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posted on May 31st, 2019

Big thrill, small package

In case you weren’t aware, replicas of popular vintage cars are a thing. With replicas, you get the classic looks of the original, but they’re typically easier to drive, maintain, and don’t come with the soul-crushing price tags that collectible sports cars often do. The Porsche 356 is one of the most commonly replicated cars — it’s a beautiful all-time classic, but original examples are old, rare, and can cost north of a quarter million dollars.

For vintage cool at a reasonable cost, a replica Porsche 356 is a great way to go. It’s got the look and feel of the original (close, anyway), and to anyone but purist Porsche collectors, it’s special and undeniably cool. Turo host Adrien S. owns one of these cars, a particularly dreamy 1957 Porsche 356A Speedster that is our car of the month for May 2019.

The Bitcoin car

As Adrien tells it, one day he was with his girlfriend when a Porsche 356 Speedster drove by. She remarked on how cool it looked, and he thought, “why don’t I find one on Turo and book it for a day as a present?” So he did just that. “We had a blast in LA — it was just so much fun to drive and we got so many looks,” he says. That experience inspired an idea: to buy his own Speedster replica (“Speedster” is the open-top version) and cover its maintenance costs by sharing it on Turo.

Adrien is one of those people who climbed aboard the Bitcoin train early on. He had “several” Bitcoins back in 2012, and managed to sell them off right as the Bitcoin craze was peaking. So he had some money laying around, and nice 356 replicas were within his budget. “I call it my Bitcoin car,” he says. “I’ve been trying to get a vanity license plate that says that.”

As is common for Speedster replicas, this car consists of a fiberglass body fitted onto a VW Beetle frame (the 356 was designed by many of the same people who created the Beetle, and they share many of the same parts). The body was in great shape when Adrien bought the car just over a year ago. Its glossy black paint is well cared for, accentuating the low-slung, swoopy shape that’s unmistakably Porsche. Add in the short, raked windshield, leather hood straps, and old-school badges, and you’ve got a classy machine that’s sure to catch eyes everywhere.

Adrien, a car guy who’s done more than his fair share of wrenching, rebuilt the 1.6L engine himself. With added dual carburetors and a couple small tweaks, the little air-cooled engine hums right along now, complete with a small power boost over its original output. “I would guess it does anywhere between 70 and 90 horsepower. So there’s still not much in the power department.”

By modern standards, the performance is decidedly un-sporty, according to Adrien. It has the underpinnings and tiny engine from an old Beetle, and positively no driving assists to speak of. But it does have upgraded front disc brakes. And thanks to its fiberglass body and economy of dimension, it weighs under 2,000 pounds. So feedback is amplified and the driving experience is satisfying — steering is direct, the wind is in your hair, and visibility is 100 percent.

Plus, it’s a great place to sit. The custom Bentley brown leather diamond-stitched seats sit over a brand-new carpet. People notice it. “It’s the biggest eye-catching car I’ve ever experienced,” says Adrien. “Definitely beyond any Lambos and Ferraris.”

Replicas have a reputation for being unreliable, with questionable construction and cheap looks. But this one is a quality build, and Adrien knows how to take care of it himself. His other car? A Tesla Model 3. “It’s fun. I have what I consider to be the pinnacles of both digital and analog.”

Extreme purists may turn up their noses at such a replica, claiming it’s a fraud, a hollow imposter wearing a counterfeit Rolex and dubious Yeezy Boosts. But driving one is freeing — you have none of the worries and costs of maintaining a collectible classic (plus, Bluetooth!). If it’s done right, it has all the presence and style of the real thing. And if it puts a smile on your face, who cares?

Steven is an avid car guy and content specialist at Turo. Between Golden State Warriors games he can be found getting lost somewhere in California.