Most iconic cars have a father (or mother) figure. An individual with the spark of an idea and the determination to see it through. In the case of the Porsche Speedster, that man was Max Hoffman.
The Austrian-born and New York-based car importer was responsible for the US introduction of countless European cars, not to mention the production of vehicles tailored to American audiences. One such car was the Porsche Speedster.
The Speedster story begins in 1950 when a Swiss journalist named Max Troesch showed Hoffman images of the first Porsche 356. He immediately ordered a pair, before travelling to the Paris Motor Show to meet Ferdinand Porsche.
Coming to America
The pair shook hands on a deal to export 15 more cars to the US, with Hoffman becoming the factory’s unofficial man in America. In 1952, while dining at a New York restaurant, Hoffman convinced Ferry Porsche that his company needed a crest. Ferry grabbed a napkin and proceeded to draw a logo complete with stag horns and prancing horse from Stuttgart’s coat of arms. A brand identity was born.
Hoffman was a huge fan of the Porsche 356 and he used the car to compete in numerous events around the US, which did a great deal for the company’s image. “On the 1951 Mount Equinox Hillclimb, I drove a Porsche cabriolet over a course with two miles of snow at the end. I was so fast, Briggs Cunningham claimed my time was impossible and forced the organisers to make me drive it again,” Hoffman told Panorama magazine shortly before his death in 1981.
But Hoffman saw a need for a lightweight and inexpensive variant of the 356. Taking his cue from the 356 America Roadster, an exclusive sports car developed for the US market, Hoffman requested an inexpensive, stripped-back Porsche with a price tag of less than $3,000.
The result was the Porsche 356 Speedster, and the beginning of a bloodline stretching to the current day. The Speedster combined the sheet steel body of the cabriolet with a raked windscreen, reduced equipment and a rain top. It sold for just $2,995 and was popular in the sunny states, particularly Southern California.
It won many admirers, including Hollywood icon James Dean, and further generations of the 356 Speedster were developed. The model reached its pinnacle with the 356 A 1500 GS Carrera GT Speedster: the first production Porsche to hit a top speed of 200km/h (124mph).
Lean or mean?
Production finished in 1958, and we’d have to wait three decades before the launch of a successor. It arrived in 1988 and was based on the 231hp 911 Carrera, featuring a wide ‘Turbo’ look. The removable windscreen was shortened and a manually operated rain top disappeared below a large plastic ‘bubble’ painted in the vehicle colour.
A leaner non-Turbo body was also available, but just 161 of these were built out of a total of 2,103 G-series Speedsters.
Both options were available on the 964 Carrera Speedster produced in 1992 and 1993, but while 930 units were ‘lean-bodied’, a mere 15 were built with the wider Turbo body. Highlights include a revamped roof mechanism for easier opening and closing, plus bucket seats from the Carrera RS painted in the vehicle colour.
Next up was one of the rarest Porsche cars ever built: the 993 Speedster. Just two were built: one for Ferdinand Alexander Porsche and the other for the US actor Jerry Seinfeld.
Porsche fans would have to wait a while before the arrival of the next Speedster, but it came in 2010 with the launch of the 997 variant. The traditional lower, more raked windscreen was present and correct, along with the evocative ‘double-bubble’ rear deck. Fittingly, just 356 units were produced.
All of which brings us back to the present day and the launch of the latest Porsche Speedster. Built to celebrate 70 years of Porsche – and to line the coffers in Stuttgart – it’s the last hurrah for the 991.2 generation 911 and a fitting tribute to the 50s original.
In many ways, it stays true to Hoffman’s vision, but there are a couple of key differences. While the Speedster for California dreamers was available to all, just 1,948 of these tribute acts are available (and they’ve all been snapped up).
Secondly, you can forget the ‘sub-3k’ price tag, because the 2019 Porsche 911 Speedster costs upwards of £211,599.
The alternative is to pick up an older model, although Speedsters don’t come cheap. At last year’s RM Sotheby’s Porsche 70th Anniversary Auction, a 1994 911 Speedster sold for $190,400 (£150,131), while a restoration-ready 356 A 1600 Super Speedster sold for $307,500 (£242,465).