Skip to main content

Please forgive the length of this post, but you should probably know something about me, as I will be pestering the bejeezus out of you all in the months ahead.

After about six months of contemplation, I think I want to get one of these silly cars.

My wife and I are approaching retirement, have two 'utility' cars for our daily commutes, and one garage queen weekend car for jaunts to the wine country - a (non-turbo) MINI Cooper.

We're looking to trade one of the Toyotas for a second fun car when we retire and I think the Speedster is it. We've both loved the look of the 356 for years and my wife nearly divorced me when we traded our old (first generation) Miata for the MINI.

Before the Miata, I drove a BMW 2002 for about 23 years.

I've been following the daily bickering and name-calling here for a few months, have started to learn something about the cars and the, uh, personalities who hang out here.

But, like another newbie who recently posted here, I'm wondering how the Speedster compares, as a driver, to the three other 'driver's cars' I know - the 2002, the Miata, and the MINI.

I'm not expecting brute performance or fantastic handling out of a car that's basically a Bug underneath. I'm also not much of a wrencher, so would probably be going with a basic Vintage Speedster with a slightly upgraded engine - 1776 or 1915cc - and would be keeping it pretty much stock otherwise.

I very nearly made Troy an offer on the Ivory Imposter he sold a few weeks back, as that's the exact trim package and color combination I'm looking for, but we're not quite ready to buy yet.

We're in Northern California, have lived with a roadster for 15 years, so have a pretty good idea of the car's practical limitations. We put the top down on the Miata when we got it, and it pretty much lived under the tonneau for the next 15 years.

What I really like about the Speedster is its raw simplicity. I'm not a big fan of microprocessors, six-way power seats, traction control, or remote-activated, centrally-locking, power-assisted, self-adjusting cup holders. I did most of the routine tune-ups and maintenance on the 2002, including valve adjustments, and like the idea of a car that doesn't have to be plugged into Mission Control for the slightest tweak.

Do I sound crazy enough to be driving one of these cars?

Original Post
Please forgive the length of this post, but you should probably know something about me, as I will be pestering the bejeezus out of you all in the months ahead.

After about six months of contemplation, I think I want to get one of these silly cars.

My wife and I are approaching retirement, have two 'utility' cars for our daily commutes, and one garage queen weekend car for jaunts to the wine country - a (non-turbo) MINI Cooper.

We're looking to trade one of the Toyotas for a second fun car when we retire and I think the Speedster is it. We've both loved the look of the 356 for years and my wife nearly divorced me when we traded our old (first generation) Miata for the MINI.

Before the Miata, I drove a BMW 2002 for about 23 years.

I've been following the daily bickering and name-calling here for a few months, have started to learn something about the cars and the, uh, personalities who hang out here.

But, like another newbie who recently posted here, I'm wondering how the Speedster compares, as a driver, to the three other 'driver's cars' I know - the 2002, the Miata, and the MINI.

I'm not expecting brute performance or fantastic handling out of a car that's basically a Bug underneath. I'm also not much of a wrencher, so would probably be going with a basic Vintage Speedster with a slightly upgraded engine - 1776 or 1915cc - and would be keeping it pretty much stock otherwise.

I very nearly made Troy an offer on the Ivory Imposter he sold a few weeks back, as that's the exact trim package and color combination I'm looking for, but we're not quite ready to buy yet.

We're in Northern California, have lived with a roadster for 15 years, so have a pretty good idea of the car's practical limitations. We put the top down on the Miata when we got it, and it pretty much lived under the tonneau for the next 15 years.

What I really like about the Speedster is its raw simplicity. I'm not a big fan of microprocessors, six-way power seats, traction control, or remote-activated, centrally-locking, power-assisted, self-adjusting cup holders. I did most of the routine tune-ups and maintenance on the 2002, including valve adjustments, and like the idea of a car that doesn't have to be plugged into Mission Control for the slightest tweak.

Do I sound crazy enough to be driving one of these cars?

Welcome to the madness! I can't give you a comparison, but I can tell you that the driving fun is second to none. They're not all bugs underneath, btw. Mine is a tube frame. I am not much of a mechanic and had similar concerns, but have learned the basics. With a lot of help from my friend locally, my builder, Carey Hines, and the excellent folks on this site, I have no worries.
Welcome. I was new to the site and to these cars about 2 months ago and totally in love with this hobby. It is now become a major passion and I cant get enough. The people on here will direct you in anyway and are fantastic for that.

I used to own two miatas, one was a garage queen as when I bought it back in 2000, it was 10 years old and only had 21000 miles on it. Loved that car, but will tell you there is absolutely no comparison. Even your smile on you face while driving will be bigger in the speedster. It is simple, it is somewhat noisy - depending on engine and exhaust, and they are absolutely a blast to drive. You will feel like the car is worth a million when people are gawking over it. It is fun to bring that part of owning one of these to the table. You just dont see a ton of them around and people are intrigued by these toys. I am in heaven and ready to buy number 2 already...
How many folks have given you a "thumbs up" as you drove to the store in your Miata? Have many people have taken pictures of your Miata as it was parked on the street? Many cars followed you into a gas station so they could ask you about the Miata? The Speedster Owner's group will no doubt win the Largest Attendance award at the giant Carlisle car event this spring for the 5th (?) time. I don't remember even seeing a Miata there---much less a club.

You are right that some of these cars are toys but Howard's IM, powered by a 6 cylinder Porsche 911 engine could hardly be called a toy. Check out Marty G's Subaru powered IM that's almost completed---It will eat Miata's for breakfast!

Many of these cars are truly well-engineered sports cars that could compete on a track and last spring one of our group, which will remain nameless raced a 250 HP Porsche 911 up I-81 on the way to Carlisle and actually walked away from it.

At a car show last summer I personally saw more than a dozed people ogling a Speedster at a car show that was parked between an E-Type Jag and a Ferrari 308. The Speedster won "people's Choice" trophy while the Jag and Ferarri were hardly noticed. (I'm NOT making this up!) More than a few members here have done coast to coast trips in their Speedsters and although that Jag and the Ferrari are local cars I haven't seen them around town since that show. I'd rather have a driver than a garage queen any day.

I hope that you will continue your research and keep posting here. Quite a few folks in your stage of deciding have attended the Carlisle event to see and drive the cars. Sign up as an attendee and expect to get right seat time to the drives and dinners. Look under "events" on the forum here.

Good luck, maybe you'll be joining what we refer to as "The Madness".
Hey, Mitch.
There are several of us around you.
I'm up in Grass Valley, Dave Mitchell is in Sactramento, Dale Bates in Vacaville and Ernie is in some God-forsaken rural spot close by. That's a JPS, a Vintage and two Intermeccanicas within a short drive.
I can't speak for the others but you're welcome to come up and take my car for a spin.
I'm not going to compare the drive to any of your other rides. It's kind of an apples/oranges thing. It works for some, not all. A lot of the owners here picked up used replicas with extremely low miles on them, usually a sign that it just didn't fit for the previous owner.
Hopefully it'll fit you.
OK, let me give you a few driving impressions, since I've driven all of the cars on your "driver's List":

the 2002 is nicely balanced and should have had just a touch more power than the Miata and I bet it handled almost the same except for feeling a bit heavier. When pushed it should have tended to understeer controllably with the right foot. The Miata should have felt a bit more "nimble" because it's, what?, 300+ pounds lighter?, and has no top so it doesn't sway as much in the tighter curves (all I've driven is a spec Miata, 2g on the track, nothing on the road). Both of them should have accelerated about the same, the 2002 having just a bit more HP but more weight but the 2002 was heavier in the turns. The MINI is the most balanced of the three and is closest to a SAS roadster in handling feel (IMO) and the non-turbo version should have compared in performance to your Miata.

OK, having said all that, a well-set-up IRS (NOT swing-arm) Speedster, running 3/8" to 3/4" anti-sway bars front and rear, Bilstein shocks and running a 2,110 or larger engine would eat your Miata for breakfast without breaking a sweat on both acceleration and, especially, in the curves. Very little on the road might be able to out-handle it if you're running at least 6" wide rims and decent tires. Cornering will be very flat and controllable until pushed to the limit and then how much warning it gives before the ass-end comes around to meet the front depends on the tires, as the car will flatly understeer until the ass lets go (although that's totally controllable with the gas pedal). Remember that rear engined cars feel almost totally different in hard cornering and it takes a little getting used to, then it's pure FUN!

A swing-arm wouldn't keep up, simply because of the ancient geometry of the rear suspension and the tendency for the inside rear wheel to tuck under on hard cornering. Not terribly bad, just something you have to get used to and then feel for the limits. Swing-arms still handle pretty well, just not nearly as well as an IRS.

As you increase displacement above 2,110cc's, either air cooled or water cooled, the wider your grin gets and the more assured you'll feel in any cornering predicament, especially if you can run wider wheels and tires for a more solid footprint but THAT will require a flared body for the tire clearance. Otherwise, with a classic body you're stuck with 5.5"-6" wheels and 185 tires.

The bottom line: These cars not only look terrific, but, properly set up and balanced they can outperform a LOT of modern cars, too!

Gordon
The Speedstah Guy from South Carolina

Attachments

Images (2)
  • dsc_0140[1]
  • Me and Pearl
Sacto: Run away as fast as you can or you'll never get rid of the fever. 356itis is harder to quit than smoking or hot fudge sundaes. The people here are one foot away from being committed to the local asylum. If you have any thought for your family, wallet or bank account you'll erase this site from your computer. This website and the people that populate it are worse than any computer virus ever devised.It first infects your reason, making you think you have to own a Speedster. Next, if your spouse's resistance fails you will buy a money pit that will drain you like no gold digger could. First it's new floor mats, then maybe new upholstery, of course new wipers, led lights, a third stop light. Just when you think you're done spending, you look for plexiglass side windows, a better wax, micro cloth rags, a bra and car cover. Next you'll be looking for cruises to attend, Pismo, Knottsberry, Car and Coffee runs. There is no cure for this disease, only controlling it by buying a Speedster and taking baby steps to the aforementioned. Once you contribute to this site you have become completely infected and I'm afraid that it is terminal. In any case I welcome you to the madness, however, one bit of warning; don't ever ask who makes the best 356 replica, doing so will incite the members to riot and mayhem.

Attachments

Images (1)
  • shades
Carl and Dan:

John Estes is in Westerley, RI, and in the Summer, I'm up near Worcester, MA. As I recall, there are about 14-16 replica Speedster owners in southern NE/Cape Cod, and a few original Speedster guys, too (Bob DiCorpo in Fall River, MA has an original). Lenny C. has a Spyder over in Bristol, CT, too.

Try planning on attending the Carlisle event in May. We just may have a Speedster Caravan going down from New England again.

gn
Mitch, I think you're in the right place. The only Miata I've seen along on one of these cruise days people have mentioned belongs to Alan Merklin's wife. Odd that after 30 Speedster projects ... he hasn't built one for her yet. Mrs. Merklin has never had a problem keeping up with us on our runs, but she's been looked at as the odd person out for her choice of wheels.

Not to sleight Mrs. Merklin, whom we all love very much, but she's missing out. If we cut a hole in the rear trunk of the Miata and dropped it on a VW chassis ... and glued some Beetle headlight buckets to the fenders ... maybe she'd be okay. We'd have to send her off on a vacation for a while to get it done without her protesting the job, but we could maybe do it in a week.

On the other end of the spectrum, my father-in-law is a professional driving instructor. He teaches 'Frozen Teutonomy 301' in some God-forsaken part of northern Finland (near Ernie's house, I think), and at Birmingham and Road Atlanta.

His personal race car is an ages-old BMW 2002, which he's lightened, strengthened and just won't let go of. He's described it as balanced, but it makes a hell of a lot of noise in corners (and he's been driving it long enough that he's getting the most of it on every lap). Having watched how hard he has to work to keep that car under control, I wonder if the street 2002s are even remotely valid as a base of comparison.

Probably not.

Most Spyders seem like they're as well thought out as they can be, right out of the box. People add things to them, just like Speedster people do, and they only get better. The Spyders I like best are the unapologetic, loud, tire-squealing ones that sound like they're being attacked by zombies with chainsaws -- pretty much the antithesis of most Speedsters. If you haven't looked into them, don't do what I done, as they say, and check one of those out before you look at a Speedster.

Finally, Speedsters. There is nothing else to say about the shape, the timeless interior or the view out the windshield that you haven't already figured out. The powerplants, the gearboxes, brakes, stability control options and the choice of how Gucci you want it to look are all great options to have in a car. Imagine if you could get all of those options nowadays in a modern car, hang the engine out back, park a great set of fenders on the front and STILL be under $30K.

Can't be done. Speedsters are where it's at. If you do decide to get one ... make sure you lose the bumpers, chrome bits, roof, carpet, door handles and storage space (unless you're an old man, in which case you can leave all the aforementioned bits, and go out and buy a dapper pork-pie hat and a tweed coat).

Welcome aboard!
Marty:

Funny you should ask that about Crab season. The season for crabs opens in late March.

I was at the local car club meeting this evening where we set up the committee to manage the classic car show at the Port Royal Soft Shell Crab Festival this coming April. It's the weekend before the big Amelia Island Concours, so the club can do both.

Right now, we've got local Shrimp and oysters, although the season for those is just about out for now. Nothing like a good shrimpburger!
First of all, why does Marty need oysters? Whose idea is that? Cold in the Carolinas? I drove my Spyder on New Years! Today? Hell no!

Yes, you should check out Spyders too, if you want. A few years ago, a friend of mine had a VERY hopped up Miata, to the tune of 245 hp at the wheels. It had the works done to it, turbo, aftermarket ecu, brakes, wheels, suspension, etc... It was fast as hell, but boring. Point and shoot, so to speak, with two fingers on the wheel. Me, in my Spyder, working really hard all the way, manual everything, LOTS of steering input. Guess who was and still is having more fun? Miata is sold...Never drove a 2002, but have driven a stock and a modified Miata, arguably one of the best handling and fun cars to ever come off a regular assembly-line. You will work harder in a Speedster/Spyder, but have more fun too.

I have been followed, raced, videotaped, photographed, thumbs-upped, questioned, etc. often. So if you don't want that, then don't get a Speedster or a Spyder. Kids absolutely universally love these cars.

Carl: Lenny, Dan, some others, and I attend some of the events at Lime Rock Park. Most of us go to Carlisle on Thursday and stay through Sunday. Lenny and I caravan down I-84 and I-81. Join us, you'll end up going every year after that!
Hokie smokes!

Thanks for all of the great responses, guys. I guess I have no choice but to get a Speedster, now.

Terry, thanks for the kind offer, which I may take you up on once the weather turns a bit balmier. And Jim, the Pismo Beach event sounds like a great opportunity to check out different cars.

Carl, I pride myself on being one of the few people in California who can correctly spell 'Connecticut', but I thought they used fahrenheit there. This Connecticut must be farther from California than I thought.

Jack, I am absolutely shocked that any member of this forum would exceed the posted speed limit on a public highway. What manner of ruffians are you, anyway?

I guess I should also come clean and admit up front that I work for a newspaper - although not as a reporter - so you should probably be careful what you admit to around me.
Gordon, Cory, and everyone else who offered driving impressions, thanks!

I realize that Speedsters can be almost limitlessly modified, but, to start, I think I'll be going with a stock Vintage Speedster. It would probably be some time before I tried any modifications, and my hunch is that I'd be perfectly happy with the car 'out of the box'.

For 40 years, I've driven cars that were modestly powered - two liters or less. My 2002 was a '74, heavily limited by smog gear that had to be left hooked up here in California. The Miata was a 1600, 115 hp, and so is the MINI. The 2002 weighed 2200 lbs, the Miata and the MINI, both around 2600 lbs - all a lot more than the Speedster.

I've been OK with the power in all of these cars. I've always had as much fun playing with the pedal on the left as the one on the right.

The 2002 handled great for its day, but its day was 40 years ago. It was tight, had great feedback in the steering, a great shift linkage, the pedals were set up for heel and toe, but it rolled a lot in corners. The Miata was a huge improvement. The best word is 'tossable'. All the controls on the car were very light. It went just where you pointed it. You steered with your fingertips, not your forearms.

The MINI is better still - easily the best handling car I've ever driven. Even though the steering's electric, the shift linkage is by cables, and the gas pedal fly-by-wire, somehow the Bavarian boffins have gotten all the controls right. The steering has a reassuring heft to it and the car feels very planted on the road. There's almost no roll in the corners and the grip is amazing.

All of these cars were very controllable at the limit and you could easily steer with the gas if you wanted. But the grayer I get, the less I want.

My biggest question (for now) is about IRS. Does Vintage just pass on whatever the original VW chassis was? Or, do they do only swing axles or only IRS? What year did the Beetle switch from simple swing axles? Is there a thread here that explains all of that?

I used to think that all Beetles were swing axles and that only the Porsches moved on to better suspensions. Thanks for any light you can shed.
All 356's were swing axle. Vintages are VW-based, and therefore, also swing axle (as far as I know). Based on input from this forum, I had a camber compensator installed. I push mine pretty hard around corners and am really glad that I read up on Porsche handling characteristics before getting the car. For me, the handling is a big part of the original feel, just like the carbs, rear engine, side curtains, no radio, wooden steering wheel, etc. you could have an IRS, EFI, mid-engine, roll-up windows, banging stereo, air-bags, etc. It's all a matter of personal taste. At some point, for me, however, it stops being a Speedster. There is no right answer, only the one that fit's you. Here's an article about camber compensators http://www.356registry.org/tech/camber_compensator.html

Nuttin' wrong with IRS IF you add a camber compensator. With this inexpensive device which is easy to install, the rear wheels don't tuck under in a turn---they stay vertical all the time. Combine the camber compensator with a front sway bar and you have a ride that handles like it's on rails.

As far as Vintage using only swing axles, that seems to be all I see
so maybe swing axles are preferred by Vintage. I don't know why or even if this is true---anyone have the facts about this?

My swing axle is perfectly fine though.
If you are thinking of a Spyder also,.... I've owned a Spyder for 9 years and have just finished redoing a Speedster..... Both cars have good and not so good points.... The speedster is more traditional to most people and can be made to perform with the best out there...( Just throw DOLLARS at it )

The Spyder has the edge in leg room and engine accessability, but has potential issues with the shift linkage, and exhaust system clearance.... The Spyder is an absolute BEAR to enter and exit with the top up.... Handling is a little more neutral... And, as above performance is limited by your wallet....

Just my .02
Just to clarify Jack's first paragraph in his last post - He's dead on with his info, but all that refers to a swing arm chassis. You can't use a camber compensator on an IRS car because the suspension geometry is different and needs an anti-sway bar instead. Plus, because of the iRS suspension geometry, the rear wheels can only go straight up and down, not in an arc as on a swing arm. The swing arm camber compensator will significantly reduce wheel tuck, but not eliminate it because the suspension geometry dictates the arc of the axle.

Yes, you can make swing arm cars handle very well. Probably enough to satisfy 80% of the spirited drivers out there. Just not as good as an IRS car. And then you get into a discussion about tires, wheel width, shocks, corner loading ad infinitum. Believe me, I've been there, and you always get back to the 80% rule.

Speaking of rules......I like the newbie egg sammich rule, but only if non-egg sammiches are included, too. BOTH will clog your arteries, but at least the non-egg one won't kill me.

{8>)
Swing arm cars HAVE been known to have more racing-oriented gearbox choices, though. Not to muddy the waters for our poor newbie, but welded spider gears and pseudo-LSD potential exists, as does the removal of cv joints from the drivetrain.

The handling thing is the trade-off. In order to take advantage of wider tires and wheels, you need to narrow the swing axle setup and torsion to fit a seven-inch tire under the back of a slab-sided Speedster.

It's a matter of what you want to do with your car, I suppose. If, say, you like seeing 250-hp 911s getting smaller in your rear-view ... four consecutive times ... a swing setup and a two-plus-liter engine are a great combo.

There had not be any curves in the road, or you'll kill yourself.

Attachments

Images (1)
  • 082507 Pits I
Well, I guess I need to state it...... There is little to no heat in these cars, where the other three have blower motors and the whole show....

I have owned 2 Miati (I think that is what they would be plural). Clarify, ex wife's cars. a 1994 and a 2001 LE. Those cars handle amazing in the mountains and have heat and a/c that you do not have to worry about. The top, when needed, actually seals. If you were to own an MG midget, I would more compare the Speedster to it. Quick, but not huge top end, without moding it.

I WOULD NOT GIVE UP MY SPEEDSTER WITHOUT IT BEING FOR A BETTER ONE....... and I will tell you, mine is almost to where I want it.

OK, I hope I helped a little.

BADSPD

Attachments

Images (1)
  • vc run2
Well, a few egg sammiches seems a small price to pay for all of this good stuff.

I've always known there's no such thing as a free launch.

But speaking of muddying the waters, the article Tom cites about camber compensators

http://www.356registry.org/tech/camber_compensator.html

seems to say the compensator itself does nothing to improve handling. It merely allowed Porsche to install softer torsion bars in the rear so that more of the car's roll could be handled by the front of the car, where a sway bar was added for the purpose. The compensator just compensates for the softer springing in the back.

So, do folks who add compensators and front sway bars to their Speedsters also have to swap out the torsion bars, too?

When I bought my five year old 2006 Vintage speedster I thought that I was getting an IRS because it was built on a 1969 pan-the first year of IRS. I called Curt and he explained that IRS won't clear the rear fenders of his regular body 356s so he had to convert it to swing axle. I installed a rear compensator and a front sway bar to improve conering.

Joel
Post Content
×
×
×
×
Link copied to your clipboard.
×
×