This Porsche 356 Super 90 Owner Is All About Usage Over Storage
Photography by Sasa Juric Sassch
Boats are known to bob quite idyllically on the azure waters in the harbor of Rovinj, a stunning mediaeval town on Croatia’s Istrian coast. Carefully, we park the 356 on a pier so the patchwork of pastel-colored houses in the background are visible for the photoshoot, but we have to wait patiently for a crowd of tourists to take their fill of the 1963 BT6 Super 90 before we can get to it.
Owner Dubravko Zeljko sits and watches as the hard summer sun (if only we could be back in the warmer weather…) gleams off the chrome mounted to the silver paintwork that’s giving off a shine of its own. He doesn’t get bored of waiting, of watching people take pleasure in his pride and joy—he supposes that it’s the only 356 Cab in the whole country, so perhaps they’ve never seen anything like it before. Some amble over to us to ask him a few questions, and there’s always one in common: how much is it worth? “Value has different meanings,” he shrugs, “I could give them a number, but I would never sell it, so who cares?”
Many stories of classic car ownership involve tales of years of painstaking rebuilds in the workshop, but not for Dubravko’s Porsche. “Nope, I have no stories of finding it in a barn or it being in the family for years. I have a 1964 Karmann Ghia which I restored myself, and after 10 years of trying to import parts and having customs either send them back or try to charge me silly money to let them into the country, I decided that I wouldn’t put myself through all that again.
“I am not so young anymore, so I decided it would be a better idea to use the money I’d have to put into a rebuild on buying a car I could drive and enjoy straight away, and it was always a 356 that I wanted.
“I like the Karmann Ghia for what it is, a very nice classic car with it’s own special charms,” he tells me, “but in my opinion it’s not comparable at all with the Porsche. For me the 356 is more than just a car, it’s a myth that offers unique emotions and I love everything about it, from the noise of the engine, its performance on the road, the smell of the gasoline, the way it looks… and also the way everyone looks at it, I’ll admit!
“So finding an example that was in good condition that I didn’t need to work on was the most important thing, and after searching for a while I found a nice one for sale in the UK. I liked what I saw in the photos, but wasn’t going to go all the way to England just to have a look and then drive it 1,500km home… so I had an idea: I offered to pay the guy for the fuel and his time to drive the car to me in Italy, because if the car could drive all the way through Europe with no problems, then it must be in absolutely fine mechanical condition.
“He agreed and I went to meet him with a friend of mine who knew all about classic Porsches. He took a good look and said that the restoration work was top-quality and everything about the car was just about as good as it could be. So the guy didn’t drive back to England, I bought him a flight home instead, and the car came back to Croatia with me.”
I know a lot of thoroughbred classic owners who know every detail about the history of their cars, keeping old documents in special folders and actively seeking out previous owners, but all Dubravko knows about his 356 starts from the day he collected the keys. “I assumed that it wasn’t in a wonderful condition before, because why do a full rebuild on a car that doesn’t need it? All I know about the car from before is that originally it was ruby red. There is a plate on the door and also the black interior only came with red cars.”
The real enjoyment of owning a Porsche isn’t having it sit in the garage. With the characteristic clattering noise the air-cooled 1600cc engine coming to life, we part the crowd of people who’ve remained around the car on the pier and pull out of town to head into the country. “With the mountains and miles of coastline, we have some perfect driving roads here in Istria, always twisting and turning, and always somewhere historic and interesting to stop. My club organizes a few scenic drives and time-trials in the summer and I really like that sense of competing, especially as my co-driver is my daughter Borna… although we’re not so good yet! She is studying to be an architect so is very accurate and precise, but we use a period stopwatch from 1953 while other crews use things like GPS or a Tripmaster, the same systems some use in the Dakar rally, so we can maybe finish 10th or something. Still, it’s good fun.”
The only modification Dubravko has done to the 356 is lower the rear suspension by 2cm, which helps on the many corners of his local roads, but he points out that this is just to make the ride a little nicer, not really for performance. Also, because the environment of Istria is semi-arid, the roads are lined with stone verges so after a while the chips on the paint start to get annoying. “Who wants to drive a tatty 356?” he smiles. “So I’ve had her repainted twice.” Proof of use can be paint job receipts just as much as they can be paint chips I suppose.
Along with the local events in Croatia, Dubravko can often be found in similar gatherings in Italy and Austria, and he drives up to 10,000km each summer in his car that’s pushing half a century in age, so there have been a couple of little issues along the way.
“A few years ago the alternator shorted out, but it’s not a big job to get an automotive electrician to rewire it. One part that is not original though is the flange of the rear hub. From Porsche that was a €900 part, so a friend of mine machined up a new one for me in a couple of hours and it works perfectly.
“One time though I almost had a huge problem. I ran out of fuel, which I knew was strange because I’d just filled up, and so I got out to see what the problem was and saw the line of fluid behind me, stretching off back down the road. The fuel pipe had split, right by the engine, and was spraying petrol all over the floor. At that moment I knew I was very, very lucky that the car didn’t go up in flames. But considering how much I drive her, other than these moments she’s actually amazingly reliable.”
And what about the future for his thoroughly enjoyed Porsche? “I’m always looking for nice, fun driving events around me, and I don’t like doing the same ones over and over. As for changes or modifications to the car, though, nothing!” he laughs. “I’ve always known that she’s the perfect car for me so the only plans are to keep her, look after her… and enjoy her.”