The Unique Steel Sport Roadster, Ex-Brundage Motors Inc. (Brumos Porsche) 1954 12-hours of Sebring
1953 Porsche Roadster Typ 540 K/9-1
Coachwork by Heuer/Gläser
Chassis no. 12371
Engine no. P40511
The predecessor to Porsche's iconic Speedster was the extremely limited production Typ 540 Sport Roadster, commonly known as the America Roadster because of the intended destination of most of the cars.
When Porsche production began in 1948, it followed closely on the firms first car, the mid-engined roadster, 356-001, which was followed by a small series of aluminum Gmund 'Limousines' and a steel coupe. The Sports Roadster was not part of the German companys plans, although Ferry Porsche agreed to have the car produced at the insistence of Max Hoffman. As the Porsche distributor in the United States, Hoffman was well attuned to the desires of his customers and he wanted the car to satisfy racing demands. Porsche also knew how lucrative this market would be if they got the combination right and they were wise to listen to Hoffmans request.
Porsche turned to the Glaser-Heuer company as the coach builder for the aluminum Sport Roadster, which was designated 356/4, with Typ 540 as the project number and the limited production run began. All but the first Sport Roadster was powered by Porsche's then new 1500 Super motor.
As a racer, the Sport Roadster (initially called a 'Competition Roadster' in the United States and then the more familiar 'America Roadster') saw much track time, including at the Pebble Beach Races. It also met with much success. Supply was drip fed to Hoffman, first a batch of six cars, then another six were ordered, but although the Sports Roadster was a winner, it became clear pretty quickly that the arrangement was not working on two counts. Firstly the bodywork was extremely time consuming and labor intensive for Heuer and most of the bodies were late in arriving at Porsche and secondly, its $4,600 price was very high, as Hoffman put it, it was equal to "3 Chevrolets."
In May 1952 a meeting was convened to address these problems. Present were Ferry Porsche, his cousin Ghislaine Kaes, designer Erwin Komenda, Hoffman and a Mr. Kooker a president of a group of Washington and New York racing clubs who Hoffman hoped would add weight to his argument. Historians seem unanimous that this gathering led to production of the steel Speedsters, the big break for Porsche and for Hoffman. However, it was another two years before Porsche's steel Speedster, became a reality.
The upshot of this meeting appears to have been a complete revision by Komenda of the existing roadster and a new design (No. 540.00.202) of a car that resembled the aluminum roadsters but was built in steel. It not only dispensed with the expense of the aluminum body but also introduced a fixed windshield and asked for as many parts as possible to come from existing parts bins.
Hoffman agreed to purchase 200 of these steel cars, but before production could get anywhere Heuer went bust. The sole steel car to have been started and two other aluminum roadsters were transferred to Reutter to be completed. This has been verified by a former employee of Heuer and Reutter, Herbert Jarczak who recounted that a steel and an aluminum roadster were finished at Reutter.
This car, 12371 is that unique steel America Roadster and the only one to adhere to the July 1952 design drawing number 540.00.202. It has a number of distinguishing features over other America Roadsters, most noticeable aesthetically are that the top fender well is lower than on the other cars, there is also of course the fixed windshield and the car had a folded canvas top which stowed beneath a hinged deck behind the seats.
The steel car like the aluminum cars, which totaled 16 in all, was supplied to Hoffman. The first owner of 12371 was Hubert Brundage the founder of Brumos who was a good client of Hoffman regularly purchasing and frequently feeling he had got the wrong end of the bargain. However Brundage like others who ran European car dealerships rarely complained as they needed their supply to come from Hoffman. 12371 was no exception. The story goes that Hubert had negotiated to buy this car sight unseen and that it was not until theyd left Hoffmans New York storage and driven a little way that Brundage ran into an office supply store bought a magnet and put it to the car and realized hed been sold a steel rather than an aluminum car. Screwed by Hoffman again his son recalls.
With the clear intention of racing the car, Brundage was definitely disappointed and seems to have raised a stink with Hoffman. Brundage ensured that 12371 was destined for racing and it first appeared in its original rosengrun paint scheme at a rally in September 1953 in Clewiston, Florida, where it came first overall. Yet only a month later on October 25th it showed up at the SOWEGA National Sports Car Races in Albany, Georgia as it would happen alongside the first appearance by the Porsche factory race team in the US who were running two 550 Spyders. Sporting a fresh coat of black paint and fitted with new Speedster seats (comfortably ahead of the actual announcement of the Speedster), these being Hoffmans concession to an unhappy Brundage.
Its most notable race came the next year at Sebring, where piloted by a team of Hubert Brundage, William Simpson and Stacy Brundage, 12371 was brought home 7th in class and 15th overall from a field of more than 80 runners including luminaries such as Briggs Cunningham, Bill Spear and John Fitch.
After Brundage 12371s life was pretty undignified, at some stage its screen was cut off and replaced with a Speedster windshield and the bodywork suffered as successive owners tried to adapt it to that form. In 1970 it was photographed at a Porsche Club of America meeting at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Amazingly, it was even dismissed at one stage by a marque authority as being a fake.
It was not until the early 1980s that it surfaced at a sale in Atlanta and was spotted by Charles Coker. Coker sent expert Gary Kempton to look at the car for him, who recognized what he was dealing with and wisely guided Coker to buy the car. It wasnt long though before Kempton began to feel that inner desire that drives most collectors of a need to own the car and he began to besiege Coker to sell the car to him. In a deal that Kempton recalled included several Carrera cars and motors and about five truckloads of parts
! 12371 became his in 1989.
The car was worked on at his GK Restorations shop in Florida progressively over the course of the next 10-15 years, the onus being on getting it right rather than being a flash in the pan job. Kempton was aided greatly by Jan Brundage who not only was able to provide a large photo album to work from but also recounted various stories of their ownership.
Fortunately, despite its hard life the mechanical components remained intact and the car retained its original motor and 519 transaxle and these were able to be rebuilt and re-installed in the car. The bodywork required a lot of work, the front axle beam being replaced as was the floor and longitudinals. The windshield frame was fabricated from flat metal stock and using a Glaser cab for a pattern. There is no doubt that the project was a challenge, but as evidenced by the result today, Kempton got the car spot on.
Initially it was elected that the color/guise for the car should be as it had debuted its racing career and when first seen at the 50th Anniversary of the Speedster in Monterey in 2004 the car wore black livery with Number 20 decals as it. But a year later in the run up to the Meadowbrook Hall Concours it was repainted to the original Rosedigurn Green it wears today.
Kempton retained the car until late 2006 when it passed to another fanatical Porsche Enthusiast. In a collection of cars that for the most part tend to be driven rather than shown, the America Roadster has seen limited but consistent use to ensure that it was always ready to be enjoyed when necessary, which it was when recently inspected by a member of the Bonhams team. On the road the car is extremely nimble, its direct steering taking a few moments to get used to, but any over compensation is quickly adjusted to as its spritely performance necessitates some concentration! The underlying impression is that the car is fast and that makes for a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience.
In the present ownership, minor cosmetic detailing has been attended to, but otherwise the car has simply continued to be maintained and cherished.
Unquestionably unique, this remarkable and important part of the Porsche story is thoroughly documented in numerous publications perhaps the most comprehensive article on its restoration was in Excellence magazine in December 2006. In literature it is frequently referred to as the missing link between the Aluminum America Roadsters and the steel Speedster.
Deserving of close inspection and having survived the ravages of time the Steel K/9-1 will now always be coveted.