Fuel Flashback | Australian Porsche 356 Outlaw Build
This article first appeared in Fuel Magazine issue 05.
Words Marc Banks & Luke Ray // Photography Luke Ray
LR: This article that we put out in Fuel 05 way, way back in 2010 is one that’s always stuck in my memory banks. Great looking Porsche 356s always get the juices flowing and the crowds interested and Marc Banks’ outlaw seemed to hit the spot with our audience as well as me back then. The few images that we did let out online seem to pop up all over the place as they get shared around the web a fair bit, even still. As it’s been such a long time and the article was so popular, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and get this one out online in full. Don’t say I don’t give you nuffin’...
Bear in mind that for some time now this car has been under the ownership of someone else (Aidan — @saintac72), but he’s a buddy of Marc’s, so the car is still around Melbourne and gets seen out and about a fair bit. So, let me take you back to a point in time when Marc had recently finished the car. Marc went into intricate detail with us about how the project came about and what he went through to get it looking like this.
Over to you, Marc…
MB: The relationship started when I spied this rusty, abused, but complete 1957 Porsche 356 coupe, I bought the car without any real direction or thought of its possible restoration. It was a financial thing, it was complete and, best of all, cheap.
The car sat for several years in the front yard of our previous residence in Camberwell. Renovations of a house had meant there was no time for the old 356 which was an agreement between myself and my partner Lahlee. That to this day is still a bone of contention as the car was stripped and a restoration had begun prior to the house being finished. I needed an outlet from the house project, so I quietly started stripping the car in the garage.. until I was caught!
Once the new project was underway, the plan was simple; Take what I thought was the best shaped sports car I had ever seen and do as little as possible to make it look different. To most people, my ‘57 356 coupe looks to have had major body modifications and suspension changes to have it look the way it does. In truth very little was modified to get the look we were after, it just took time and patience. In my mind it started as a simple bumper less A model coupe. That said, removing the bumpers is one of the major modifications the car has had done to it, and one that sets it apart visually from most other 356’s. Of course, there are some other subtle modifications including the removal of the rear pop out windows, but basically the body remains unchanged in shape and form from the original that rolled out of the factory over 50 years ago, and that was the idea all along. It is a great compliment when some people see the car for the first time (not necessarily car people) and ask if it is a new car or an old one.
Creating a simple clean outlaw can go horribly wrong for some people. Taking a design that is to this day a beautiful piece of art and modifying it can be a tricky business. Many people have tried both here and overseas and have got it horribly wrong. In this case, it all went so right. Even though throughout the project we changed our minds on the engine, the wheels, the ride height and colour so many times, the car still turned out exactly how we envisaged it from the outset.
To understand how far to go is the secret to getting a modified car to look good. Not only when it is built, but 6 years down the track as well. It is quite an achievement to create something that has not dated compared to some of its counterparts both here and overseas. Subtle changes were all that was required when you start with such a beautiful shaped car in the first place. Cars are all about scale and perspective, I love some modern cars, be it Mercedes, be it Hyundai. If the balance and scale of the car is there, then you have won the battle.
Trying to stay true to the original Ferdinand Porsche designed shape whilst endeavouring to give a car that something special is balancing act. Too much and it destroys the car's lines. Not enough and you wonder why you bothered in the first place. With that in mind, I set out to achieve what may have been designed if Porsche was to offer an outlaw back in ‘57. With subtle body modifications so as to not alienate the suits but with enough change to set it apart from the regular - that is what has been achieved. The simple lines of this 57 coupe have been pampered into shape starting with a beaten and battered shell found in Adelaide 10 years ago. When she arrived it was as expected when you purchase car from blurry images shot in a dark warehouse, you always assume the worst and that is basically what I got. Having said that, the car purchase was made with the intention of creating a street driving car, not thought as yet to how far the project would go.
Initially the original engine was rebuilt, as the intention was to place it back into the car. All the tin ware was powder coated and reassembled but the engine, whilst correct for the car, only produced around 90 horsepower. Speed was never the issue with this project from the outset. It was more about the aesthetics, about what would fit with the image of the car. That philosophy was ingrained in the build, and as many options for multiple parts were considered. Three different sets of seats were trimmed and fitted into the cabin, four sets of wheels were built, powder coated and wrapped in brand new rubber which I still have piled up at a workshop in the Melbourne suburbs.
Even the colour that now wraps the shell was an issue that saw several changes take place. Initially the car was to be Vitamin C orange. That of the 70's Charger. The car was actually coated in an acrylic orange over the undercoat to take a look at what the colour did for the body. We let it sit there for a few weeks, looking at it from all angles, offering up wheels and chrome components to it to try to get a feel for what the colour had to offer. After several weeks, the orange was decided against, stripped back and a coat of acrylic black covered the car. The same process took place and whilst it had a particularly tough look, some of the subtle body mods became lost against the black paint. My partner Lahlee suggested a walk though some car yards to see how various colours work on different panels of production cars, and it was there that we found the colour that now adorns the most talked about outlaw in Australia. It is a standard GM Holden colour, Martini Mica Grey (although the car stands more dirty green in any light). It satisfied two very big issues, one of colour on the car and the second being an agreement of the direction of the car. Green being Lahlee’s favourite colour made the remaining restoration process a little easier as there was a common interest in the outcome.
With the color selected, PPG mixed up the final 2pac skin that would adorn the cars exterior. Sprayed on, the car finally came alive with its new livery. The contrast between the shadows and light bouncing off the Martini Mica was perfect. It also allowed for a very simple, clean rebuild using a very limited colour palette. The theme was set. We decided there and then to use two colours, black to accompany the new green. With that theme in mind, we went about removing as much exterior chrome as we could without powder coating anything that had to be chrome like the window frames. We wanted to build a ‘50’s 356 hot rod, not a amalgamation of a 911 and 356 with blackened window frames, modern radio aerials and creature comforts and as such.
The interior of the car required several modifications, but the dash was kept completely standard. We sourced brand new repro gauges from The States, although we did have the original set fully restored but a decision was made to keep them 6 volt for another, more original, project down the track. The steering wheel had to be a Moto Lita rivet rim wooden wheel with a custom hand tooled alloy boss made to suit. The headliner was a little difficult to work out so it was left in the hands of my trusted trimmer Brent and his team at Car Trims in Camberwell, Melbourne. Brent designed and fabricated the headlining to accommodate the air ducts that track air into the engine bay via a custom built 4 into 2 alloy breather box mounted on the inside fire wall that feeds the vertical mounted oil cooler in the engine bay.
Brent’s team also fully trimmed the interior in black leather which still looks amazing 6 years down the track. It was originally thought that a set of speedster seats would be fitted to the car so I had them trimmed in the black leather, only to change them soon after in favour of the genuine Porsche 968 Clubsport seats that are now fitted. The shells of these have been painted to match the exterior and once again trimmed in black leather in keeping with the green and black theme that was decided on. The seats were a must have and although, to be quite honest, I do prefer low back seats in old cars. The fact that we removed of the pop-out rear side glass actually helped these bigger seats not appear too bulky in the cabin which more often than not, modern racing seats can do. I wanted some comfort whilst driving the car, and if you ever get to take this little car out on the road, you will be thankful for a small amount of comfort, as there is not much else to calm the senses inside this little green missile.
Original factory German square weave carpets were installed and all original dash knobs and switches were replaced or restored. I wanted an original looking dash, and I also wanted to keep the car as original looking both internally and externally as possible
The cars ride height is one thing that you notice about it immediately you approach it. “Bloody low!” is how it is mostly described, and that is exactly how it is. Admittedly, it is close to the point of being almost un-drivable over any undulating surfaces, but it was height I liked the look of and I have learnt how to drive it that accordingly. A range of components help the car achieve its stance and they are all quite simple; The front end simply uses it’s selector drops that were a standard feature on the 356. They are set to their lowest point, and the addition of 2.5 inch drop spindles ensures it cuts the weeds nicely. No other modifications have been made to the front end suspension. So, with a simple pair of spindles and using what Porsche offered as standard in 1957, I got what I wanted with the front suspension. The rear once again uses its standard setup, but simply lowered on its splines. There has been much speculation over the rear end suspension configuration on this car but, once again, nothing out of the ordinary. Your standard 356 will drop to this height if that is your desire. This car drives like a go kart, but is a tough, loud and totally impractical car to get around in and I love it!
The engine that now drives the car is a Bergmann built 2.4 litre that was bought out of The States as a crate motor and fitted my 356 with surprising ease. The exhaust was crafted from stainless steel and custom built here in Melbourne, and is responsible for generating quite an amazing sound (I can vouch for that! – ed). The original engine still sits on a shelf and one day may find its way back into the car but the decision to run with a VW power plant was not a financial one, but more one of aesthetics. I really liked the 911 shroud and the version offered for a 356 motor 6 years ago was by no means a bolt on setup. I admit to being fond of the sound and performance of the VW transplant, but for some the original engine should have been retained. If I were building this car to sell, maybe other options would have been considered but I never set out to sell this car. The original lump has been offered up several times, but the time just hasn’t been right as yet to make the transplant.
The concept of a factory stock looking engine was taken to the extreme with many items being custom fabricated to ensure that when you see this engine, it looks like a factory fitted item. No sound deadening was used in the car at all so the noise from the motor inside is deafening to the point that that Lahlee travels wearing noise cancellation headphones when travelling in the car! I did not see the point in having a beautiful sounding engine, and then trying to disguise it.
Some day, a new owner will come along. Someone who shares my admiration for the car as a piece of art and a fine driving machine. Until that day comes, I shall continue to get a buzz out of it every time I see it and start that engine. It is an amazing, attention grabbing car that will give a huge amount of satisfaction to whoever decides to take it on. But if you’re someone who wants to sneak around quietly, this definitely ain't the car for you.