Matt Hummel Squeezes Every Drop Out Of His Porsche 356
Photography by Jeremy Heslup
You may remember a certain mountain goat-esque 356 that we filmed in a bonafide forest a few years ago, and its owner/rider Matt Hummel recently stopped by en-route to another pavementless adventure in the same car—somewhere in the desert this time, I believe. The car certainly gets around, and when camping it’s more than just a bathtub, for him it’s the means to get to where he’s going, and also what he lives out of once he arrives. We’re interested in learning more about people who use Porsches to go exploring in the woods, so of course, we wanted to ask him a few questions.
TG: So Matt, what was the first car that you ever remember driving?
MH: The first car that I ever remember driving … Oh my gosh, probably … I want to say it was my dad’s Porsche 914 that he bought brand new and that I grew up with. But I think it was probably more like my mom’s Volvo station wagon because it was an automatic.
I could sneak it out and go drive around. She’d let me take it out sometimes and drive around the neighborhood too.
TG: And where’d you go on these missions? Both the covert and endorsed ones!
MH: I grew up in the Fair Oaks, California, a suburb east of Sacramento, so just roads around the area more or less, close to home.
TG: Besides the Porsche and the Volvo, what’s your family’s background? What were they known for?
MH: Well, my dad was a farmer from the mid west, and my mom was a school teacher from California. My dad was stationed in Monterey and my mum was a school teacher in Carmel at the time, and they met there, and … Basically, I came along later. And our family had no automotive anything in it before me.
Though, my dad had that Porsche 914 and he … I always wish he would’ve bought that 911 or something like that, but we didn’t have a mechanical family. I was kind of the oddball in that way.
TG: Tell me then, what in your childhood led you down towards the rabbit hole that you’re in?
MH: I was obsessed, as a kid, with anything that had wheels on it, and my earliest memories were my toy die-cast cars; someone gave me a set of European die-casts for Christmas or something, and I still remember it. I think it was from France—it had all these different French cars inside. And I remember those were just so different than Hot Wheels or Matchbox, and I loved that. That’s probably one of my first memories of really being fascinated by cars, was getting a set of European toy ones, and over the years, I didn’t drift far from that, the cars just got bigger.
I’ve always been into European cars too. I’d go to the Nut Tree in Vacaville—it was kind of a roadside tourist thing—and they had a toy store in there that was just full of these European die-casts that I loved so much. It was like the only place you could get them nearby.
TG: Connect the dots for me: how you go from collecting some toys to this kind of Porsche graveyard/working ranch/kind of hide-away hold-out in the middle of the mountains.
MH: Right! And that’s exactly really what it is. It’s just … I wanted something that was secluded, but accessible to roads too, and I wanted something where I could have as many cars as possible and nobody would be able to see them or question them, and I gravitated towards it because it’s like a park setting, and there’s nothing better than seeing the car that you love in a place like that all the time.
I mean, that’s what a lot of us do, right? We take our cars on these long drives just to get to a setting that is fitting and artistic. Well, I picked a place to live where I could look at my cars in my backyard in that setting. So, I don’t even have to drive anywhere half the time to enjoy my cars, and that’s just something that I’ve worked towards, that I’ve always wanted. To own cars, but in a peaceful situation.
TG: Where were you living when you bought your first Porsche?
MH: I got my first Porsche when I had a shop in Sacramento, and I was exporting cars to Japan at the time.
TG: Interesting. What were you exporting?
MH: First I was doing Volkswagens, mainly Buses and squarebacks, and I had a restoration shop in Vallejo; I was living in Berkeley, and I got a little shop space in Vallejo on Lemon Street, and set up a paint booth in there and I was restoring those VWs and shipping them to Japan. And then I got into doing some American cars—more Impalas, El Caminos, Monte Carlos, Cutlass Supremes, Mark Fives and stuff, and then I moved to Sacramento, got a bigger shop, and then at this time I wasn’t really restoring anymore.
I was just kind of buying and selling cars that were finished at that point, but I found a couple of old Porsches in a barn outside of Sacramento, and one was a ’54 Coupe, and the other was a ’56 Sunroof Coupe. It was a package deal. I paid $2000 for both cars and a truckload of parts that included NOS rear bumpers, all kinds of stuff. And those were my first two Porsches.
TG: What year was that?
MH: That must have been 1997, I think. Yeah, probably about 1997. I still have the bills of sale from those cars. And I have some sketchy pictures too, ’cause I was using a film camera, it wasn’t very good with it then.
They were big projects and so they were kind of over my head at the time, so I sold them to another guy in another package deal. And the ’56 Sunroof Coupe is now in Italy, totally restored, and I’ve watched it bounce around from owner to owner. Those were my first two and I fell in love with them, but they were just too big of a project for me to keep.
TG: So you kind of … not walked backwards into it, but … without too much intention, kind of found yourself in the restoration game. Is that fair to say? You just kind of kept finding deals and opportunities and it just sort of kept snowballing?
MH: Right, and I just could never pull myself away from finding old cars. I tried though. I tried to get away from it. I mean, I was into Volkswagens at first, and I remember I moved to Santa Barbara to try to go to school, to community college. And I took with me three Volkswagens, a bunch of parts, and I’d go down to Pomona swap meets or some of the Volkswagen shows to sell parts. I was driving around a 1963 Dormobile camper bus with safari windows, and then I just decided I wanted to get away from all this. And I sold all my Volkswagens except one that was really important to me that I stashed at my parents’ house, and I bought a ’63 Impala Station Wagon, and then I moved to Bellingham, Washington, got a job, and worked my way up in this company until I was on salary. And then after about two years of being up there, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I came back down to California and that’s when I dove back into cars and started exporting to Japan, and did the restoration shop.
TG: So the car that you’ve become most known for, tell me the story of that one.
MH: Well, I had another ’56 Coupe that I was driving before this one, and it was kind of a bad ‘90s-restoration car that was metallic blue with a red interior. It was a fun little car though. I just couldn’t stand the bad paint on it. It was starting to bubble and blister, and the old redone Tomato-soup-red interior… And so I sold it and I wanted to find something more original, and that’s how this car fell into my lap
At the time, I said, “Well, this is a little too rough.” So I just stuck it in the barn at my house and kept looking for other ones, which I wasn’t really finding…
All of a sudden though the prices started going up and everything and I’m like, well, that car in the barn is starting to look better and better.
I had so many parts to put it back on the road, I thought I might as well do that; at least I can just drive it around town, because I can’t stand not having a 356 to drive. It’s really difficult for me to have them broken down around the house and not be able to get in and at least drive down the street.
So, that car was just kind of there for a while, but it always looked interesting and the more I drove it the more I was like “You know what? This actually is just fun to drive.” And the rest is history I suppose.
TG: People certainly seem to like the car too. How has Instagram changed what you do?
MH: That’s a good question, ’cause honestly without Instagram I’d be the exact same person I am today. And that’s one thing that I’m very adamant about, is that I don’t want to let Instagram influence me. So, I take it with a grain of salt. If it were to disappear tomorrow, I’d still be doing the exact same thing.
I do like parts of it though. What Instagram allowed me to do was to basically get back into photography … And it gave me a creative outlet, and I really enjoyed it, and then I enjoyed my car more too. And so the two just kind of game together
TG: Why do you think what you do on there resonates with so many people? ‘Cause it does.
MH: I think it resonates with people because every photo that I try to post is something that resonates with me too, and that’s all that matters, and that filters through I think.
I never think, “Will people think that this is cool, or not?” You just kind of go with your intuition and your heart, and you say, “I just love this moment, and I don’t care if anyone else likes it or not!” Because, when I first started taking pictures of the car, it was a little personal, and it was a little weird, because I’m like, I don’t want to be perceived as someone that’s out here having a romantic adventure and love affair with my car in the weeds! But then, I was like, you know what, ”I don’t care.”
I just think there’s something charming about it. Just kind of floating around out there in the grass. The aesthetics of it were very attractive to me. And the composition was very attractive to me. And the whole thing just … It made me feel good. And that’s what it’s about. And that’s what it’s always been about for me, is just … It’s just, taking a moment to really reflect on and enjoy what you’re doing, and seeing something that you enjoy looking at, and sharing that with people.
TG: Totally. So with all these excursions, what’s the maintenance been like on this car?
MH: Oh, yeah, the thing needs. It’s always like, six months behind in maintenance. I mean, I can never catch up with all the work that needs to be done on it. It’s a strange relationship that I have with the car though, because even though I know things need some attention, I can always tell if it’s going to give me problems or not on a trip: if I really need to fix it on the spot or not, or if I can just wait and fix it when I get home. You can kind of just sense how your car is acting and how it feels on the road, and just listen to how it’s running, and … So I just kind of go by that, too.
TG: How many miles have you traveled in this car, if you had to estimate?
MH: Oh, I have honestly no idea, ’cause my odometer doesn’t work. If I had to guess, it’s thousands of miles. It’s thousands. ‘Cause I’ve done maybe, I mean, I’ve been doing the rallies up in northern California, and sometimes on those you’re doing five hundred miles, six hundred miles in a weekend. And then I’ve done multiple trips down to southern California in the car too. I don’t even know how many. I’ve probably realistically put at least ten thousand miles on the car I’d say.
TG: Very cool. That’s more than some people put on their new ones before trading in.