Air-cooled Porsche values climbed high enough to price most would-be collectors out of the market years ago. And with the entire collectible car industry booming these days, even formerly undesirable P-Cars can feel completely out of reach. Luckily, a popular new automotive business model, standing in contrast to the expanding auction industry, offers enthusiasts a chance to enter raffle-style sweepstakes in the hopes of attaining those dream cars with proceeds from entries benefiting a wide range of charities worldwide.
Omaze probably earns the most attention in this burgeoning philanthropic format, thanks largely to celebrity involvement from the likes of Patrick Dempsey, and the latest giveaway stands out as one of the most enticing: a 1958 Porsche 356A tastefully modified by Tuthill Porsche in partnership with Valkyrie Racing. Donations benefit Valkyrie Gives, the philanthropic mission of Valkyrie Racing's founder and driver, Renée Brinkerhoff, who just piloted her own 356—which inspired this build—for 356 miles across the ice of Antarctica.
With only a short time left until the sweepstakes close, Omaze offered me a chance to drive the Tuthill Porsche 356 for a dream morning in Malibu, where I got to experience the kind of engaging fun that (at least partially) explains the air-cooled market insanity over the past decade-plus.
Renée Brinkerhoff's Mission
Brinkerhoff drove her car on the Antarctic ice equipped with snow tracks at the rear and skis in place of the front tires, but that prep allowed her to notch the seventh and final continent off her list after setting out to raise money and awareness for her efforts combating child sex trafficking and improving the lives of women and children across the planet. The stated goal of rallying her little Porsche across every single continent harkens to the sobering reality that human trafficking remains a global threat that receives far less attention than it deserves.
Tuthill Porsche, a UK-based shop most famous for building legit racecars for the East African Safari Rally, prepped Brinkerhoff's car for the various challenges presented by radically diverse terrain everywhere she drives. Now, the car on offer from Omaze includes light nods to period-correct rallying inspired by Brinkerhoff's own, albeit much more race-prepped, 356.
Period-Correct Porsche Style
Rather than cranking out yet another perfectly "original" restoration or a slammed "Outlaw" style build, Tuthill took the classier middle ground. The result stays true to the spirit Ferdinand Porsche's original 356, without producing a "squashed bug" look like so many customs. But even from afar, Porsche purists will certainly note the painted bumpers, tie-down straps for the front trunk and rear decklid, a rally-style rearview mirror on the driver's front quarter panel, and pre-A headlights, not to mention those 15-inch aluminum wheels.
Each of those little deviations from stock either represents an homage to Brinkerhoff's own car (the tie-downs and rally mirror) or an upgrade to improve the car's drivability in the modern era (also the rally mirror but wider wheels, too). And in today's Cars and Coffee culture, where a row of pristine Porsches can actually start to feel passé, little customizations help a 356 stand out from the pack.
Mild Power Gains For The Modern Era
Under the intricately louvered rear decklid, Tuthill also dropped in a rebuilt 912 engine displacing 1.6 liters and probably putting out somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 to 120 horsepower, given that they call it a "high-performance" motor. While that figure sounds tiny today, keep in mind that a 356A in 1958 likely maxed out at more like 60 horses from a 1582cc flat-four—not bad at the time for a tiny pushrod powerplant but each additional pony still helps, especially going up steep canyon roads in Malibu.
A four-speed manual transaxle sends that power to the rear wheels through what feels like a short first gear, which helps get-up off the line, and then taller ratios for second through fourth. The shift lever action surprised me with smoothness and positive engagement for an early Porsche, enough so that I never missed a gate even if the uninitiated might call it a bit notchy at the finish of somewhat long throws. Luckily, the nearest comparable car I've ever driven, a 1968 912 hot-rodded by Benton Performance, employed a factory short shifter so I already knew what to expect and how to place the selector, rather than forcing the rod in too quickly.
The Original Lightweight Sports Car
Even though I felt disinclined to truly push this car to the limits of that flat-four's redline, given that somebody will win it someday soon, I still experienced the real highlight of Porsche's iconic engineering. The truth remains that no self-respecting 356 will blow anyone away in a drag race—rather, the joy of driving a lightweight, nimble car shines through at every turn.
Tipping the scales probably around 1,900 pounds, the little coupe also received rally-inspired adjustable suspension that helps to prevent the kind of body roll or tippiness that some early sports cars display. I've never driven another 356, so I can't say whether they all feel this planted, but I do have a soft spot for torsion bar suspension (even my 1998 Mitsubishi still uses torsion bars for the front end, as does my 914 project) and this 356 exuded confidence through long sweepers and coming out of corners—despite all those cries of "throttle lift-off oversteer" from the anti-Porsche crowd.
The roads in Malibu and Topanga transition from smooth to chunked-up to wavy in only seconds, but the setup absorbed everything with aplomb, preventing anything more than minimal roll without any concomitant increase in harshness. Sway bars probably help that sensation, as do the wider tires measuring 205 millimeters all around. Upgraded four-wheel disc brakes also provide plenty of bite and bring this featherweight to a stop in a serious hurry.
Barolo Red With Custom Touches
For such a tiny greenhouse, the famous Porsche interior ergonomics still impress. Climbing into the cockpit requires less of a contortionist act than most similarly sized sports cars and once inside, the low-slung seats and rear-engined layout allow for plenty of head and legroom while providing impeccable visibility. And just look at that Barolo red leather, matching corduroy seat inserts (I don't even like corduroy!), and painted dash. A set of intuitive gauges with just the right level of patina backs the perfectly sized Momo Prototipo steering wheel, an important consideration given the lack of power steering. Even with the 356's famously light front end, turning at low speeds requires a bit of effort—but not much compared to a heavier, later 911 I drove a while back.
The pedals and switchgear feel perfectly dialed in, with just a light pump of the gas required to get the carbs flowing at start-up, and the windows even crank down smoothly. Altogether, the build quality feels more akin to a new car than a restored six-decade-plus classic, without much chatter or rattle and only minimal wind noise. An unimposing interior roll cage, meanwhile, should help to console anyone worried about the lack of seatbelts, which are not legally required for a 1958 car—Wisconsin became the first state to mandate lap belts only for new cars sold as 1962 model years and on, while the Volvo Amazon's first three-point harnesses appeared in the US in 1968!
The Famous Frunk With Full-Sized Spare
As quick as that flat-four makes this Tuthill 356, though, driving as hard as possible feels like the opposite of the point. Sunday cruises or fun canyons seem more apropos, hearing the flat-four swing up high and putting a bit of effort into a decreasing radius corner. Still, other little racing details in honor of Brinkerhoff's car do crop up, like a full-sized spare in the frunk—held down by a matching leather strap—as well as the center-fill fuel cap in the frunk hood. Those kinds of tidbits create the exact sense of period-perfect modification that any originality-obsessed Porschephile should still be able to accept, with exactly the kind of modern performance upgrades to make driving on today's roads less uncomfortable.
Personally, the idea of buying a Porsche 356 still sounds absolutely insane at today's prices—even if I had the money, which I don't—but ask any group of gearheads which cars represent the best investment potential and Porsche will inevitably enter, if not dominate, the conversation. Having driven this 356A from Tuthill, I can now begin to understand why that investment seems a bit easier to rationalize, thanks to the driving experience alone. And that silver-on-Barolo red color scheme, understated and classic, just looks incredible in the sun.
Best of all, the Omaze format will allow someone a chance to win this 356 when the sweepstakes close on March 4, all while allowing for the rationalization that a scant price of entry at least ends up supporting a good cause. And from an investment standpoint, if the world's wealthiest collectors still willingly shell out hundreds of thousands on a Porsche like this because they believe values will keep climbing, that appreciation only sounds better in the context of a giveaway win with all taxes and fees covered.
Sources: omaze.com, valkyriegives.org, valkyrieracing.com, tuthillporsche.com, momo.com, and wpr.org.