Driving Impressions: 1959 Porsche 356 Convertible D – The Happiest Car In The World; Or Is It The Driver?

10/10/20 3:30 AM Pasadena CA

I can’t believe I actually slept, today is one of those days where anticipation makes it almost impossible to sleep. All the best adventures start at ass o’clock in the morning, time to hit the road. Today should be an unforgettable day.

5:00 AM Bruce’s shop

Bruce Brown is the king of the LA Porsche scene, the man who invariably ends up welcoming most new enthusiasts with his quick-witted humor, and a mountain of automotive knowledge. I met Bruce at a Porsche show in Santa Monica back in the normal world, about a year ago, back then I wouldn’t have dreamed that today would happen.

“Yeah I am going to have you drive the Convertible D; it’s a 1959, made to replace the Speedster, essentially the same thing but with a somewhat taller windshield. It’s worth about two hundred and thirty thousand dollars.”

Holy shit Bruce! I thought you were going to have me drive the much less rare and valuable unrestored notchback, not that I am complaining! Not only is this Convertible D one of 1351 made, it is just one short windshield and a couple of badges away from being a Speedster. In other words, the most beautiful car I have ever driven.

Ever since Bruce told me I could drive one of his cars I found myself wondering, what does a 356 even drive like? After all, driving this delightful little jellybean is my first experience with a four-speed, carburetors, and drum brakes.

First impressions, the clutch is freakishly light, and pushing the pedal in feels like flipping a light switch. The buzzy 80 horsepower beetle based 1600 CC engine has plenty of torque to make starts easy but feels like a stressed-out hamster on the highway. The shifter knob looks like a tiny plastic mushroom mounted to a twig the Germans probably found it in a fairy tale forest. The shifter action is a little stiff this early in the morning, but it frees up as the car warms up, and I can feel the synchros doing their thing with every shift.

The convertible D is not just a car, it is a living thing, the driver must treat it carefully. The sun hasn’t risen yet, and the headlights work about as effectively as campfire lanterns. I’m losing track of Bruce, who I was supposed to be following to the show.

5:45 AM Oak Canyon Park, Cars in the Canyon.

Luckily, Bruce’s much faster race car is very loud, and very yellow, so it wasn’t hard to catch up.

“What took you so long? I thought I lost you.”

“Um, Bruce this car is worth more than my whole life.”

At the very least I got to see what this car can really do, and I am already in love. No time to fawn over it though, we didn’t drive all the way to a park in OC at ass o clock in the morning for fun, Cars in the Canyon is the last car show standing and Bruce and I are helping run it.

3:30 PM, Cars in the Canyon.

We are only about a thousand masks away from the normal world. Miraculously, Cars in the Canyon avoided the fate of other 2020 car shows because the hosts graciously provided masks and hand sanitizer for everyone. Just as importantly, Oak Canyon Park, the venue for Radwood So Cal 2019, is plenty big enough for everyone to keep their distance. Better still, all of the proceeds are going to the Orange County Food Bank at a time when their need for food has only gotten more urgent. It seems a lot of people were looking for a good time; we had excellent turnout today. Bruce says it’s time to get going, someone is hosting an after party, better still the roof is down.

Convertibles are wonderful and unique in their capacity to condense life down to its simplest elements. When the roof is down all there is is sun, wind, a steering wheel, a shifter and 80 spunky German horses for company. My god have I missed driving stick! And my god have I missed convertibles!

The 356 Convertible D is the most joyful car in the world; I feel about five years, and one pandemic younger behind this massive plastic steering wheel, and unlike the ten Corvettes, there is time to enjoy the ride. A 1959 Porsche 356 is slow, dangerous, and unsophisticated, and I love it; there is no rent to worry about behind this wheel, behind this wheel the American turmoil is on hold. I am not worried about who is going to be president anymore. In the Convertible D all that really matters beyond the wind and sun is the telepathically quick steering, and the pulsating brake pedal.

It should come as no surprise the Convertible D is a truly delightful handler, the kind of car that you have to drive like you mean it. Truthfully though, this car is about the way it makes you feel, and right now I feel better than I have in months. If everyone had a Convertible D, the world would be a much better place.

Bruce’s Shop, 7:30 PM.

I get back into the Mercedes, and in the course of one day, my two-ton luxury cruise feels like it has gotten way faster. How do I even sum this wonderful day up? A mere thank you seems insufficient. Bruce, thank you for introducing me to the happiest car I have ever driven. Bruce, thank you for helping me put 2020 on hold for a day. Bruce, can we do this again? Pretty please hahaha.