By Bill Stinner-Trimble
Pilgrimage – it’s the best word I’ve found to describe my trip from Houston to Mansfield, Texas to see my dad’s restored 1960 Porsche 356B. The car’s been gone since 1966; my dad, since 1968. All my life, that red 356 has served as an icon to me – a window into my father’s life. He died at age 44. By then, he had owned several cars I wish I still had: a ’54 Studebaker, a ’58 MGA Coupe, a Mercedes in there somewhere, the ’60 356, and a 1967 Porsche 912.
He and my mom used to participate in sports car rallies. Mom was always the navigator. I don’t know what got my dad into Porsches – I’ve assumed it was a car to which he was exposed through their rally activity. He only owned that MGA for two years before trading it in on the 356. He must have been really eager to own a Porsche!
There weren’t many Porsche owners in the USA in 1960, so my dad must have enjoyed the attention garnered by this unique automobile. The original sales receipt for the 356 shows that he received $2200 in trade-in value for the 2-year old MG. Purchase price on the 356, brand new? $4343.50, all in. He took a note out on the car for $75 per month.
My trip to see my dad’s 356 was conveniently on the way to my company’s March meeting in Fort Worth. As luck would have it, the current owners live just a quarter of a mile out of my way. It was a long four hour drive in my new-to-me 2007 997.1 C2. All the way there, I lived in my imagination. What would it look like? How would I feel? I didn’t listen to the radio/music at all. Just me, my thoughts, and my new car. I was still getting used to the idea that I, myself, owned a Porsche; a lifelong dream realized.
The former owner of my cobalt blue 911 said I’d get used to it after a couple of weeks – he was wrong. Today, as I write this down more than six months after my purchase, I get a thrill each and every time I drive my Porsche. Each time I park it, I glance back. Or stare. Every time I wash it, I marvel at the engineering, the lines, and the storied legacy of my car.
As I turned onto the street where my dad’s car lived, I slowed and then stopped at a distance. I could see up ahead that there was a car on the driveway with a cover on it. The silhouette was unmistakable: the 356 was parked right out there on the drive. I pulled up, stopped and got out to walk around the car.
When I rang the bell, Barry & Gaile greeted me like a long lost relative, which in the automotive sense, I was. They invited me in – it was difficult to just leave the little red 356 out there, still unseen by me.
We visited – they were eager to show me the owner’s notebooks they had lovingly created over the years: pictures of the car when they re-acquired it from Gaile’s uncle, photos of the extensive restoration, which Barry performed (with help) over the course of nine years. The car was in pretty sorry shape when they got it: it had been moved from Texas to Missouri, where it sat in a barn (really!) for about 10 years.
At some point, somebody had dyed the original dove grey seats black. And put orange & red shag carpet in front! They told me the story of Ruby, as they called the car. Barry was driving by in his Camaro during the mid-1970s and saw Gaile in the driveway, washing that red 356 in her shorts. Both looked so good, he just had to stop! One thing led to another, and they got married – their introduction facilitated in part by my dad’s 356!
After about half an hour of show-and-tell, I finally asked if I could see the car – I was dying with anticipation! Barry laughed and said he was just waiting to see how long it would take me to mention it. We walked out front; I had the presence of mind to take a video as he unwrapped the car slowly and carefully.
And there she was. I couldn’t breathe. I hadn’t seen this car in over 50 years; I hadn’t seen my dad in 50 years either. It felt like I was in somebody else’s dream, someone else’s body. As I slowly walked around the car, Barry & Gaile just backed off and let me meet the car on my own.
The lines of the 356 so clearly spoke to the legacy of the 911 – the long nose, the rear engine, the slope in back. That iconic shape that, for many, defines what a sports car is. The restoration of Ruby was clearly done with love and care. The paint had been stripped to the bare metal before repainting the car its original red. The seats were returned to the correct, original dove grey. The shag carpet was replaced with grey/black; again, original.
They’d been fortunate to find a replacement hardtop in the original cream color. All the chrome has been replaced or restored. She looked brand new! The dash looked so austere and unfamiliar to me – remember, I hadn’t seen the inside of a 356 since I was a kid, and even then, I was only looking at it with a child’s eyes.
As I sat in the driver’s seat, I imagined my dad the first time he sat in the car. What had he thought? Was he as excited and nervous as I was?
Barry asked if I’d like to start it up. It took a few tries, but she finally turned over – such a different sound than my 2007 flat six. But just as lovely. The idle was so low, I was afraid it would stall.
After getting out, I said I’d like to take some photos of both cars together. We drove down to a little park at the end of their street. I pulled up next to my dad’s car, still feeling as if I was dreaming.
I got some great photos of both Porches together – front, side, rear. And then Barry suggested that he take a shot with me touching both cars – one hand on my dad’s, one hand on mine. That was it. The money shot. The photo I keep returning to time and again. Me, bridging the distance between time and space to my father, courtesy of a couple of special, timeless automobiles.
Gaile offered to take me for a ride in Ruby! She was pretty cantankerous – the car, not the woman – difficult to shift smoothly, loose transmission. But she rode like a dream…. We went for a few miles around their town. I was mostly silent, just taking in the experience; riding in my dad’s car.
When we returned, they offered to take me to lunch before I had to get to my meeting in Fort Worth. We had such a nice time talking cars, getting to know each other, learning more about the history of them and their 356. I’ll never forget their generosity.
It’s funny: when you buy a Porsche, you become a member of a tribe. I was not prepared for that. It’s like this big, exclusive club that welcomes any new member with open arms, regardless of race, religion, income, etc. It reminds me of when my wife and I had our first child. Nothing can really prepare you for it; you can’t really understand it until it happens to you. The same thing with getting my Porsche. Granted, it’s a lot less significant than becoming a father, but when you throw in the Legacy factor of my own father, it does have some parallels.
As I pulled out of Mansfield in my own Porsche, I thought, “Wait – is it over already? Did I really just get to do that?” I was in awe, in thrall to the family and automotive history I had just bridged. And once again, I imagined my father’s voice, saying “Bill, I’ve had this arranged for you for so many years – what took you so long!?” And my response is just gratitude. Overwhelming gratitude. For the life and legacy of my father. For the connection to my past. For the thrill of a fast car. And for the grace to have experienced this extraordinary encounter.
Legacy – A Porsche Story, Part 2
Copyright 2018, Bill Stinner-Trimble. All Rights Reserved.
First published September 1, 2018