When my good friend and fellow 356er Bill Perrone mentioned that America Roadster #12322 was available, I was determined to find a buyer, especially a buyer that would want me to restore the car. Not that restoring ordinary 356s isn’t interesting and fun (as a friend said to me “your job is what we’d all be doing if we were retired”) but this was an opportunity to restore one of the rarest of Porsche’s production cars.
We do everything in shop, including all mechanical work, metalwork, paint and interior installation (I’ve always said I’d never buy a sewing machine and so-far all our interior kits are made at Autos International in Escondido, CA). The restoration of this America Roadster did prove to be one of the most challenging and rewarding projects we’ve done.
This particular example is the 6th body produced for Porsche by Glaeser. The records show the original color combination as Azurblau with light gray interior and gray-blue top. Optional accessories were listed as big brakes, crash box trans., sliding seats, tonneau cover and ventilated wheels with Turbo rings. The dual grill, round wheel openings and small deck lid make this an early “series II” car, which is regarded (by some) as the most attractive of the America Roadsters. It was completed (according to Glaeser records) in the summer of 1952 and later delivered through Hoffman to a dealership in Illinois. The dealer raced the car extensively before selling it in early 1954 to a buyer in California who also raced it extensively on the west coast. It placed third at the Pebble Beach Cup in 1954 after being damaged on the right side. It was purchased directly after the race by a southern California buyer who had the damage repaired, disassembled it for painting and unfortunately died before completing the work. It was purchased from his estate by Bill Perrone and remained in storage until offered for sale in 2000. I knew that my customer Gerald Barnes had been looking for something interesting to add to his collection of Porsche street and race cars and after several phone calls, and some intense negotiating, 12322 was on its way to my shop for a ground up restoration. Though fully disassembled and in boxes, the car was complete with all its original parts including the original top, interior, all trim parts and all electrical parts and wiring. The fact that all these original parts had been saved by the previous owner would prove to be invaluable in restoring this America Roadster back to its original condition.
After picking up the car at Bill’s and cataloging all the parts, my next trip was to Chatham, NJ to look at John Paterek’s car 12317 (the car produced just before 12322). John was very cordial and allowed me to spend the day examining his car, taking pictures and asking questions. His car has very low mileage and is mostly original except for a repaint and new top. It was well worth the trip and I returned to Long Beach with 300+ pictures of every detail of his car. This would prove both indispensable and confusing during the restoration. After measuring the body, we found that John’s car was considerably different in the windshield cowl area and deck lid location. Also, the interior door panels, carpet and seats were trimmed somewhat differently, the wiring had different end connectors and insulation, the top frame function was slightly different and some assorted screws and hardware pertaining to the interior were different. If all of the original parts for 12322 had not been saved, it would have been logical to simply make it a carbon copy of its younger sibling 12317. Fortunately, because it was complete and well preserved (though completely disassembled), we were able to restore it to its “delivered” condition with all of the subtle differences intact.
The first step after cataloging all the parts was to complete the metalwork. As mentioned earlier, the body had sustained some side damage at Pebble Beach in 1954 and was very soon afterwards repaired. Other repairs had also been made to the hood, front apron, doors and deck lid which were normal considering the cars race history. The body and door aluminum were in excellent, repairable condition but the hood and deck lid skins had to be replaced. Because our experience at WAR with aluminum is very limited, this task was given to expert metal fabricator Pablo Gomez. The body needed extensive detail work to prep it for paint after sitting for years in bare aluminum and all seams and welds had to be meticulously cleaned and primed with special primer. The bumpers (probably removed from the car for racing) were in excellent, original condition. All paint had been stripped from the body but the original dark blue paint was still intact on the top frame and wheels. The original color was shown in the Glaeser records as Azurblau. I had done a color match years ago on an original Reutter car in that color but the original paint on the America Roadster was much darker. I contacted Glaeser Cabriolet owner and Pre A expert Thomas Birch and he confirmed that the factory colors on the Glaeser built cars were often different. With that in mind, we did an exact color match of one of the original paint wheels and used that for our “Azurblau” formula. The aluminum dash on most of the America Roadsters was painted to contrast the outside color. This car had a medium gray dash that was a darker version of the light gray interior. The original paint was still intact and it was color matched and resprayed along with the frames for the factory optional bucket seats.
The next step was restoration of the cars unusual interior. The optional bucket seats (only seen in America Roadsters) were still covered in the original vinyl and were in excellent, restorable condition. The door panels, and carpet were also original and it was possible to duplicate the entire interior exactly as Glaeser had made it. The interior was a combination of mostly vinyl and some leather material. A perfect match was found in leather and rather than vinyl and leather, the entire interior was done with five matching hides. The carpet was identical to the gray German square weave that is available today and the binding was done in leather with a French stitch. The rear section of the interior, behind the seats, was done in very cheap, black cotton velvet and the carpet extended only to just behind the seats. The standard Porsche floorboards were covered with handmade style ribbed rubber mats that matched the mat in front of the fuel tank. The front compartment behind the fuel tank was also carpeted with black velvet but the sides had the same gray German square weave as the interior (similar to Reutter cars). Interestingly, these side carpet pieces do not appear to have been on 12317 originally. The carpet and door panels were originally glued in place but were also attached with an interesting selection of various screws and washers, many of which were quite different than 12317 – the car finished just one week before 12322. These differences, and the different trimming styles on the doors, dash and carpet, suggest that there was more than one team installing interiors and they didn’t have a specific method of installation. The original top material was an interesting blue/gray cotton canvas with a liner identical in style to the liner used on the German canvas today except gray rather than tan. We were able to find an almost perfect match to the blue/gray color, unfortunately the liner was black but this was the only concession we had to make on duplicating the interior/top combination. The operation of the top frame is much more complicated than any other 356 and is a two-man job to raise or lower. It folds behind the seats and is covered with a curtain made from the same canvas. The Plexiglas side curtains fit into a vinyl storage bag and are stored with the top on a shelf behind the seats.
The seats were sent to Autos International and were meticulously restored. They also duplicated the original carpet pieces and supplied the leather that was used to restore the door panels, dash, cowl trim and rear side panels. After the interior was installed, the car was transported to Autos for duplication and installation of the original top. The top was definitely a “work in progress” at Glaeser. It was obvious from the original material that it had wrinkles that could only be eliminated by changing the design. Since this was an “authentic” restoration, we decided to duplicate the top exactly as it was when new, wrinkles and all. One last interesting feature of the top was the lack of a front seal. It has a 2” flap of canvas sewn to the front top bow that lies over the windshield to prevent rain from entering the car. It’s obvious that this car was intended for dryer climates.
The instrumentation and electrical accessories of the America Roadster were all standard Porsche items as were all mechanical components. This car was equipped with the crash box (non synchro) transaxle, which was the gearbox of choice for most racers because of its lightweight and simple and tough construction. Upon inspection, the trans was found to be in perfect condition needing only detailing and resealing. The engine was the newest and most potent Porsche had to offer – the 1500 Super, rated at a whooping 70 hp. The engine in 12322 was not the engine shown on the Kardex and it was first thought that a mistake had been made in recording the numbers. After considerable research it was discovered that by a strange turn of events 12322 ended up with the 1500S engine salvaged from 12312 which was also owned by the same dealer in Illinois and crashed soon after it’s delivery earlier in 1952. When the car was parked in 1954 the engine was intact presumably as it competed in the Pebble Beach Cup race of that year. Because the new owner Gerald Barnes intended to drive and enjoy 12322, and possibly even compete in vintage race events, several modifications were made to improve the durability and performance of the engine while still retaining the original appearance. These changes and the final dyno testing of the 1500S engine will be covered in the next issue.