying. They are the sincerest form of flattery in my view to the real deal! If I had known someday my old rust-bucket speedie was going to be worth six figures, I wouldn't have traded it for that Fiat 124 sport coupe! They are all, in the end, just cars! Enjoy.