A Porsche Odyssey in Three Acts - by Dom Miliano
Quick, make a mental list of the 3 most desirable Porsche street cars ever made. I bet you included in your daydream a 356 Speedster possibly a 356 Carrera or maybe even a 356 Roadster. I know if I were making a list, one or all of these would be on it. However, there are some people who aren’t satisfied with castles in the air. When it comes to making dreams come true, there are people with the will and the resources to turn wishes into reality. So when I found out that one of our readers had actually thought up and then acquired a “356 dream car garage” and these cars had had won some of the most prestigious awards in the world, I went to investigate – camera and notebook in hand - to tell you the story.
Act One - When I first met Ray Minella, he was sharing his 356 Carrera Cabriolet with me – one of my favorite P-cars ever. This was a drop-dead gorgeous light ivory cab I wished was in my garage. But at the same time, Minella was restoring another Carrera – a coupe – and the Cabriolet went for a good cause – the purchase of a new ’05 Carrera GT. But let’s start at the beginning, Christmas 1994. Minella explained, “I started looking for a Speedster around Christmas and there was a New Hampshire company which advertised in "Excellence Magazine" that offered the opportunity to buy a turn-key, "brand new" 356, finished just the way you could have ordered it from the factory.” Minella added, “It sounded good to me, so I arranged to go see them.” What he found was a black/black '56 Speedster “un-restored” in their showroom, and he bought it on the spot. He explained, “I wanted the car done as white/red, and they agreed to make it perfect for a fixed price!” As often happens with these kinds of things, progress was slow. Ray said, “The car was supposed to be started in April, then June, then July.” When the car hadn't been started by the end of July, he went to see them and found a few surprises. “The car had been hit,” Minella said, “And that it would be a lot more expensive to restore than they had originally anticipated, particularly as they had by now decided that I was quite serious about wanting a "perfect" car.” Being a good business man, Ray called the deal off and got his money back – just in time as it turns out because the shop shortly went belly up. But the question remained, if he really wanted perfection, what was the right Speedster to buy?
The right car, as it turned out was right around the corner in the Porsche restoration shop of John and Ray Paterek. It was here that Ray met PCA chief concours judge Pete Bartelli who was in the process of spending a few of the more than 3,500 hours invested restoring his 1955 Speedster. Was it fate that the car was white, with a red dashboard installed? Who knows, but despite the fact that it was a bare painted shell, Minella described it as “love at first sight”.
Bartelli had started the project six years before and had literally brought it back from the dead – early restoration photos show a Swiss cheese-like rusted hulk. Ray and Pete engaged in a bit of checkbook diplomacy and after a period of negotiation, Bartelli agreed to sell the car provided Minella fund the remainder of the restoration to national concours specs. There was one more condition - that the car would be entered in the upcoming Porsche Parade in San Antonio . This was the first time Minella had ever heard of the Porsche Parade, or a concours other than Pebble Beach , but it sounded like fun to him and since it was the only way he would sell him the car, Ray was in with both feet!
Over the next ten months, Minella got an education in professional restoration. He explained, “The car came together in a spectacular way and participating in the completion of the Speedster was invaluable, as I got to see first hand what was involved in restoring a car to a ‘national concours’ standard.”
He discovered that the devil is in the details. For example, the wires for the turn signal and horn run down the steering wheel column and they were originally held in place by little tin ties. Amazingly, Bartelli had a NOS set found in 1984, and in the spirit of perfection, donated them to the cause. This level of obsession carried over to the piston rings (a NOS set found in their original plastic containers). The tires, from Coker made from vintage molds and the wheels which are all correctly "date stamped" for the month and year of the car’s manufacturer.
But the ultimate was the tool kit (Bartelli is a renowned tool kit junkie). Not only did it have all the right tools, but it included an original Mesko gauge with the little foil tag attached to the gauge with a string. The tool kit bag itself was stitched together by Ray Paterek from the parts of two bags, with re-stitching in the original holes!
When it was done, Bartelli towed the car to Weldon Scrogham's shop in Virginia for him to do a final critique of the car (Scrogham won the Parade’s Manhattan concours 4 times so his opinion has weight).
In San Antonio, Minella, who Bartelli had invited to his Parade co-entrant, was given 2 jobs – wipe the nuts and bolts under the car with degreaser to keep the humidity-induced rust at bay and showcase the car to onlookers in an effort to garner votes for People’s Choice (an award considered by many to be the highest honor at the Parade Concours). Minella said, “I did everything but kiss babies to get the message across - this car is a work of art.”
All went well until the morning of the Concours when they had a major disaster. The unrelenting humidity and heat loosened the epoxy holding the hood handle bolts onto the handle. When Bartelli went to close the front hood he pulled up on the chrome hood handle. To his horror, the lower attachment of the handle separated completely from the hood and the soft pot metal bent upwards at a horrifying angle. Minella said, “Imagine that happening an hour before the concours, after a seven and a half year restoration!” Fortunately, John Paterek was there and he managed to force the handle back into position. However, Minella said, “If you looked closely, there was a slight humpback shape to the handle.” Happily, in the 356 Division judging, the car received a score of 299.1 points, which was the highest raw score ever received in a Parade Concours.
Minella said, “Things looked good as we headed into the Restoration Group judging against the other division winners, until someone forgot about not touching the hood handle. Uh, that someone would be me...”
During light dusting, Minella mistakenly pulled up on the handle and re-damaged the fragile piece. Minella explained, “Pete looked like he was having an aneurysm as he lunged in vain, watching me lift the handle.” They were able to put the handle back in place without anyone noticing, and were fortunate enough to have the same judge for the exterior they had in the division judging. Minella laughed, “He didn't notice that the hood handle now looked a lot like a humpback whale!”
The tale of the tape was first in the 356 Division, the Grand Prize for Restoration and the People's Choice Award. Not bad for his first Porsche Parade! But the awards weren’t over because at the 50th Parade in Hershey , Pennsylvania in 2005, the Porsche family, Jerry Seinfeld, Karl Ludvigsen and Peter Schwartzenbauer selected it as the recipient of the Honorary Judge's Trophy. Minella adds, “In addition to the car, I got something I hadn't bargained for, a lifelong friend in the person of Pete Bartelli who is referred to by my kids as ‘Uncle Pete’ ”.
Act Two - After his great experience in San Antonio , Minella decided that it would be great fun to do it all over again. But why settle for “just” a Speedster? Why not do it again with one of the rarest Porsche production models made – 356C Carrera 2. Ray learned a valuable lesson with the Speedster – buy the right car up front. And to do that, you have to ask an expert. Enter Bill Doyle – the most famous Carrera engine builder around. His advice, "If you just want to show the car at concours events, get whatever car appeals to you the most because you won't be driving it. If you want to drive the car, get a Carrera 2. And while you're at it, get a 356C car with disc brakes, because the C cars stop as well as go!" They didn’t make many Carrera 2’s so where does one start to find such a car? It’s a small world, as it turned out because Weldon Scrogham (remember him from Minella’s Speedster?) was liquidating a car collection and he had just sent Doyle a list of the cars. Minella said, “One phone call later and Scrogham confirmed that a 1964 356C Carrera 2 Coupe was available and at price that in retrospect seems like a bargain but at the time was all the money in the world.”
Unlike the Speedster, the Carrera 2 coupe was a very respectable “older” restoration and a car that was mechanically sound and ready to be driven. Naturally, Minella drove it. In fact, he did so, happily, for two years until, while he was pulling it into his garage, he heard his son Michael yell, "Daddy, daddy, the car's on fire!" A leak in the fuel line resulted in an engine fire and while he was able to put the fire out before it burned up the car and his house, the car was quite damaged. He said, “As far as I was concerned, the fire represented Divine Providence telling me to restore the car, so I got right to work!”
Because Jim Newton, owner of Auto Associates, had done such a wonderful job with his Carrera 2 Cabriolet, it was a foregone conclusion that he would be the principal restorer of the C2 Coupe. Jerry McCarthy at Kam Motosports would do the engine and Paterek Brothers got the nod to do the interior.
Despite the fact that the car was a decent driver, Newton found problems that far outweighed the effects of the fire. As often happens, the real damage had been hidden under the previous restoration. Newton said, “The front passenger side fender had been badly hit and contained maybe an inch of Bondo.” He added that there was the usual rust along both sides of the doors and a sunroof had been crudely cut into the top. An even greater challenge were the front oil coolers – they were shot and beyond hope.
Newton found a "donor car" with a clean, undamaged top, and the home-made sunroof was sliced off and replaced – possibly the first time for that operation! (The Cardex showed the car was delivered without a sunroof – a wise move.)
The rust repair was handled using new old stock parts and Minella says that the results were, “perfection itself.” The oil coolers, however, were made of "unobtainium". But sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good because one of Minella’s friends, Stu Zeh, was also in the process of restoring a Carrera 2 Coupe and had found a Porsche dealer in Germany who had NOS oil coolers. Amazingly, he had four sets! So Stu bought one set but Minella, using what he learned from the Speedster restoration, bought the other three. Problem solved!
Not every challenge is for big stuff. Sometimes, little things can throw you a serious curve. Take something as simple as adding an optional temperature gauge. Minella had a beautiful NOS gauge and he shipped it to Newton with a dealer accessory book from the period to show him where to cut the h*** to mount it. However, in conversation with Richard Price, a two-time Parade Concours winner, he happened to mention that the '64 optional temperature gauge was of the inside/outside variety. Minella said, “I felt a combination of dread and panic. Was my gauge correct?” Naturally, it was just an outside temperature gauge. Worse, Newton had already cut the h*** in the dash. Many phone calls later, it was discovered that no one had seen one in years. But once again, Stu Zeh came to the rescue, having spotted a NOS one at a shop in California while prowling among the shelves of spare and broken parts. After Minella convinced the owner that his car was "worthy", a substantial check was Fed Ex'd and the problem was solved!
The paint and the interior were the next challenges. The original color was Irish Green, with a black interior. While Minella favors originality, he didn’t like the green/black combination. Working with John Paterek, who had an original dealer sample book, they chose a shade of light brown that was correct for '64.
One problem that they didn’t expect was with the Irish Green paint. The sample that came from the original Glasurit formula did not match the green paint Newton found in a hidden area inside the glove compartment. Naturally, they knew the glove compartment color was correct because it wouldn’t fade hidden away. After some detective work, they found that Glasurit didn't have the right paint code for the 1964 color. Instead, they had mistakenly switched it with a '68 911 color - not the same shade.
Minella said that there were dozens of decisions to make and original parts to find over the two years that it took to do the restoration. But, he explained, it all came together with a frenzy of activity during the few days leading up to the 2002 Parade in Boise , Idaho . In fact, the Intercity Express truck waited patiently for six hours as twelve people finished the car before wheeling it into the hauler. Minella mused, “Restorations take as much time as you have. In fact, they take ALL the time you have.”
Minella experienced little drama during concours preparation at the Parade – at least until he went to drive it to the Concours site. Before starting the car, he grabbed the gas tank handle and gave it a good crank to open the fuel line to the engine. The car roared to life and ran well - for about four blocks! It turns out; he twisted the handle the wrong way and starved the engine. After several suspenseful moments and attempts at pushing the car (with a strong assist from Richard Price – a fellow competitor), Minella had a flash of brilliance. He said, “It occurred to me that the engine sounded like it wasn't getting gas, so I cranked the handle in the opposite direction, listened to the electric fuel pump ack ack the gas down the line, and I turned the key. Vwoooommmmm!” He added, “I felt like a complete moron.”
And while he didn’t win the concours at Boise , the car did get judged very well with 297.1 points and a Zuffenhausen Level of Achievement Award. His real win was the making of 2 new friends – Stu Zeh – his parts finder and Richard Price, who stopped his own car to try and help get him to the Concours field. Minella said, “Better guys you cannot find.”
The Carrera 2 Coupe had a happier ending the next year in Tampa where it took a Gmund
Level of Achievement Award for scoring 298.1 points as well as the Grand Prize for Restoration.
Act Three – Minella was pretty sure that Irish Green Carrera 2 Coupe was his last project until he found out that his friend, Ed Hershey, had bought a 356B Twin Grille Roadster (one of just 256 built) that that had undergone a financially troubled, decade-long restoration. Ray explained, “When Ed bought the car it was ‘almost’ done - supposedly.” Then he said something pretty profound, “One of the things you learn along the way is that some people are temperamentally suited to undertake restorations, and some people aren't.” It turned out, his friend Ed wasn't. The slow nature of the project drove him crazy, and after six months, he approached Minella to see if I'd be interested in taking over the project. He said, “I asked Pete Bartelli if he'd like to do another car together and he readily agreed”
Once underway, they found that this car was cursed with the “benefits” of a prior restoration. When they stripped off the paint, they not only found the usual rust problems, they even found rust under a number of the patches from the prior restoration.
Wanting to make the car even more special, Minella and Bartelli decided to outfit this car with very rare Rudge “knock-off” wheels. “As they were a $400 option and the car itself was $3,600,” explained Minella, “Not many sets were ordered.” After looking for over a year, Bartelli found a set in Atlanta and with no negotiation on price, he had his Rudge wheels!
They had to do a lot of digging to find the outside mirror - a Pontil Stabile type found through Victor Miles but the rear view mirror which was missing in action was found in a long forgotten box in Minella’s garage.
They got lucky with the unique Twin Grille tool kit because '62 was the only year the wrenches in the tool kit were stamped "Porsche". They actually had a set of wrenches ($2,000 for 4 these days) but needed a very special chrome Mesko tire gauge with dual measurements on the dial but no numerical markings. The gods smiled because they found a perfect, correct gauge ten days before the concours! They even found a copper hammer to pound the Rudge knock-off spinners on at Gullwing Motorcars.
Their last bit of excitement occurred four days before the car left for Portland when the re-chromed headlights arrived without headlight glass. Newton found a set of vintage headlights in their original boxes just two miles from his shop in Connecticut .
Maybe third time is the charm, but there were only a few things that had to be taken care of at the Parade site - an ink mark was found on the tonneau cover bag on Sunday that needed two hours of rubbing to make disappear and a missing set of rubber bands that hold the wires connecting the tail lights to the electrical system.
At the site, Minella estimates that the five people there spent another 70 hours or so in prepping the car. And as it turns out, it was necessary as there were three former Parade winners and a former 356 Division winner in the 356 Restoration-Full Division.
The resuts? Minella’s car received 298.6 points, while Neil Goldberg's 356A Coupe was awarded 298.0, with 297.6 for Skip Shirley's Twin Grille. Minella says, “I think the Rudge wheels provided the needed "wow" factor.” And as the 356 Division winner, he was once again in the Group finals. Minella says, “For the third time, we won the Grand Prize for Restoration and the only Gmund Level of Achievement Award that has been presented at the Parade in the last three years and the 3rd 356 winner ever.” He added, “It was also gratifying to receive 298.6 points, the third highest Restoration Group score in eleven years.”
So that the story of Three Kings in 3 acts – and as you can imagine, these accomplishments will be a tough act to follow, although I hear a GT3 RS (some would call that the new Carrera2 Coupe) is on its way to join the family.