No, I didn’t buy the cheapest Porsche Speedster in the USA — which would cost over $200,000. I actually rented this car from an exotic rental company in San Diego for only $200 a day. Of course, nobody would be crazy enough to rent out an iconic Porsche for this cheap — especially to me. So obviously, this Porsche is a fake — but it really doesn’t matter.
Classic Porsche values having gotten crazy enough that most people can’t afford a vintage Speedster. Even if you could, the price is tough to justify. With $200,000, you could waltz right into a Porsche dealer, drive off with a new Turbo S cabriolet, and have things like airbags and 580 horsepower. I certainly wouldn’t pay $200,000 for a 75 hp death-trap with no air conditioning — but if I was offered the same classic styling and driving experience for under $40,000, I’d be slightly tempted.
This is where aftermarket (kit car) companies have thrived for decades, offering 356 body kits on a modified air-cooled Volkswagen Beetle chassis. The quality of the finished product varies, but my rental in particular is so good that it’d be tough to differentiate it from a genuine Speedster. Of course, hardcore Porsche purists would tap on the body and cringe at the unsatisfying noise of fiberglass, but rust will never be a concern. The modified air-cooled Volkswagen engine is also dirt cheap to maintain, and offers the exact same (or more) hp.
Now, I’ll probably never have the opportunity to drive a real 356 Speedster, but I did own a 1966 Porsche 912 before prices went insane. It had a similar 4-cylinder power plant to the 356, and I owned a 1963 Beetle years back as well. Porsche enthusiasts hate Volkswagen comparisons, but a lightly modified Beetle does deliver a similar driving experience, so using the Beetle chassis for a Porsche body actually works. The car feels very light and nimble, and you never find yourself thinking the 80 hp isn’t enough. My rental even has aftermarket ice cold air-conditioning — something my real 1985 Porsche 911 struggles to produce — but I certainly wouldn’t trade my fake Speedster rental for it.
The first major let down of the faux-speedster is the noise, which sounds like a rattly old dune buggy. One of the main charms of an old air-cooled Porsche is the intoxicating, unique exhaust note — something a VW engine can never deliver. The Volkswagen transmission isn’t terrible, but certainly doesn’t have the quality feel of an old Porsche gearbox. This Speedster body would be perfect if I lived in San Diego full-time, where it’s always 70 degrees and sunny — but with the weather extremes in Kansas, I would be uncomfortable driving this car for 300 days out of the year. Since my gangly body puts my head well above the roofline, with the soft top up, it becomes more like a toupee with my head pushing up the canvas — resulting in dangerously poor visibility.
Still, this modded Beetle delivers plenty of charm, and I don’t think there’s another car in the world for under $40,000 that garners this much attention. Every time I’ve parked, tourists have swarmed the car for photographs, like it’s some exotic Lamborghini. The valet at my hotel also appears to be fooled, as it’s gotten front row parking for the entire stay. Maybe I should tell him it’s a fake and costs less than a fully loaded Accord, but I like the parking stall. One thing’s for sure, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to stomach the rental counter Kia ever again.
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