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CORRECT SIZE CLASSIC PORSCHE COVER:Layout 1

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356

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Words and photos: Keith Seume

THE PERFECT OBSESSION We follow Paul Rui’s quest to get inside the head of Porsche’s production line team in an effort to produce the most accurate restoration of an early Porsche yet 32

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T

o say that Paul Rui isn’t like most Porsche enthusiasts is something of an understatement. He comes across as being a typically understated Norwegian, tall, quietly spoken and speaking impeccable English, with just a hint of Scandinavian accent. Maybe that’s because his mother is English and he has many happy memories of childhood holidays this side of the North Sea. But we digress for, more importantly, he’s an obsessive character who only knows how to do things one way: the right way. Over the years, he’s owned, restored, rebuilt and, most importantly, driven a wide variety of vintage VW and Porsche cars. They’ve nearly all been a little on the unusual side (OK, to use an Americanism, ‘way out in left field’) but have each been impeccably

detailed in their own unique way. But his dream had always been to own an early. Porsche - and by early we mean really early. ‘I had just sold my unrestored 1950 VW Convertible,’ Paul recalls, ‘and was looking for an interesting project to sink my teeth into. I knew a thing or two about these early Porsches, but obviously not very much due to the fact there is almost nothing written in detail about them. What I did know, though, was that Ferdinand Porsche died at the end of January 1951 and I wanted a car that was produced while he was still alive. ‘My friend Austin Asphjell was studying in Texas, and one day back in 1997 or ‘98 he called me up to say he had found a 1950 splitwindow Porsche in Hemmings News, the longestablished classic car advertising magazine in the USA. I had told him to be on the lookout

for anything interesting that might come up. Well, to cut a long story short, a deal was struck and I found myself the proud owner of a 1950 Porsche!’ It all sounds so simple, doesn’t it? You want a Pre-A Porsche, you find a Pre-A Porsche - you buy a Pre-A Porsche... But this was to be the beginning of a long journey through the Porsche archives, sorting truth from fiction, and trying to get inside the head of workers at Stuttgart, thinking the way they thought while hand-assembling each 356 coupé. Paul continues: ‘I remember trying to find as much info as possible about this car, and spoke to the seller - Tom Scott in Colorado - on numerous occasions as he already had several early Porsche restorations under his belt. Tom was kind enough to supply me with lots of information and, thank CLASSIC PORSCHE

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spent a full two years searching for the correct Hella “Iheadlights. They are extremely difficult to find… ” 34

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We flew to Oslo especially to photograph the car, as we knew it was going to be something special. It was one of the stars of the PCGB event at Hedingham Castle in 2009. Rear three-quarter view is our favourite. This car is perfection on wheels

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PRE-A 356

goodness, it turns out he also had a few of the hard to find parts for sale.’ In these early days in the project, Paul admits he knew pretty much nothing about the car at all, so called Richard King of Karmann Konnection in Southend, Essex, and during a short phone conversation it was decided that he would see the project through the main part of the restoration. ‘However,’ says Paul, ‘little did I know that the restoration would take the best part of 10 years, but I was determined to leave no stone unturned in restoring this car to the same immaculate condition as it left the factory.’ Research shows that the car was sold at Glöckler in Frankfurt, the agency run by Walter Glöckler whose own mid-engined sports cars inspired Porsche to go down the same route, resulting in the development of the 550 Spyder. So it came from a good home, then, but it was a full restoration project, as Paul clearly remembers. ‘I soon realised, the more I sank my teeth into early Porsche history, that this car had to be restored in the correct way. It needed a lot of things, but did have some of the most important bits. It’s taken a long time getting it to the condition you see it today! I have been to the archives probably about seven times in total, carrying out research. You see, I can’t bring myself to trust what you read in most information sources.’ The decision was made to entrust the task of restoring the badly corroded body and chassis to Bruce Cooper’s Sportwagen operation in Essex, a company responsible for several of the finest early-Porsche rebuilds

this side of the Atlantic. The fun, though, was just about to begin, as Paul recounts: ‘It was not until the car arrived at Sportwagen that I started to see all the small but important details that make a 1950 a 1950. I have managed to detect over 20 differences between a four-digit chassis number 1950 and a later ‘51 model, for example. My car was actually built on 20th December 1950 and is chassis number 5355. ‘Pretty soon after the car arrived in England for its two year body restoration, I was starting to find out all sorts of interesting things about Porsches of this age. I already had a friend in Sweden, Christer Rye, whom I knew through the VW scene, who had restored a 1951 Porsche and he became pretty much the first person I turned to for help. Christer had been smart enough to document the whole restoration of his own car and had amassed plenty of information about who to contact, and the like. One name turned up on a regular basis: Tom Birch in California. Tom proved to be a huge help as I ran many of my thoughts past him. I also found some more useful information after buying an unrestored ‘52 in Sweden, from which I hoped to source certain parts that were identical to those used on my 1950. There were some but, as it turned out, not many...’ Meanwhile, thanks to Thomas Skogli, Paul began a long dialogue with the Porsche museum in Stuttgart. ‘I managed to speak to Jens Torner at the archives,’ he says, ‘and spent time looking through the small collection of pictures they have, using a

Robbie O’Rourke gets the nod for the stunning interior retrim, while owner Paul Rui hand made the Porsche-scripted radio blanking plate himself magnifying glass. Jens was kind enough to let me read many of the different notes made during the meetings Ferdinand Porsche had with his staff in the early days while working out what improvements could be made to the design. ‘I have spent a lot of time in the archives and also at the Porsche museum, where I also received a lot of assistance from Nadine Katz, who put up with me crawling all over the museum’s own cars while I was lecturing her about screws and all the different varieties used at Porsche! My obsession about screws and what brands were used got a bit out of hand... After travelling all over Europe to track down the correct fasteners, I managed to find the majority of the screws NOS (new old stock) - and of the correct brand. I think only about four per cent are still original, and they were treated by bead-blasting, then heating them up and popping them into a bath of old mineral motor oil. You then get a finish that is as new, with that blue-black hue that most fasteners from that period had. Also, it took a long time to track down 14mm nuts which for some reason are very hard to find new...’ Do you now see what we mean about Paul being The devil is in the detail, and Paul Rui’s 1950 356 is full of them. New old stock taillights and the correct body badging add the finishing touches to a magnificent project

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‘obsessive’? Needless to say, he found those elusive 14mm nuts in the end, as well. But he’s not finished yet... ‘Also, all screws for the interior are new old stock from the period,’ says Paul. ‘You can easily spot a late screw from an early one, by studying the width of the screwdriver slot: the wider the gap, the later the screw.’ But there is a good reason for this obsession. ‘I had seen a few restorations with all sorts of horrible bolts and screws - even modern Phillips screws that Porsche did not start to use until sometime in 1954... Details, details! I really did start wondering if I was going a bit crazy, but I have always followed through on all projects I’ve done, struggling to get the last few percent correct. I just don’t feel good with myself if things aren’t the way I like them to be.’ Thus speaks the perfectionist. But when you are satisfied with nothing less than the very best, it can be demoralising to discover that some so-called (or selfprofessed) experts don’t prove to be as expert as they make out. Paul continues: ‘There are a

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lot of people you need to involve when restoring a car of this kind, and it takes a long time finding out if their standards are up to yours. For example, I tried a number of wellknown chrome-platers over here, but didn’t really feel anything like satisfied until I sent parts out to America to get plated. But it’s all part of the learning process!’ The bodyshell was in a bad way and it was necessary to have a lot of fabrication work done while it was at Sportwagen for the body and paint restoration. It ended up being painted in its original Radium Green twice, such was Paul’s search for perfection, as he explains: ‘The original front hood and a few other pieces were not up to Sportwagen standards - and it proved to be a problem. A number of people ended up being involved with getting the bonnet in the same state as it left the factory. My painter in Norway, Bulente Ertung, did his best to fix things, but it was the inner structure that was the problem. It wasn’t really until I got an original replacement panel that I felt completely satisfied.

The sheer quality of this restoration is breathtaking, and Radium Green has to be the most beautiful colour ever for any early Porsche. Sportwagen gets the credit for the flawless finish ‘The car then went back to England, to Bruce Cooper, in 2005 to be repainted - my good friend Tomas helped me with all the transport to England. I held my breath when the crew on the Newcastle ferry ordered him to back the full length of the ship - not an easy thing with a trailer in tow. It was the most impressive piece of reversing I have ever seen!’ But sorting out body panels and paintwork was only the tip of the iceberg. Paul does seem to attract trouble, if he doesn’t mind us saying so: ‘A few incidents have shaken me during the restoration, like the time my everyday car got stolen while the Porsche’s transmission was sitting in the boot! Or when I dropped two sets of windscreen glass on the floor, and spent eight months locating some replacements.’ It’s all

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PRE-A 356 part of the fun... What makes the restoration of this particular car so exciting, though, is the way in which Paul tried to get inside the head of the people who built it in the first place. That’s what set this apart from the vast majority of such rebuilds. As he says, ‘A lot of thinking has gone into this project. I tried to think of myself in the mechanics’ place so I could figure out how they did certain things. I read a lot of old magazines and studied as many books with early factory pictures as I could lay my hands on. This meant travelling to lots of automobilia auctions in search of original photographs to study in detail.’ But why did he set his standards so high? Paul explains: ‘I have attended Techno Classica Essen, and several other large classic

boots on the transmission, but in a much smaller scale. They took so much work - I needed four, and it took me close to three hours to make each one from scratch! ‘I spent an awful lot of time studying parts,’ continues Rui, ‘in an effort to discover their origins. Thankfully, as many mechanical components are identical to those used on the contemporary VW Beetle, there have been times when I’ve been fortunate enough to find NOS parts, such as the torsion bars, king-pins, brake master-cylinder, wheel cylinders, linkpins, track-rods, and front and rear shocks (the rear shocks actually date back to the wartime era, and are stamped with the very early VW cogwheel logo!). I learnt that many of these parts were not painted, being left as raw metal covered in grease. Of course, I have

make it look like a two-piece windscreen. ‘All the glass is in fact new, but not marked - I chose not to etch-mark the glass because I have yet to find out if it used to be made by Sigla or Sekurit. Working out what to do about the window rubbers was a case of using logic. I struggled for a time to find out where the join should be, and it wasn’t before Tom Birch in America sent me a picture of an original windscreen, with the rubber and glass intact, that I realised my ‘screen had to come out again. The join in the rubber should be at the top and not the bottom. I also found the same with the rear window, by using a magnifying glass while looking at a photo in the Porsche archives. It all makes sense when you think about it: it’s raining, you stop, water runs down the window and gathers at the

going to restore a car well you should aim to “If you’re return it to its factory-original condition ”

events, just so I could see for myself what the experts call a quality restoration. I usually came away disappointed. You see, the true quality of a restoration is only found when you get down on your hands and knees and look underneath. I usually crawl all over a car at a show, and can’t really understand why so many people don’t give much thought to what’s underneath that shiny bodywork. Most restorations - even so-called high-quality ones - lack real attention to detail. I guess I’m strange in that I believe if you’re going to restore a car well you should aim to return to its factory-original condition as accurately as possible in every area. Anything else is only second best.’ The problem here - and this isn’t unique to early Porsches - is that there are many parts which simply aren’t available, no matter how diligently you search. Many smaller parts have to be fabricated after studying drawings and photographs. Paul Rui had to make the tiny hose-clamps for the fuel lines: ‘They are identical to the clamps used for the axle

done it in the same fashion.’ It seems glass and Mr Rui don’t get along too well, though. ‘I managed to crack three sets of windshields and had to order several sets of window rubber from Tom Birch, as he is the only person who makes them. Unfortunately, they are not cut to the right length, so I had to cut them myself, but ended up cutting them either too short or too long, so the glass broke when I tried to install it! Eight times I had the glass in and out, before I was satisfied with the result. I learned that it’s not recommended to tackle this job on your own, like I did - the experts say at least three people are needed to do the job properly but, if you are like me and only trust yourself, you have a problem. ‘Several people try to do it the easy way,’ says Paul, in a disapproving manner, ‘by using the one-piece windscreen from a “bentscreen” 1953 model. They then cut the central sealing strip from the earlier car in two and use silicon - that’s horrible on a 1950s car - to stick the pieces on either side of the glass to

bottom of the seal. Now, if the join is at the bottom, water will seep into the car. Simple logic, you see. Porsche never did use any glue on the early seals...’ After even a few minutes talking with Paul Rui, you start to get the feeling that trying to restore a Pre-A 356 by yourself is a truly daunting task. But even if you entrust the task to a professional, there’s still no guarantee you’ll end up with the right parts being used, not because of any intentional corner-cutting, but simply because so few people really know the minutiae of older Porsches. Paul gives another example: ‘Bumper trim comes in various shapes. Mine has a groove down the middle, which is right for the period. Others don’t and the two are often confused. Also, these early cars have a thin aluminium trim to finish off the valances, The proud owner with the fruits of his ten years of obsessive research. Original Hella headlights are fragile and almost impossible to find in this condition

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front and rear - these are fastened with tiny screws that have a square-shaped head. It almost goes without saying that these are impossible to find, so I had to get these made as well.’ All too often, it’s the trim and ancillaries which cause the most grief - sorting the bodywork itself can almost seem easy by comparison! On this car, the rear lights, including the indicator lenses, are all new old stock, and you can only imagine how hard it must be to find parts like that. ‘You can get good reproduction indicator lenses, but the colour of the glass is too dark,’ says Paul. ‘And I spent a full two years finding the correct Hella headlights. They are extremely difficult to find, because the reflectors are silvered brass. You only need to look hard at them and they crack. Remarkably few people know they should be brass, even die-hard VW guys. I found a memo in the Porsche archives stating that they changed to Bosch in early 1951, probably for this very reason.’ But what about tyres? How many supposedly accurate restorations have you seen where the car runs on a set of modern radial tyres? Paul shudders at the thought. ‘I managed to trace a set of brand new Dunlop Gold Seal tyres in Denmark. Now, you have to wonder how tyres can survive for 50 years without cracking up, but the secret is the

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storage: you must keep them in the cold and dark. These tyres are fitted to a set of the correct KPZ riveted wheels for the year and model,’ says Paul. ‘The hubcaps are a story of their own - and the only departure from truly original on the car. I had always liked the old hubcaps that came on the really early 356s (as if a 1950 model wasn’t really early - KS), and, although I know that they are wrong for my car, I knew I had to have them. Of course, now a few other Pre-A 356s have them fitted, but mine have been on the shelf for five years. Richard King found a set of the “good quality” repro large VW-logo hubcaps, and set about finding someone who could make a wooden buck to hammer out the logo pressing. It took lots of work, but I think the end result is really worthwhile.’ There are relatively few things that the old Pre-As share with the later 356 models, one of them being the strap that holds the handbrake cable and brake hoses in place. But that didn’t make things any easier. Paul explains: ‘You can get repros of these but they are in nylon, which is something that I doubt the factory used - not in the early days, anyway. This detail was one of those things that took a long time figuring out. I had seen fragments of original ones, sometimes in leather, but also rubber. I have used rubber, as

I believe this to be the most correct.’ Logic and obsession rear their heads again... Paul Rui’s obsessive behaviour showed no signs of waning when it came to the interior, either. ‘Many Porsches came with radios installed, but I believe this was a dealerinstalled option. Many restorers choose to install radios, therefore I have chosen not to besides, my car probably didn’t have a radio fitted originally anyway. Instead I have made from scratch - the so-called “dummy gauge” that just says “PORSCHE”. It took a lot of work (and time) to accurately replicate this panel, but I think it was well worth the effort. ‘Some people might also wonder why I haven’t fitted any license-plate brackets on my car, but don’t forget, I restored this car to the state in which it left the factory, not the showroom. I believe these, like the radio, were almost certainly installed by the dealer, especially when you consider the differences in the shape and size of license plates throughout the world. As soon as the 356 left Sportwagen, it was sent to O´Rourke Coachtrimmers in Cranleigh, Surrey, where Robbie O’Rourke took on the task of reconstructing the car’s trim to create an interior that was exactly as it would have had from new. It is an absolutely incredible piece of work. Of course, things are never simple, as Paul explains yet again:

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‘Floorboards in these early cars have always been a point of debate. What colour should they be? After speaking to a few friends in Sweden who had found a set of floorboards in blue, we started to wonder if they were matched to the colour of the carpet: blue carpet, blue boards; green carpet, green boards. It seemed logical, but I needed confirmation. And then I found a board at a swapmeet in America that was green! In retrospect, it seems strange that Porsche went to this trouble when you consider how many different colours were available at the time and that the floorboards were almost entirely hidden out of sight. ‘I chose to install a full carpet set, which is more for show, as most of the early cars probably had rubber mats as standard - it’s hard to say what was the original choice as there are no records. Anyway, I have colourmatched my floorboards to the carpets, and also glued/nailed a small strip of horsehair on the back of each to prevent the boards from hammering on the metal - just like the originals.’ But what of the drivetrain? This was one area where Paul faired a little better. ‘The nonsynchromesh split-case VW-sourced transmission is pretty much original and, in the end, I just took it apart and inspected it before reassembling it again.’ But don’t think he took any short cuts in his search for originality: ‘I decided to put in a graphite throw-out bearing like they used in the early days. Nobody will ever see it, but I’ll know it’s correct for the year. I was just following my golden rule when restoring this car: return it

to its former glory, the way it was originally.’ As for the engine, it’s the correct VWbased, short-stroke 1100cc unit that’s had the pistons and cylinders replaced, but is original (that word again!) in every way possible. Paul continues the tale: ‘The engine with which it was fitted is actually slightly older then the car itself and was probably among the first 100 engines to be produced. Fortunately, it still had all the original and unique parts for an 1100, which include the super-rare heads that, in 1950, had four-bolt intake manifolds.’ The engine was lovingly rebuilt by Ole Walzig, using as many of the original components as possible, and then detailed to perfection. It runs like a dream and, in such a light car, its performance belies its miniscule capacity. We took a trip round the streets of Oslo and found it hard to believe that a car this old behaves so well in modern traffic. Dr Porsche and son clearly knew what they were doing when they penned the 356. Heaven only knows what rivals made of their little gem. We think it is safe to say that this is almost certainly the most correct restoration of an early Porsche done to this day. Even the Porsche museum agrees, and has expressed interest in Paul Rui’s Radium Green beauty. Take a look at the photos and it’s not hard to see why. We’ll leave the last word(s) to the proud owner. ‘Obviously a lot of people have helped me with this project and if I was going to mention everyone, it would fill a page alone! I definitely wouldn’t have managed it without the help of Jens Torner in the Porsche

It’s hard to believe that the rusty tub on the far left could end up looking so perfect! Paul saved every tiny part of the car so that he had constant reference to original details archives, or Nadine Katz at the Porsche museum. Also, big thanks go to Tomas for letting me use his workshop so often, and Tom Birch in America, who must be one of THE greatest authorities on these early Porsches. There have been many questions we have solved together in our discussions about why Porsche did this or did that. Christer Rye in Sweden has been extremely helpful with sourcing parts and giving me valuable information, following the detailed restoration of his own 1951 356. Kobus Cantraine in Belgium has been a big help in documenting and finding parts on his travels across the world. ‘Thanks must go to Tom Scott, who sold me the car in the first place, and was also such a valuable source helping me to track down correct parts. Austin Asphjell for finding the car in Hemmings, and for organizing the transport to get the car back to Norway. Victor Miles really deserves a big thank you for doing the chroming. It really is absolutely museum quality! Finally, Richard King, Robbie O’Rourke and, finally, Bruce at Sportwagen for applying the incredible Radium Green paint. I am very impressed with the quality of the work done and can truly recommend Sportwagen for the finest of restorations.’ Engine is the correct 1100cc ‘short-stroke’ unit, which runs like a Swiss watch

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