It’s not everyday that someone tells you about a Porsche 356 Speedster languishing in a chicken coop. In fact, Allen “AJ” Johnson’s Porsche may be the only Speedster in existence that was ever saved from such an ignominious fate. Whatever the case, back in 1984, when AJ heard about the car from a friend, he didn’t waste any time in tracking the car down to take a look at it. Of course, this was back when old 356s were just that- old Porsches. While they were worth some money, they had not reached the silly prices that vintage Porsches, in particular 356 Speedsters, have reached in today’s crazy collector car market.
When AJ arrived at said chicken coop, his friend was proven right. Parked amidst a crowd of happily clucking chickens was a genuine 1957 Porsche Speedster, albeit a little beat down and forlorn. The low-slung sports car didn’t have all of its original bodywork, having had its front and rear clips replaced at some point from later and more bulbous and upright 356 models. “I don’t know if it was upgraded or crashed and rebuilt with later parts,” says AJ. “The owner had bought the car a few years earlier and had pushed it into the hen house. He had planned on restoring it. He had even riveted roof flashing to the rusted floor boards.”
At the time, AJ was relatively new to Porsches, having just recently begun racing a 914/6. Over the course of owning the Speedster though, he would end up opening a full time Porsche shop in Grand Junction, CO, and works on the German cars to this day.
Once the forlorn German machine was dragged out of the chicken coop and towed to AJ’s shop, he took stock of what he had gotten himself into. “It needed a major restoration,” he admits. The first step was stripping it down and bolting the bare body to as rotisserie. As it would turn out, the 356 would end up sitting on the rotisserie for 21 years. It wasn’t until 2005 that AJ finally decided to complete the restoration on the ex-chicken coop Porsche. “It had really turned into a running joke,” he says. “All of my friends said they were going to bury me in the Speedster.” His busy Grand Junction, CO autoshop was the main obstacle that prevented him from working on the car. Add in a busy family life and there just hadn’t been enough time in the day.
AJ briefly considered returning the car to its original stock spec, but quickly shelved that idea in favor of building a one-off, Outlaw-style 356. For those unfamiliar, an Outlaw 356 is a style popularized in large part by Gary Emory, who started modifying vintage Porsche decades ago with larger motors, wide wheels and custom bodywork.
While he did a little work on the car over the years, it wasn’t until 2005 that he began working on the project with an eye to actually getting it done. Once the 356’s rusty floor pans, chassis longitudinals and door strikers were replaced with new sheetmetal, AJ turned his attention to the car’s suspension. Instead of using 911 parts- which are commonly used on hot-rodded 356s- he relied on parts from the front-engine 944.
“I cut the 356 torque tube out and then laid the 944 torque tube in place,” he says. “I was amazed that the bolts for the caps were in almost the exact same position.” Afrt welding the torque tube in place, QA-1 coilovers using 120-lb springs were combined with the stock 944 torsion bars. The rest of the suspension was also pilfered from a 944, including the axles, CV joints and aluminum trailing arms. Up front, the 356’s spindles were decambered to eliminate the positive camber that stock 356 front suspensions suffer from. The spindles have also been modified to use the five-lug hubs from a 911. Stock 944 calipers were installed along with slotted 944 discs. Brakes consist of ventilated 911 rotors and 944 calipers at the front, while the rear uses 944 calipers and rotors.
Since the 356’s track was now wider than it was originally, AJ next turned his attention to widening the 356’s bodywork. “I made some measurements and figured out that the front flares from a 930 would widen the rear enough,” says AJ. With the steel flares welded on, a set of proper wheels was sourced. In this case that meant custom offset wheels consisting of 16-inch Fuchs centers bolted to wider BBS barrels. The final measurements are 16x8 at the front and 16x9 at the rear, with 205/50-16 front and 225/45-16 Yokohama AVS ES100 tires.
The bodywork on the 356 is all steel with the exception of the front hood, which is a carbon fiber component made by Darryl Zipper of Zipper Motors. During reassembly the chrome bumpers were cleaned up by removing the over-riders. What trim couldn’t be reused was replated. At the suggestion of AJ’s wife Debra, the 356 was painted a striking Bali Blue by Kustom Coach Works. Complementing the blue paint is a Rust-colored cloth top from Autos International.
The interior of the 356 is one of the most beautiful aspects of the build. A set of vintage Recaro seats have been recovered in brown, glove-like leather and the floors covered with gray, square-weave German carpet. “The wood wheel is from a ’66 911,” says AJ. “I polished the metal band and then machined the wheel to fit on the 356 hub.” The horn button is from a 356, which lends it an OEM look. The gauges were rebuilt by North Hollywood Speedometer and in order to monitor the car’s vital signs, a quad gauge was added to the mix and the tachometer reconfigured to electronic spec.
Powering AJ’s wide-body 356 is a hot-rodded, 2366-cc Type IV motor. A counter-balanced, billet crankshaft from Scat actuates 5.5-inch billet “long” rods from Pauter. J/E pistons provide a compression ratio of 9.2:1 and all of the engine components were coated with the appropriate heat dissipating finishes. .250 steel deck plates were bolted between the case and the cylinders to strengthen the motor.
Pauter Super Pro heads were bolted to the bottom end and use Webcam camshafts with straight cut steel gears. There are also 1.4:1 ratio rocker arms, chromemoly pushrods and 50 mm intake and 40 mm exhaust valves. Induction is handled by 50-mm TWM throttle bodies, while fuel is delivered by an Electromotive TEC-3 electronic fuel injection system.
The exhaust consists of 1 ¾-inch headers and a Magnaflow muffer. A modified 911 fan shroud sits atop the engine, ensuring that it stays cool. AJ also machined a set of spacers for the engine lid so that there is a slight gap that allows more air into the engine bay. Mounted in the left front fender of the 356 is a Fluidyne remote oil cooler. According to Johnson, the engine pumps out around 150 rear-wheel-horsepower at 6,500-rpm and 140 ft/lbs of torque.
Shifting the new found power is a 901 5-speed sourced from a ’67 911 that uses a stock clutch and has been rebuilt with close ratio gears (A, F, J, O, S) to maximize acceleration. The 901’s stub shafts were machined so they could be bolted to the 944 axles. But while the transmission and even the motor itself are pretty standard fare for a modified vintage Porsche, the way the package is bolted to the car is not. “This is actually one of the more unique things about it,” says AJ. The gearbox is bolted to the chassis with 911 Club Sport mounts. There is also a “dog bone” mount from a Corvette LS-1. A custom cross-bar was fabricated to mount the engine to the chassis, which is done with two more 911 Club Sport mounts. “The engine became a structural part of the car,” says AJ. “I thought I’d get a lot of vibration, but it turned out fine.” On the driver’s side of the equation is a modified B&M billet shifter that was originally designed for use in a Mustang. For utilization with the 901 gearbox, AJ machines the shifter to work with the Porsche shifter cup.
Nearly 27 years after dragging a destitute Porsche out of a chicken coop, AJ has one impressive creation. All that’s left to do now is drive it. And fortunately this is one owner who places a lot of importance on that aspect of car ownership. “It really drives great,” he says. “There is a certain eloquence in the way it goes down the road.” The only thing that’s missing on my drive is balmy weather that would allow us to drop the top. As it is, my visit to Grand Junction is in the winter, so we’re tucked into the comfy Recaros with the Speedster’s low slung top in the up position.
The Type IV tucked in the tail sounds great, its clattery, chuff-chuff VW Bug soundtrack at lower RPMs transforming into a smooth growl when the stiffly sprung gas pedal is firmly pressed. Combine the power and plentiful torque with the lack of weight and the Speedster provides thrilling performance leagues beyond the laconic experience of a standard model. AJ’s custom B&M shifter is a terrific addition, allowing quick, precise shifts through the 901 transmission as we run the car up and down through the gears.
The 356’s large contact patch provided by the custom wheels and far larger tires removes a good portion of the incredibly delicate and brail like feedback of a stock Speedster. When combined with the wider stance though, that feedback is replaced by a far more planted, confidence inspiring feel along with a vast increase in grip. One thing that is still present is the loose feeling that a stock Speedster’s steering displays when the wheel is straight ahead or turned just a bit away from center. Once the car is committed to a turn though, the steering tightens up reassuringly, the car cornering with negligible body roll. Overall, the combination of power, handling and braking add up to a 356 that feels like it wants to be driven. From chicken coop to open road, this 356 is one of the coolest “saves” we’ve come across.