The first turn of the key and the 52-year-old Porsche idled like a food processor on pulse.
"Holy smokes, 52 years old and this may be the most reliable car I've ever owned," Tony Carreira said. He'd installed the fully-charged battery, pumped the accelerator several times and anticipated his reward.
It's his rite of spring, the first startup, a moment common across the country as old cars emerge from winter storage – generally preceding dandelions on the lawn by a month to six weeks.
There are at least 60,000 such vehicles in Ontario, 150,000 nationally, says Geoff Coy of Lant Insurance Brokers in Stouffville, Ont., a specialist firm. "After this long winter, hobbyists are itching to get their vehicles on the road," Coy said. "Some are out now; some will wait for the sand and salt to be cleared from the roads."
Carreira was among those intending to wait. But with the streets in his Mississauga neighbourhood desert-dry a couple weeks back and the car having started so eagerly and idling so smoothly, Carreira found himself moving the gearshift far left and forward, seeking reverse. The 356B eased off the concrete garage floor and on to the street for the first time since October.
ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
Carreira loves the look. To his eyes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis are too sleek, premium cars a bunch of wedges. The Porsche's curves upon curves: art, especially in champagne yellow, not the original colour but perfect.
People do ask if it's some kind of Volkswagen. "I get that, not knowing what it is. I grew up thinking the 911 was the Porsche brand – and then in 2000 my cousin said he had something to show me in his garage and it was a green 1965 356C. I said, 'What is that?' "
He forgets how much he paid for it. Whatever; his cousin didn't want it any more. Rusty as it was, Carreira's eyes feasted on its silhouette and he came to realize that the 356 roofline is perpetuated in every 911 to this day. "I had thought all along the 911 was the look – but the 356 was the root of the look."
Porsche manufactured nearly 78,000 356s between 1949 and 1965, compared to more than 830,000 911s and counting. A 1959 356 Carrera Speedster sold at auction last summer for $1,450,000, reflecting the rarity of its four-cam engine (only 1,350 four-cams were made for street 356s).
The 1962 Carrera 356B we're driving – "some day I'm going to get a Porsche with the correct spelling," he joked – was appraised at $35,000 in 2007. Asking prices have doubled since then. Its value to Carreira transcends dollars.
Mark Kellett, a long-time friend, surprised Carreira with this Porsche. Conversation between Carreira and Kellett often concerned cars, Kellett enthusing over Corvettes and muscle cars, Carreira you already know.
So Kellett knew when Carreira decided against restoring his rusty green 356C, and began considering buying a 356 in better shape. Ten years ago this November, Kellett surprised him with the end to his search, the 356B sourced out of Connecticut.
Love the look as he does, nothing tops driving. In a world of garage queens – classic cars kept hermetically sealed to preserve their perfection – Tony Carreira is an anarchist.
ON THE ROAD
He knows corners not five minutes from his house where full throttle in second gear causes the 356 to crouch at the rear before pouncing on the exit and the road ahead. The robust thrum of the engine behind us, the atmospheric scent characteristic of all air-cooled Porsches through 1999 – a hint of gasoline, a soupçon of oil – draw smiles on both our faces.
The beach ball-sized black plastic steering wheel, the four-speed gear shift with effortless throws so long one need take care to not impact the passenger's knee when reaching for third, the unassisted drum brakes requiring muscle if they're to do their work, mark the car as being from another era. They're Carreira's present-day perfection.
His wife, Ola, sometimes tells him he should keep his odoriferous Porsche clothes in a separate closet. Just kidding, he's pretty sure. He is not a worrier. If something serious ever were to go awry, an independent Porsche service centre is 15 minutes away.
Some 356 owners upgrade to 12-volt electrical systems. The AM radio cries out for replacement, but no. "I don't want to change anything in this car," Carreira said. "I want it just the way it is."
Dan Proudfoot begins covering the classics beat with this story.
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