Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Porsche 356A, 1959, of fond memory

Superbug at the Autocross on a Sunday

July 1968, South Eugene, Sunday autocross on an new strip mall's empty parking lot
As the Wikipedia article on the 356s points out, their beautiful unibody construction  almost guaranteed rust and made restoration nearly impossible.  In the Pacific Northwest, by the time my aesthetic soul made the affordable acquisition of the last of the 356A model, a 1959, possible, the signs of rust were already apparent, though it could have been worse if its underside had not been protectively sealed (standard where there were salted highways with slushy snow and perpetual damp besides).  It was not only aesthetics.  My friends, most of them younger, owned sportscars or minicoopers or at least cars that could be autocrossed and rallyed.  After three years of being licensed to drive and listening to all their conversation, I was eager to learn to drive properly.  The VW had accustomed me to the rear engine and taught me the clutch (even if need be without synchromesh in first gear), and the 356A had a built-in roll bar (and was not prone to roll anyway).  On Interstate 5 it cruised, at optimum rpm, at 80mph, perfectly legal at that time, its gears were like cutting butter, it purred.  It got excellent mileage.  Yet no one could say it was too hot a car for a thrity-something lady to drive.
I usually had it serviced in Berkeley where I visited twice a year; the garage there was manned by two German-Americans trained at Wolfsburg itself.  I think it was in 1972 that they told me that the axles had rust such that it was unsafe at sustained highway speeds, and so I gave it (or sold it for $1) to a young friend who would only enjoy displaying a red Porsche at the supermarket or driving it to San Francisco.  He promised, and he kept the promise.  I told him that its engine and transmission in any case could be sold.  I, too, am physically risk-averse, always was, and I never have felt secure driving lesser engineering as I drove the 356A.
From the Emerald Empire Sports Car Club I learned about good and bad shock absorbers, the importance of checking psi in the tires,  the utility of having a tachometer, and the importance of a shoulder harness as well as a lap belt.  And lots more, if one wanted to brake and accelerate so as to feel the car's hold on the road surface and manage the car on curves.  All the stuff that they never show you in advertisements for cars.
I don't know if amateur clubs do weekend autocrosses anymore.  You just need to rent a bunch of rubber pylons and have some guys who know how to lay it out and a large empty parking lot, which is why we did it on Sunday afternoons, as seen above.  I don't recall whether we didn't call it, rather, a race when we went out to the desert over the Cascade mountains in eastern Oregon.  Is it a 'race' when there's no pavement or other prepared surface?
Although as a female driving a 356A I was often alone in my Class, it's not as if I ever won a trophy, anymore than today I win any for blog design, but every time I participated I got a metallic sticker for my dashboard, and by the time that I had to give up driving the car one of my Berkeley friends asked if I'd really won all that jock stuff.  Well, sort of.
Now, does anyone wonder why an old Californian finds it necessary to keep track of her continuous identity by hoarding a few objects?
(P.S., yes, that's me in the car)