Bill and Kathleen Pierson certainly qualify as members in good standing of the German Car Club of Kansas.
Bill has owned and loved several VW Beetles and is currently having a rare double-cab VW pickup customized. Kathleen only reluctantly let go of her BMW sedan a few years ago. The couple even own a Porsche tractor.
But it’s a slightly sportier Porsche that is the pride of their German automotive experience, a rare 1955 Porsche Continental Cabriolet dressed out in Jade Green Metallic with chrome factory-style wheels. The car predates the Piersons’ relationship.
“It was Christmas of 1973, shortly after I got out of the service. I had come back to go to school at Pittsburg State and my girlfriend found the car listed for sale in the newspaper,” Bill recalls.
When he went to look at it, it hardly qualified for the term “car.”
“It had a J.C. Whitney plastic top nailed to the windshield header. It was painted about five colors. It was not rusty, but it was beat up to all heck,” he said.
And the original engine and transmission were missing, replaced by common, ordinary Volkswagen pieces.
Pierson, who was working part-time selling Pintos for the local Ford dealer, decided he wanted something a little classier to drive, and the Porsche was going to be it.
“It was sad … I drove it home. But I wanted to take it back to original,” said Pierson, who had paid $700 for the car. “It had the VW engine in it, which I sold for $50,” he noted.
The Porsche Continental was the brainchild of Max Hoffman, the sole importer of Porsche automobiles to the United States in the mid-1950s. He figured adding the name “Continental” to the sports cars he imported from Europe would add a bit of class to his marketing.
That lasted only a year before Ford Motor Company went to court to protect the name it had already applied to its Lincoln Continental. A little over 2,800 Porsche Continentals (300 of them Cabriolets) had been turned out by then, making them highly collectible today.
Fortunately for Pierson, the original engine for the Porsche was located in a local coal shed, where it had gradually become part of the dirt floor. Working in freezing conditions, he and some friends managed to excavate the engine and he eventually had it rebuilt, along with the factory 4-speed transmission. Meantime, he set about stripping down the battered body. By the spring of 1975, it was ready to undergo restoration.
Unfortunately, 15-years later it was still awaiting restoration. By then, the Piersons had met and married and their mutual fascination with German vehicles had grown to a passion. In August of 1995, the Porsche was trailered to Precision Restoration in Kansas City, Mo., where the serious body work got underway, including building several new panels from scratch.
It was a long, involved process, but by the summer of 1998, the Porsche Continental was again wearing the correct shade of Jade Green Metallic paint. Following further reassembly in Salina, the car next journeyed to Steamboat Springs, Colo., where Ron Nelson of Auto Weave installed all-new beige leather upholstery complemented by correct German square-weave carpeting. A snug-fitting, color-coordinated top of the proper material was also crafted, including a hand-shaped wooden top bow necessary for just the right fit.
Unfortunately, along the way, the original engine had been rebuilt not once, but twice, and it still wasn’t right. So Pierson lined up Jon Nadeau, a former mechanical instructor at the McPherson College Auto Restoration Program and fellow Porsche-file, to rebuild the 1500 cc air-cooled flat 4-cylinder one last time. Outfitted with a pair of SU carburetors, the engine produces a solid 55 horsepower, more than adequate to cruise at interstate highway speeds in such a lightweight car.
“This is a very nice driver … comfortable, classy and reliable,” says Bill Pierson. “There are three or four Continental coupes in the country, but there are no other cabriolets that I know of.
“It’s been so much fun. There’s so many things on it that could be better if it was a `show car.’ But I want a car that I can drive.”
And drive it, he does. So far, it has made major road trips back to Steamboat Springs and to Aspen and Santa Fe for Porsche 356 gatherings. Forty-three years after the Continental Cabriolet began its long journey back from oblivion, it’s still going strong.
This story originally appeared in The Wichita Eagle. It was written by Mike Berry, Editor Wichita On Wheels. It is posted here with permission.