Photos by Sean Smith
For model year 1959, Porsche discontinued the Speedster and replaced it with the Convertible D (D for Drauz, a coach- building firm based in Heilbronn). This model had a taller windscreen, a soft top with a larger rear window, and crank-operated side windows. Normal Porsche seats replaced the lightweight bucket seats. Concise, correct, and to the point. Very Germanic.
Then you have a phrase like this:
I often wonder if other passionate Porsche enthusiasts see the same thing when they look
into the headlights of 356. It is said that all old cars have souls, but when looking into the
eyes of a 356, you can feel the soul.
That’s a bit different. It comes from the heart of a true believer. That is what Stephen Grisanti is.
As a young kid he saw a 914 and was hooked. After that he started his education on the machines from that place far off from Mt. Vernon, New York: Zuffenhausen, Germany.
He read magazines and collected books on Porsche, learning about the history and the lineage. As a new convert, he wanted to know genesis. Like someone who listened to Clapton and then wanted to find out who Robert Johnson and Howlin Wolf were, Stephen looked to the past and started his love affair with the 356. At the time it was all abstract thinking. He wasn’t in a position to swing a 356 back then.
He still has a memory of a 1960 Super 90 Roadster that he’d finished detailing for a customer. He delivered the car to the owner. That perfect spring day and that open top Porsche is a memory that will stay with him forever.
But had he missed the boat? Had he waited to long to put a 356 in the garage?
Grisanti remembers searching through old copies of Panorama, looking longingly at the classifieds and playing mind games with himself. Something we’ve all done.
Then he met Matt DeGarmo, a broker of otherworldly cars. Matt found him a beautiful 1964 356 C coupe; it was serious money, but it was perfect. Yet there was still a hole. He had his 356, but he wanted an open car. Every Porsche owner at one time or another wanted to have a Speedster in their collection, but there was a further wrinkle: Stephen wanted his open-air Porsche to have been born in the same year as he was.
What could be better than a convertible D? All the looks of a Speedster with a few more creature comforts, and they arrived in 1959.
He want back to Degarmo and asked him if he could find a Convertible D.
But now it would be a REAL stretch. Now it was serious, serious money.
Matt went in search of this rare machine. Stephen checked in on progress regularly, always with the same response: “Not yet.” Months went by. Finally, DeGarmo found a Unicorn. A one-owner original, all paperwork from new, matching numbers 1959 356 Convertible D in silver. The Porsche had originally been bought by a serviceman stationed NOT in Germany, but Tokyo. Even the original correspondence between the soldier and the Porsche dealer was there. It was the rarest of finds.
The owner had passed away, and Matt had made a deal with the widow.
Then DeGarmo went radio silent.
When Matt returned from the West coast with the car, it was just so special he couldn’t part with it. Stephen asked for first refusal when he decided to sell, and heard nothing for a good long time.
Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t in the cards, the planets just didn’t line up. A Model D wasn’t in Stephen and Brigette’s future. So you do what any Porsche person would do when you’re grieving over not getting a 356 D. You go out and get yourself a screaming yellow, 911 Carrera S drop top.
And in very short order, of course, a call then comes from Matt DeGarmo. “I’m ready to sell.”
Stephen started asking around about who was best to work on this type of car. He spoke to John Chatley, the founder of the 356 Convertible D registry. He was hoping for someone nearby, in New York . He got one name: Dick Hyland. He then found out that Matt already had dropped the D off with Dick to go over it. All good signs.
The first time Stephen saw the car was at Dick’s shop. It was everything he’d been told.
Big bucks. Deep breath! He pulled the trigger.
Now he has five Porsches and a Harley in a space meant for four cars. So to get the car in the middle out, you have to take another car out first. And when you park whichever car in the lower left spot, you’re going out the window on the passenger side. There’s also the constant worry about damaging one of the cars in such close quarters.
Something had to give. DeGarmo suggested, “You have your ultimate 356 in the D. Get the coupe out of the garage.” It really wasn’t for sale. Stephen said, “I’ll only sell it for____!” (Insert larger number) The response was “Let’s see if we can break a record.” In no time they did; and the garage was no longer bursting at the seems.
But there was still something not quite right.
The D was a lovingly maintained car that showed its age and was really, really nice—BUT it was not perfect. Stephen started having sleepless nights. He put all his talents to work, cleaning and detailing the old girl. Soon it looked 1000 times better than when he first got it, but there were still things that gave him agida.
Grisanti was visiting Kent Silver, a major Porsche collector on Long Island, one day after work. He called his wife and told her he would be late; he was going to be immersed in Porsches for a good long while. The conversation got around to the D. Grisanti opened up about his feelings for the car and (in his mind) its shortcomings. Silver knew exactly what he was talking about. In fact Kent had owned the 914-6 that was now in Grisanti’s garage. So he understood that need for perfection.
He looked at Stephen and told him point blank “You sound just like me. GET RID OF IT! If my wife were here she would tell us we must be brothers. We have the same attitude towards our cars.” Stephen’s response was uncommitted. “Yeah, I know.” The reply from Silver was emphatic “ “No, no—listen to me GET RID OF IT! You will never be happy.”
On his Über ride home, Stephen sent a text to DeGarmo. I want out of this D. He was nervous—hoping he could get all his money back—didn’t care about all the time he put into it. He just wanted to break even. He needn’t have worried, the combination of his hard work and the originality of the car saw him a profit.
Now he was going to take his time and search for the perfect D.
He put the word out, took an ad in the 356 registry and got out on the forum to make his case. He was NOT looking for a project or an over-the-top concours car. It had to be the original color from the factory (even if a repaint) and most of all it had to be matching numbers. He would consider a 60, or 61 Roadster, but truth be told he really needed it to be a 59 D.
One day an answer to his prayers arrived in his in-box.
Dear Stephen Grisanti,
You have received a response to your advertisement in the Classifieds on porsche356registry.org.
The message was,
I’m just finishing a complete nut and bolt restoration. All numbers matching, doors, windshield posts, motor, color, etc. Finishing convertible top and she’s done. Car is ivory with red interior. Contact me if you’d like more info and pics. I was planning to sell it through Fantasy Junction in Emeryville, CA in the next few weeks.
It couldn’t get much better than that, and it was the color he’d always dreamed about.
So Grisanti’s first question — “Do you know how much you want for it?”
It took a little longer than a few weeks for the restoration to be completed. It took months.
Stephen finally got the call. “It’s ready to go. The price is not negotiable.”
He flew out to California to see the car. It did not disappoint.
The only problem on the test drive was a whir coming from the transmission.
Lance said he could make an adjustment on the price and it could be taken care of when he got the car home. No; Stephen wanted the car right when it arrived on the East coast.
He left a deposit and wired the balance when he got home.
Stephen waited another three months while the engine and transmission went in and out of the car several times. Then an old time artisan took over and made the fix, with many of the internals of the gearbox being replaced. Now the D was perfect. And it would live up to its plate name, Bella 59.
Bella doesn’t hide away. She’s driven the way Porsches are meant to be driven. But she is not driven hard and put up wet. No. When she comes home, she is treated to a thorough cleaning. So she will shine on along with the rest of her family, tucked away in their cozy home.