Rare Porsche shines at Concours d’LeMons, an auto show for clunkers

Aki Sugawara

If you’ve been to Concours d’Elegance or watched the live stream video, you’d know the event not only showcases museum-quality vintage cars, but also plays up its upper-crust exclusivity (it’s full of social elite who sound like Thurston Howell from Gilligan’s Island). But there’s a more plebeian car show held during the weekend, one where mere mortals can bring their run-down hooptie to be displayed. It’s called the Concours d’LeMons, which according to the official site, highlights the “oddball, mundane, and truly awful of the automotive world.”

As expected, there are some infamously terrible rides old and new, like the AMC Gremlin, Pontiac Aztek and even the East German Trabant, complete with an 18-hp motor that miraculously got to the show on its own. Since I was desensitized by a weekend full of McLaren MP4-12Cs, Ferraris and Lambos, I expected to drop by LeMons, snap a couple shots of forgettable kitschy cars and move on. But one car captivated me: a tattered 1958 Porsche 356A.

The Porsche actually first got our attention at the grassy parking area of Concorso Italiano the day before, which was spotted by Greg Anderson, our editorial director. Rust voraciously ate through the oxidized sheet metal, but you got the sense it wore down over the years because somebody loved driving it, and didn’t care to keep it coddled as a museum piece.

That hunch was confirmed at the LeMons show when I talked to the owner, Peter Prodis from Seaside, Calif. A local resident who never showed off his car in the 25 years of owning it, Prodis came out only after coaxing from his brother-in-law. A contractor by trade, he also owns a 1960 VW Crew Cab (also well worn) and a newer Toyota Tacoma truck, which is his daily driver.

The Porsche 356A drew a lot of attention from Porsche-enthusiasts, with a couple people offering to buy the car. Prodis purchased the car in the late '80s for $2,000, but wasn’t willing to let it go unless the buyer was offering “a lot” of money—much more than the market value estimated at around $50,000. Pristine examples go for over $120,000.

The 356’s rat-rod look wasn’t intentional, though Prodis helped it along. White, crisscross scratches came from when he and his brother repainted the car, and mistakenly used 300-grit sandpaper. Where the blue paint meets the rust, you can read its body history like counting the rings of a tree trunk: originally painted light blue, it was primered over, then painted yellow, then primered and painted blue again. Tennis-ball-sized rust holes in the cabin came from parking the car outside, and water leaking through the worn rubber seals on the windows (he now garages the car). Inside, the dash looked remarkably clean, and the panel-less doors seemed more purposefully spartan than red fabric door pulls on a Porsche 911 GT3.

His do-it-yourself mentality showed why he was hesitant to restore the Porsche. “I don’t want to hand off the car to someone I don’t know. I try to do the work by myself as much as possible,” Prodis said with a tinge of defensive sentimentality.

Colorful bodywork aside, the car was mechanically sound. “How well does it run? Let me show you,” he quipped as he eagerly hopped into the car and quickly turned over the vintage Porsche. The air-cooled four-cylinder instantly churned to life. “After replacing the electrical pulleys, it’s been very reliable, and starts every time.”

Although a near-mint Peel Trident (a 200-pound deathtrap that seats two) ultimately won the people’s choice award, Peter Prodis’ Porsche 356A won the award for the best German car, beating out an old E-class Mercedes and a pasty-yellow Volkswagen Bug.

The cars at Concours d’LeMons may have been scrappy, but as one auto journalist noted, they’re honest cars — not restored to better-than-new condition with fender gaps the width of a hair. And most importantly, it was a reminder of how a person didn’t need to be a multi-millionaire and have a stable of Lamborghinis to be a gearhead. After all, it’s easy to swoon over a pristine, $27.5 million Ferrari; but to care for cars the rest of the world hates? Now that’s love.