This Porsche 356 Zagato Coupe Has Been Six Decades In The Making
Photography by Virgiliu Andone
It’s fascinating how some twins are born and grow up to be mirrors of each other, while others begin their divergence from day one. It turns out that the tangled give-and-take between nature and nurture extends into automotive territory. In this case, the Zagato-bodied Porsche 356. The curvaceous Coupé version shown here has a Speedster twin, and though they’re both based on 356s, you can argue an age difference of just about 60 years.
That’s because the Speedster model was was built in 1957, while the Coupé is part of a limited “continuation” run that Zagato calls Sanction Lost. The original Speedster Z was a one-off build developed for the French rally and circuit racer Claude Storez, a longtime driver of Porsche 356 competition models. After some successes with his Speedster, Storez tragically passed in an accident in Reims, his untimely death highlighting yet again the strange and slightly morbid facet of the relationships we have with inherently dangerous racing cars of the past.
The 356 Carrera Speedster Z was recreated by the famed Italian design house in part to honor the memory of Storez, and though it has the distinctive stamp of Zagato everywhere you look, it would have no trouble mixing in with the likes of 550 RS Spyders and 718 RSKs. This grey hardtop on the other hand seems to have inherited more of its phenotype from Italy. It was never built in the same period as Storez’s Speedster—it spent its life on sketching paper until recently—but that only makes it a more interesting concept to puzzle over in the debate over continuation cars. Technically this Carrera Coupé Z isn’t a continuation at all, it’s actually more like a car that’s just been a very long time coming, if we’re being bookish about it.
The hardtop has its share of Porsche DNA—check under the engine cover for the plainest evidence—but to look at it, I would be more likely to compare it to an Alfa Romeo SZ or a Fiat-Abarth Zagato than any 356, even its Speedster Z sibling. With a presence so delicate and lithe, I am almost surprised to see the Porsche crests in place of the scorpions. And yet, this car was the result of an inquiry by Porsche itself—being quite impressed with what the Speedster Z was capable of, the company asked Zagato to look into designing and building a closed racing car, with a weight of less than 700kg (~1543lbs). The Ercole Spada-led team’s hardtop creation was never realized in period, but, luckily, it made the cut in the Sanction Lost program that Zagato initiated in 2015.
Out of the only nine hardtop cars built, the example pictured here is the only one that was destined for Europe, where, arguably, its natural habitat would have been. Seeing it on the shaded alleys of the Hampton Court Palace Park, disappearing behind a shaped evergreen only to emerge again in the middle of making a laconic loop around a burbling fountain, I am instantly picturing not an English palace but a Tuscan landscape woven with narrow roads and dotted with sun-drenched villas.
In any case, it looks right at home. The foliage reflected in the medium grey paint gives a mottled, leafy texture to the glassy paintwork. Beams of dappled light highlight each body line seemingly one by one as I orbit the car with my camera. This body would be striking in an empty room, and it’s even more so in this scene, a juxtaposition of its frankly sensuous forms with the linear gravel paths and the martially upright trees.
In the purest Zagato tradition, this is built to be a sports car with no superfluous details, no elaborate decoration nor a luxurious interior, although I have to say those seats are as comfortable as they are gorgeous. There is hardly anything to look at inside or out that doesn’t look good. Handmade aluminum panels, a painted dashboard, and punched out louvers on the engine cover. The more you look, the more you start to discover, like that sublime door shut line that is angled forward, the handles flush to the body; or the way the lower part of the rear window swoops up to match the rear haunches. Each one of these details serves to harmonize the overall design. It’s rife with these little touches, yet from no angle does it look too busy.
Mechanically, this car is a 1959 Porsche 356 BT5 “Monogrille.” In addition to the louvers on the rear lid, a panel can be opened to assist with additional cooling, a feature that reportedly addresses the overheating that drivers and engineers complained about in period—I am a fan of the famous Abarth solution to essentially keep the lid open on their little Fiats, but this is a much subtler solution.
The paint color is Grigio Medio (literally, “medium grey”), complemented by a Rosso Cartier leather interior. Completed in 2017, it spent a time in Zagato’s Galleria in Milan, and only recently has it been out in the world. I was happy to catch it at last week’s Hampton Court event, where it arrived in the caring hands of Porsche enthusiasts Export 56, who are by all rights crazily in love with this car.
Although it was not entered in the official concours competition, this car was one of the more popular of the day judging by the amount of foot traffic jammed up by the revolving circle of admirers. It’s not the most brash or attention-grabbing design, but I think it represents a beautiful pairing between Germany and Italy, between a legendary manufacturer and design house. It’s the kind of car that sits above brand or national allegiances, a beautiful bridge between schools of thought and culture. It’s rare beyond its low production numbers, but like all great cars, it has an ability to bring people together.
And I don’t mean that in some imprecise sappy sense—I was far from the only one who struck up a conversation with the person next to him because of our shared appreciation for this car. That’s really all it takes, any connection can lead somewhere special. Sometimes it leads to Porsche collaborating with Zagato, sometimes it’s as simple as a friendly conversation at a car show.