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Barnfinding: The Junkyard Carrera

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I'm Adam Wright, and my brother Matt and I scour the country for long-lost Porsches. Some of our adventures make great stories, which I will share with you starting with this article for PCA.org. I hope you enjoy it and future tales. And if you have any stories you want to share, please do — I enjoy writing about other people’s escapades far more than my own. Please email me adam@unobtanium-inc.com


Photos courtesy Justin Rio

We have all dreamed of the story I am about to tell. It is about a $75 Carrera found at a junkyard. This story is not fiction, but the real deal. Louis Rio saw a pretty ragged 1957 Porsche 356 Carrera GS sitting in front of a junkyard, and the owner was happy to see it go.

“My father found this car in 1968 in the small desert town of Barstow, CA,” says Justin, Louis’ son and current caretaker of the Carrera. “It’s a small stop-over between Los Angeles and Las Vegas. [The car] was sitting by the front gate at a local wrecking yard, then called Lloyd’s Auto Wrecking. A friend of mine, Greg Parker, who has been a 40-year resident of Barstow, remembers seeing it there as well.

“Acquiring the car was a very easy matter. It had apparently been there for quite sometime and Lloyd wanted the space,” Justin says. “My father asked him how much and Lloyd said, ‘Just give me $75 and get it out of here.’”

We can all wonder how the car made it to Lloyd’s in the first place. While there is no known history before the junkyard, Justin and his dad did find some peculiarities that might shed some light on why the car was abandoned.

“When I restored it in 1987, I realized someone had welded a bogus VIN number plate over the top of the original,” Justin explains. “The funny thing was that original ID plate (#58367) by the tank and the one on the hinge cover were intact. I cut through the two welds holding this plate, and the original number was underneath. I looked at the old pink slip and it was registered under the phony VIN number. We then lien-saled it under the correct number and everything came back clean. All I can assume is that it was probably stolen at some point, maybe out of LA. Even the wiring harness at the ignition switch looked like it had been tampered with. Maybe this explains the quick green paint job.”

The car was in sorry shape when Louis bought it, but some things were left intact. Justin's description of the Carrera's condition back then just makes me think: People do some strange things to cars.

“The car at that point looked well used,” he says. “It was faded British Racing Green with large gray primer spots on the fenders [and] silver door jams and dashboard. Bumpers and overrider tubes were gone. The rear was set up on cinder blocks since the motor and trans were missing as well. Parts of the transmission tunnel and the rear bulkhead were hacked out to make way for a [Chevrolet] Corvair drivetrain, as my father was later told. Original red leather had been covered over in black vinyl. The original steering wheel was butchered for the hub to fit a cheap aftermarket hot rod-type wheel. All gauges were there. A complete car otherwise.“

Once Louis acquired the car, he installed a stock Volkswagen flat four and drove it daily for a couple years until the engine suffered a failure, forcing him to park it. It was not the fate one would normally imagine for a 356 Carrera.

But fate still had more in store for the little Porsche. It was 1970, and Louis had parked the inoperable 356 at the base of a hill. One day, after carpooling to work, he returned home to find it in much worse condition than it had been that morning.

“A woman at the top of the hill left the parking brake off of her station wagon. It rolled down the hill and wiped out the passenger side fender, knocking it into the middle of the street,” Justini explains. “She had six children and no money.”

For the next 10 years the Carrera led a sedentary life, but Louis wasn't finished with it. In 1980, he installed another VW engine, yet this new lease on life was short-lived due to a broken crankshaft just eight months later. Then, when Justin turned 16 in 1987, Louis gave his son the hapless Porsche.

“My father and I worked on the car together for three years, and it was about 80% restored in 1990,” he says. “I left for school in 1991 and the car was put in storage. I got interested in it again in 1998 and decided I wanted it original.”

So Justin stripped the car down and started a restoration that continues to this day. Another 356 has most of his attention now, but "I want to finish the restoration of this car. Hopefully before my father passes," he relates.

The real question with this car and most Carreras: Does it still have an original four-cam flat four? In the case of Justin’s car, the answer is no.

“I was told by my friend Greg that in the early 1970s the family that owned the Idle Spurs Steakhouse in Barstow was running a four-cam Porsche motor in their Meyers Manx dune buggy,” recalls Justin. “They soon had problems with it,” and, long story short, it was traded for a rebuilt 1600-cc VW motor. “I’m sure it was the motor out of our car,” Justin says. “How many four-cams could there have been in Barstow?”

Once again we have a story of right place and right time — at least if you are looking for a Carrera. We’ll have to wait and see how the restoration unfolds, but we do have some clues.

A recent update from Justin confirms an enticing build is well underway, and that it's straying into "Outlaw" territory. It'll be silver with a red interior — the original color scheme — and adhere to a 356 Carrera GT theme. "I have original alloy GT seats, GT tank with a 904 gas cap, [and] a full set of front and rear GT brakes." The wheels are 5.5-inch wide 718 RSK units at the rear and 4.5-inch 356 Carrera parts up front. The formerly bumper-less 356 now has them — original equipment pieces with the overrider tubes.

As for the motor? That's where the build gets even more interesting. Instead of trying to find a prohibitively expensive and complicated original four-cam flat four, he's decided to go with a brand-new 2.5-liter "Polo" motor — basically an air-cooled 911 flat six with two cylinders removed — built by Dean Polopolus.

"I’ve got [an original] four-cam oil tank, which I’ll use with his engine," Justin says. "I got the car for nothing but am into the parts plenty deep!"

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