This gift from Germany to America after WWII is priceless for a reason.
In 1952, seven years after the end of World War II, Germany’s most celebrated automaker honored America with a gorgeous memorial designed by Erwin Komenda. Constructed from hand formed sheet metal, sprayed with shimmering single-stage paint and finished with two Solex carburetors, the Porsche 356 America Roadster was a memorial to this country's great driving roads. Only 17 of these cars were ever made; 11 are accounted for today.
A massive print of the car hangs on the wall at Paterek Brothers, a small Porsche restoration shop in northern New Jersey. The shop may be small, but John Paterek’s reputation is larger than life. He's a boisterous character with a claim to fame in the Porsche world — he once owned one of the rarest and most desirable Porsches ever made, and it sold for an unimaginable price when he finally passed it on.
If the devil is in the details, then so is god.
At the 1979 Porsche parade, John Paterek connected with a young lady responsible for liquidating her recently deceased father’s estate. To most people it looked like she had a standard 356 for sale, but this car was slightly different. It featured details not seen on standard 356s. If the devil is in the details, then so is God. And God was smiling on Paterek that day. He made a verbal agreement to purchase the car and drove down to Mariana, Pennsylvania, a week later to see the car in person.
After seeing 8,400 original miles on the odometer, Paterek plunked down $16,400 and loaded the car up for the trip back to New Jersey.
Paterek restoring the Porsche (Courtesy of the author)
He spent next few years poring over what little information was available on the American Roadster. Without the internet, research took a little more work. The car was refinished in its original stylish gray paint and every single aspect of the car was restored to the condition it was in when it left Stuttgart.
Luck had brought him to the car, but it was hard work that brought the car to life.
That work reaped the highest honors in the Porsche world. When it was finished in 1981, the car was ready for its first show: The Porsche Car Club of America’s annual Porsche Parade. It won the People’s Choice award, and went on to win just about every prominent Concours show: Pebble Beach, Meadowbrook, Greenwich, Amelia Island; in 2003 it was even selected to be shown at the prestigious Louis Vuitton Rockefeller Center Concours D’elegance.
The Roadster's original owner (Courtesy of the author)
Two years later, Paterek came to a realization that would chart an entirely new course for the historic Porsche.
After the Porsche Parade, he stared at the back of a large American SUV pulling out of a parking spot. The 356 sat well below the mirror, and the driver of the SUV couldn't see the handsome stylish grey coupe that she was about to back into. Paterek beeped the horn, but it only let out a puny 1950s honk.
Though they didn’t make contact, it was then that Paterek knew he had to let the car go. It wasn’t fun anymore — he was responsible for preserving history at this point. He couldn't simply enjoy driving the car anymore. When he got back to the hotel he told his wife that he had to let his other love go.
A few years earlier, Jerry Seinfeld picked the car out as his favorite at a Concours event in the Hamptons. He was the first potential buyer that Paterek called, but Seinfeld's car handler wasn’t keen on the price. “750,000?!" he said. "I’m not going to be the first one to spend that kind of money for this car!” Since there were so few surviving 356 America Roadsters, the market hadn’t determined a hard price for the car.
Seinfeld at a Concours event (Courtesy of the author)
The next phone call was to Ralph Lauren; again, $750,00 was too high. Everyone loved the car, but they simply couldn't spend such a sum without the market having proven the value. No one wanted to make the first move.
The car was priceless to Paterek, but he knew the car was special. If the biggest buyers in American wouldn’t bite, maybe someone in the cars homeland would. Paterek set the price at a million dollars and offered the car to Wolfgang Porsche, the son of Ferdinand Porsche, who founded the marque.
Ferdinand Porsche bought the car. Though it was specifically designed for America, it would head back to the land where it was created to be preserved for eternity.
A few years later, prominent car collector John McCaw asked Paterek to reach out to Porsche so he could buy the car. He offered $2 million for it, and Porsche respectfully declined. McCaw countered with a three million dollar offer; again,Porsche declined. Porsche firmly stated that the car was not for sale, and no amount of money would allow the 1952 America Roadster to leave his collection.
John Paterek always said that the car was priceless during his 26 years of ownership. Turns out he was right.