Only a handful of cars can lay claim to having as much influence and as long a production history as the legendary Porsche 356 Speedster. Early versions of the 356 date back as far as 1948, and by the early 1950s it gained a strong following among performance enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic for its exhilarating handling and distinctive styling. A class win at LeMans in 1951 certainly contributed to its enduring popularity, as many owners relished the car on both the track and street.
The philosophy behind the 356’s design was simple—a small, lightweight car with plenty of power that offered far more driving fun and performance than a large, heavy, overpowered vehicle. Production of the 356 lasted until 1965, even after the replacement Porsche 911 debuted in 1963.
While the 356’s unibody chassis and steel bodywork did not change much during this extensive time period, except for some minor functional refinements, four distinct series were built. Collectors generally consider the open-top 356 Speedster, introduced in 1954, as the most desirable, due to its rakish lines and minimalist character.
Today, more than six decades later, it is this benchmark model that Rock West Racing emulates in its RW Speedster. As a thoroughly modernized version, it features a number of significant improvements to keep pace with current technology and enjoy an even broader appeal.
Starting with the chassis, the foundation of the RW Speedster is strong, all-welded frame made primarily of 2 x 3-inch steel box tubing, .125-inch wall thickness, along with some round tubing to support the rear section of the body. (This configuration is in distinct contrast to some replicas that use a shortened and re-welded VW pan.) The RW Speedster chassis uses only a portion of a VW torsion tube that’s already stamped with a factory VIN, in order to simplify registering the car for driving on the street.
The RW Speedster’s composite body features a lamination with multiple layers of fiberglass cloth, matte and Coremat. They are all hand-laid and saturated with quality resin, and thoroughly cured in the mold. After the car’s frame is placed into the body mold, they are bonded together securely with both adhesive and resin, and mechanically fastened as well to ensure a tight, solid attachment.
The body-to-chassis adhesive is a tough, two-part methacrylate that adheres extremely well to composites and metals, but has enough flexibility to handle stresses from high heat and vibration. Once the body/frame assembly is removed from the mold, the rear frame crossmember is bonded to the body to ensure the car is in the correct stance.
Suspension components are then installed. At the front is a VW beam axle with ball joints, reconditioned, adjusted and lowered for the RW Speedster application. Most customers opt for a later-model independent rear suspension, fitted with new bushings and bearings. (A swing-axle rearend can be used instead, if requested.)
The range of engine setups are extensive, starting with the standard 1700cc VW Type 1, mated to a rebuilt transaxle with a five-year warranty. For more exotic tastes, high-performance drivetrains, such as Subaru or Porsche 911 also work well (with some custom chassis modifications; call for a quote).
Typically the RW Speedster comes in component form ($10K for a base kit) or partially assembled ($21K for a deluxe and $29K for a roller). Special build orders can be accommodated as well, at the client’s customer request.
All told, the RW Speedster represents forward thinking at its best. It draws inspiration from a rich legacy while providing a more affordable and dependable performance machine for years of carefree driving enjoyment.