Gather 'round, folks, because it's time for yet another installment of Letters to Doug, Jalopnik's most mildly popular column, wherein you write me a letter with some sort of automotive question and I respond with a prolonged tirade that makes you wonder if I've been properly medicated.
Last week, I received 40 different e-mails from readers with some sort of automotive query, setting an all-time Letters to Doug record. Of course, our more intelligent readers will point out that this was my very first week, meaning it was also an all-new record low. Hopefully, things will look up in the future.
Anyway: if you want to participate in Letters to Doug, just send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Tweet me with your inquiry at @DougDeMuro. But remember, I can only respond to one letter per week, which means that you stand a very small chance of being selected. However: your chance is better than zero, unless of course you only use capital letters. As always, names will be changed to protect the innocent.
Today's letter comes to us from a man named Bret, in Seattle, Washington, who writes:
Love reading your work. Looking forward to seeing what your next purchase is.
I'd like to get your 2 cents.
I'm in love with the Porsche 356 Speedster. No way I can afford an original. However, Park Place Ltd is local car dealer and they do custom recreations. Their cars look amazing and are around $30k nicely optioned. I think you can order more of a base 356 for about $24k. To be able to drive around in such a cool ass looking classic would be amazing.
1. Am I stupid for even considering this?
2. Maintenance? It's basically a VW right? I would think parts and oil changes would be relatively inexpensive. No?
3. Obviously this would not be a DD, but could it?
4. Do you have any first hand knowledge of recreations like this? Any stuff to watch out for?
And the wife is already on board. This just means I'll be stuck driving my DD, Volvo S60, for a few more years.
I know its a shot in the dark to even get a response from you because you're sifting through so many "You should buy this awesome......." emails. But any thoughts or tips you could pass on would be greatly appreciated.
Bret in Seattle
For those of you who aren't aware of the Porsche 356 Speedster market, allow me to explain the current pricing situation. When I was a kid, you could buy a 356 Speedster for approximately the same price as a bag of oranges. In fact, I distinctly remember one occurrence, when I was four, and I went to the grocery store with my mom, and there was a Porsche 356 Speedster parked outside with a "For Sale" sign on it. My mom looked it over, and thought about it for a minute, and hemmed and hawed, but ultimately she said: "I'm sorry, Son, but we need to buy oranges this week."
Of course, things are much different now. Namely: the Porsche costs about the same as a nuclear arms race, while those oranges are probably stale and rotting.
For those of us who still love the Porsche 356 Speedster, however, there is still some hope: a few companies make very high-quality replicas based on the Volkswagen Beetle. Of course, they sell for a fraction of the price of a real Speedster, which means you can drive them around without worrying about smashing up a vehicle that has the same overall insurance valuation as downtown Cleveland.
Now, normally I believe that replicas are God's punishment to automotive enthusiasts for pillaging the world of fossil fuels. I really believe this. At some point, I believe that God looked down on us and found that we were wasting all this gasoline, driving race cars and V12-powered exotics, and he said to himself: These idiots are using up all the oil! I'll show THEM! I'll create a scissor door conversion for the Pontiac Fiero!!
But I feel a little differently about nice 356 Speedster replicas, because a) they're far more drivable and affordable than the real ones, and b) they're pretty well done. A primer-colored Fiero designed to look like a Countach, even though it uses 14-inch Pontiac alloy wheels? Not a chance. A really nice Shelby Cobra replica with a big, powerful engine? That's more like it.
So I'm on board with the 356 Speedster replica, Bret, but before you go out and sign the largest check ever written for a chopped up 1971 Volkswagen Beetle, I want to drive your attention to two issues you may not have considered.
Number one: Safety. The Speedster looks cool, and drives cool, and seems cool, and shouts "cool" from the rooftops. It practically oozes cool out of its 37-horsepower engine, which, I should note, is air-cooled. But you have to remember one thing about all this coolness: this car is a combination of one vehicle (the Porsche 356) designed in the 1940s, and another vehicle (the Volkswagen Beetle), designed in the 1930s. So you're driving around in a low-slung, World War II-era sports car in an era when several automakers, General Motors comes to mind, build SUVs so large that they have built-in Democrat detectors and liberal-crushing tires.
What I'm saying here, Bret, is that you probably don't want to drive this thing every single day, lest you wind up with your head permanently imprinted on the front bumper of a Nissan Armada. Keep the Volvo for commuting. Use the 356 for the weekends.
And speaking of the weekends, there's another thing you have to think about: even though Germany has the worst weather in the world, worse than Greenland, worse than those parts of Russia where it's so cold that wooly mammoths are perfectly preserved right down to the fur, this car does not have a roof. I mean, OK, it has some skimpy soft top that probably takes an entire afternoon to put on, at which point it shields 47% of the cabin from rain. But it doesn't have a real roof like, for example, the Kingdome.
I bring up the Kingdome, Bret, because you live in Seattle, home of 947 days a year of light mist. So trust me when I tell you that, for a daily driver, you want a roof. Not only that, you want a sturdy roof, a strong roof, a robust roof; the kind of roof manufactured by a Swedish car company known for producing excellent, competent daily drivers for people who have a far more exciting vehicle they can use on the weekends.
And so I say: keep the Volvo for daily driver duties, because it's the perfect car for exactly that. Buy the 356 Speedster replica for the weekends, because it's the most fun you'll ever have for twenty-six grand. And most importantly: invest in an absorbent towel. You'll need it.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.