Randy Carlson was at a Cars & Coffee event in Orange County, California, when his phone pinged. “I might need your help with something,” read the text.
Just hours later, he was flicking on a single lightbulb in a cluttered garage crammed with cardboard boxes and cans of paint. There, covered in the dust and grime of nearly forty years was a 1959 Porsche 356A 1600 Super. Rare and valuable, the little upside-down-bathtub Porsche had been tucked away by its owner in the 1980s, and Carlson and his friend Gary Burg were there to bring it back into the light of day.
“I like to think it’s giving a car a second chance,” he says. “You only get one life as a human, but in a way bringing a car back is also bringing back all the people who have held that steering wheel.”
Carlson came by the car collecting passion through his father, who once brought home a 1932 Packard on Mother’s Day, and then tried to pass it off as a Mother’s Day present. This strategy did not work. Helpful C/D relationship advice: If you want to buy a car for your spouse, make sure it’s one they asked for.
In this case, however, shedding light on a lost Porsche wasn’t about adding to the collection, but about making sure the owner got fair market value for his car, since the vultures had been circling, and as they do, offering extremely low bids to take it off his hands. The original owner may have tucked the car away, but he wasn’t totally unaware of its value. He wanted to find it a good home, but not give it away. Carlson didn’t take a cut, just hauled the car out with Burg, then posted pictures and a video on his Carchaeology YouTube channel.
You don’t have to be a Porsche fan to marvel at the 356’s straight panels and delicious caramely interior. Even Carlson, whose collection doesn’t really need another Porsche, found himself tempted. He controlled himself though, and focused on getting the car out of the garage and in the public eye. “When something like this hits the ground, there’s no time to wait,” he says.
It took less than six days for the 356A to find a new home in California. Word is that the new owners are going to get it mechanically sorted out, but are likely to keep the patina, which Carlson approves of.
“Sometimes there’s a tipping point when a car is too far gone,” he says, “But I like to put it this way: do you want to spend five years restoring a car, or get it running and spend the next four years driving it? Just make it look loved.”
If you’re at this year’s Monterey Car Week, you can spot him doing just that with another one of his finds: a 1940 Mercedes-Benz 320 cabriolet with coachwork by Karosserie Rometsch, pulled out of a Midwestern barn. He bought the car having seen only partial pictures and not knowing exactly what it was. Despite the faded red paint and patches of corrosion, it’s magnificent to see it back on the road.
A Porsche 356A is far less common than some of the vintage Volkswagens Carlson has rescued over the years, but it serves as a perfect snapshot of late 1970s and early 1980s SoCal car culture. Back then, a decade-old Porsche was just a funny little German sports car, well within grasp of the average enthusiast. You picked one up used, bombed around the canyons, maybe joined an owners’ club and found a specialist mechanic. A deceptively basic little air-cooled delight from a simpler time.
Even with all the dust still on it, you could park this thing on a plywood plinth at the next Luftgekühlt, and the Porschephiles would be all over it. You can sense that it has a story to tell.
“I really love digging into the history of a car,” says Carlson. “Sometimes, I kind of enjoy it even more than the car itself.”
In this case, he can dust off his hands in good conscience, another car pulled from obscurity and placed back into the world. As so often gets repeated in stories like this, think of the 356 as a reminder that they are still out there, lurking in disused garages or under a sheet in a barn, waiting to be uncovered and brought back to life.
“When the call comes,” Carlson says, “you know I’m going.”
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Brendan McAleer is a freelance writer and photographer based in North Vancouver, B.C., Canada. He grew up splitting his knuckles on British automobiles, came of age in the golden era of Japanese sport-compact performance, and began writing about cars and people in 2008. His particular interest is the intersection between humanity and machinery, whether it is the racing career of Walter Cronkite or Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki’s half-century obsession with the Citroën 2CV. He has taught both of his young daughters how to shift a manual transmission and is grateful for the excuse they provide to be perpetually buying Hot Wheels.