Michael Copperthite comes from a long line of pie makers. His ancestors founded the Connecticut-Copperthite Pie Baking Company in Washington D.C. on Thanksgiving Day 1885 with nothing more than a horse, a wagon, and $3.50.
By 1897, Henry Copperthite Sr. was a millionaire with hundreds of delivery wagons, one of which now resides in the Smithsonian Museum of American History. By 1912 the company was baking as many as 50,000 pies per day.
The family patriarch also pioneered a racetrack in Burke, VA, which was visited by President McKinley and the Wright Brothers’ airplane. “Henry, Sr. died in 1925 of exhaustion, not old age,” his great-great grandson Michael reports. And in 1959, when Michael was three years old, the family sold the pie company to Ward Baking Co., now part of Hostess Brands, LLC.
Since then, Michael has resurrected the Copperthite legacy and provided the Georgetown, Washington D.C. community with a new source of original pies born of fresh ingredients – along the lines of Paul Newman’s business model. He’s also resurrected a 1953 Porsche 356 that would look just right circling his ancestor’s Virginia racetrack.
The Restoration Recipe
Michael’s goal with his 356 is refreshingly unique. He restored a remarkable racecar that could have passed inspection back in the day right down to the tires. Of course it more-than passed inspection this fall at Rennsport Reunion V, because it happened to be one of the least modified examples on the Gmünd Cup grid.
The reality is, very few Pre-A 356 historic racecars run today with original stock motor specs and tire widths. When Michael takes to the track in his Porsche, he’s using all 55 horsepower from the 1500 Super motor and every bit of traction available from the skinny vintage tires.
“It’s not important that I win, it’s the principle for me, to honor what these cars were actually capable of, and to drive them to the limits of adhesion,” he states.
Michael found 356 #50064 on eBay. It looked a mess, but something about the poorly painted Pre-A coupe appealed to him. It was 95% complete, had seatbelts out of a P-51 Mustang fighter, and a rally clock out of a B-24 Liberator bomber. When the car arrived, Michael started clearing paint to see what was underneath. With the help of Cam Ingram, he found the original color of Fashion Grey hiding under red and blue paint. A small patch of blue corduroy determined the interior.
The Car Has Racing Roots
Further investigation revealed that the original owner was Paul van Antwerpen, an avid racer who was Race Chairman of the 1955 Wisconsin Grand Prix. It seemed van Antwerpen was a man of some influence. He was a Lieutenant Commander in the Navy and attended Dartmouth and Harvard. He was also a participant in the SCCA airport series during the early 1950s.
There is rare footage of van Antwerpen driving the Porsche at an ice race held by the Land-O-Lakes SCCA Region where he finished second in the 1500cc class. In that film the 356 is blue and wearing #61 with the front end all covered with tape. “If you look at old photos, the cars were protected with masking tape. There was no clear bra or stretch bra back then,” Michael states. “And that’s how it races today.”
After van Antwerpen put the 356 up for sale in 1958, the blue car was painted red. That buyer ended up getting divorced, and his ex-wife eventually tired of paying storage. In 1969 a note was placed at a local Porsche meeting saying, “If you pay the storage fee of $117, we will give you the car.” The 356 sold, but it sat for forty more years, until it was advertised on eBay.
When Michael attempted to contact the original owner he reached Paul van Antwerpen’s brother instead. Sadly, Paul had died just the month before. The brother said, “Paul’s daughter would love to know that it’s still out there. Let me put you in touch with her.” Michael subsequently received race programs and some of the car’s original documents from the family.
The Racing Roots Go Deeper
“We always believed that van Antwerpen might have received one of the factory prepped rally cars through Max Hoffman’s Chicago dealership. The first indication was that the correctly dated odometer had a tenth of a mile gauge for rallying,” reports Michael.
Upon contacting Porsche in Germany, he was transferred to an older gentleman who asked, “Tell me about the gauge.” Then the man asked, “Are the torsion tubes bent?” Michael told him they were. The man then inquired, “Are they kinked or are they bent?” Michael answered bent. The German’s response was most enlightening, “Good! We put sand in them and bent them for camber. You Americans just kinked them once you got them there. This is probably one of our rally cars.”
Sure enough, in one of the packages the daughter had sent was a delivery memo dated January 20, 1953 with the car’s serial number and van Antwerpen’s name along with the final destination of Max Hoffman’s dealership in Chicago. There on the memo were the words Vorbereitet Rallye, which translates to “Rally Ready.” A special key fob that Hoffman gave to his best customers was also included in the package.
Restoring the 356 rally car correctly became of uppermost importance after that discovery. So Michael enlisted some of the best in the Virginia area and elsewhere. Lewis Hauser of Karosserie Ltd. took the dings out where van Antwerpen danced on the hood when he won a trophy. Kirk Keller at Exterior Refinishing Solutions applied the proper Fashion Grey paint. Victor Miles did the bright work, Geary Miller was the engine guy, and Wills Werks rebuilt the transmission. Original Konis from Porsche were rebuilt at the factory.
When #50064 showed up at RRV this September, it was exactly the same as it ran back in 1953. Every interior knob, with the exception of one, came with the car. Even the five rare optional turbo trim rings were there with the original 16×3.25-inch slotted steel rims. The narrow Michelin tires are originals too. Then there is the ‘unobtanium’ wooden dipstick, which was found behind the fuel tank. Michael’s helmet also gives a nod to the past with its original C-C pie company star-and-crescent emblem.
Like Michael’s family legacy, this 356 has not only been brought back to life through careful research but is also being newly celebrated for its originality and authenticity. The American dream comes in all varieties. Like delivering fresh pies at Thanksgiving to commemorate Henry Copperthite’s first day of business more than a century ago.
Don’t be surprised if you see a few tins being delivered in a beautiful Fashion Grey 356 – as nice as pie.
Story and photos © 2015 Randy Wells. All Rights Reserved.