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Joplin 356 displayed at Pittsburgh car show with help from PCA members

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

By Matthew Little
Photos by Matthew Little Photography

Though not as rare as seeing Halley’s Comet, catching a glimpse of Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356 out in the wild is pretty high on the list of rare occurrences. That fact made the car’s appearance at this year’s Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix (PVGP) in July quite special and a moment not to be missed.

The arrival of the late musician’s 1964 356 1600 SC cabriolet to Pittsburgh was a long one, starting about five years ago when its acquisition was initiated as part of Porsche being the honored marque for the 2011 PVGP. While on display at another venue, the car was damaged and required repair, preventing it from making the trip to Pittsburgh. The incident and subsequent damage also made the car much more difficult to obtain for future events, as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum was even more reluctant to let it outside of its facility.

It took quite a bit of work, but for this year’s PVGP, the dedicated effort of a few key members of the Allegheny Region of the Porsche Club of America pulled through and secured the car for display.

Seeing it for the first time was a special moment. It’s an iconic car with mass appeal to car enthusiasts, music lovers, and history buffs alike. Its quiet arrival in an understated transporter was a delight, as it offered time to study the car at a moment that would be short lived. The car would soon be unloaded and covered again as it awaited thousands of viewers over the race and show weekend.

Members of the Allegheny Region handled the unloading quickly and carefully, as they were the caretakers of the car while on display in Pittsburgh. As the cover was pulled back from the car, the bright paintwork was revealed to the sunlight, making for quite a marvelous sight. According to Michael Joplin, Janis’ younger brother, the original design was born from messing around with house paint. The end result became one of the most recognized designs and a signature of Joplin’s. People became very aware that it was her car and would often leave notes for here when they found it parked along the street.

Much like Joplin, the original paint job lived a hard life, and there came a point when something had to be done to preserve both it and the old 356. The decision was made to remove the original paint to save the car, which was restored before two artists painstakingly recreated the original motif painted by Joplin and Dave Richards

The now beautifully restored car was gently removed from the transporter and pushed into its resting spot for the show. Though restored, the car is not run so as to save the engine and other mechanical parts. As a result, it must be pushed into position whenever moved. Gloves were the order of the day to protect the paint, which is never polished or buffed – neither are the tires.

If one were to drive it, such as the car’s new owner come December, when it will be auctioned off, a 95-horsepower air-cooled flat four displacing nearly 1.6 liters should offer decent acceleration. Breathing through dual Solex downdraft carburetors, the engine routes power to the rear wheels with a four-speed manual transmission. 

For the next two days, spectators would be treated to the rare gem and were offered a very close view of the fascinating and mesmerizing paintwork. Its imagery offers great insight to a significant period of modern US history and can keep you transfixed as you study it endlessly.  All manner of imagery is spread across the body of the car capturing portraits of the singer, her band, Dave Richards, as well as political statements and choice psychedelic imagery.

Having this car on display was a huge win for spectators, the Allegheny Region of the Porsche Club of America, and the Pittsburgh Vintage Grand Prix. It added one more element to an event that continues to grow in local and global significance and has helped raise awareness for the charities that benefit from the event represented by the Autism Society of Pittsburgh and Allegheny Valley School.

It will be interesting to see how much the Joplin 356 goes for at auction — estimates are around $400,000 — and what the new owners will do with it. We can only hope that it will remain available for public viewing.

The 356 will hit the auction block in New York on December 10, at RM Sotheby’s Driven by Disruption.

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