Vintage Cars

Driving Janis Joplin’s Psychedelic $500,000 Porsche 356

With Joplin's original, customized radio and epic paint job, you can almost smell the patchouli.

Behind the Wheel of Janis Joplin's Custom Porsche 356C

She may have sung about Mercedes Benz, but Janis Joplin owned a Porsche—a 1964 Porsche 356C Cabriolet, to be exact. RM Sotheby's is selling the vintage vehicle at its "Driven By Disruption" sale on Dec. 10 in New York. Experts say it could fetch at least half a million dollars.

The psychedelic roadster has a (nearly) 100-horsepower engine, progressive disc brakes, authentic non-power steering, a body weight of next to nothing, and if you’re lucky, the four-speed manual transmission will hit 60 miles per hour in 10 seconds. That's all beside the point. Driving it feels as if you’ve stepped back in time to join the glory days of motoring: With its short, little snub nose, low ride, and that four-speed manual transmission, you'll achieve total road contact between human and machine. It’s extremely fun to drive. 

Joplin bought this 1964 Porsche 356 in 1968.
Joplin bought this 1964 Porsche 356 in 1968.
Photographer: Hannah Elliott for Bloomberg

 

The Legend

Typical 365 Porsches these days are going for closer to the low six figures, or just a little more if you get one restored, which is not the high sum we expect at the Sotheby’s sale. Joplin adds cachet. 

She bought the car used, off a lot in 1968, and let her artist friend, Dave Richards, paint jellyfish and butterflies all over it. They called it a kaleidoscopic rendition of the "history of the universe." Richards's paint job has been restored. But all the original details are there, from the short, plump seats and the tiny windshield wipers to the specialized radio Joplin had installed. 

When you slip inside the 365 it's like touching a ghost—you can almost smell patchouli wafting through the floorboards. There's even a little leftover stub in the ashtray. (While it could be hers, the Sotheby's guy I asked would not speculate.) Even eerier, this is the car that was parked at the West Hollywood motel where Joplin died. It was the last thing she drove.

If you are lucky enough to buy it, expect the car to bring happy memories. It is currently owned by Joplin’s brother and sister and has been sitting at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Cleveland for the past two decades. But with that perfect Porsche character intact, it starts right up. Like Joplin's rock ballads, her darling little Porsche has stood the test of time.  

The original paint work by artist Dave Richards, a friend of Joplin's, has been restored.
The original paint work by artist Dave Richards, a friend of Joplin's, has been restored.
Photographer: Hannah Elliott for Bloomberg
The car comes with the customized radio Joplin installed.
The car comes with the customized radio Joplin installed.
Photographer: Hannah Elliott for Bloomberg
Joplin drove this 356 Porsche the night she died.
Joplin drove this 356 Porsche the night she died.
Photographer: Ryan Manning for Bloomberg
The 356 was progressive at the time of its debut for its disc brakes and its Porsche/Volkswagen manual transmission and engine engineering.
The 356 was progressive at the time of its debut for its disc brakes and its Porsche/Volkswagen manual transmission and engine engineering.
Photographer: Hannah Elliott for Bloomberg
The car is expected to sell for $400,000 to $600,000 at the Sotheby's sale on Dec. 10, 2015.
The car is expected to sell for $400,000 to $600,000 at the Sotheby's sale on Dec. 10, 2015.
Photographer: Ryan Manning for Bloomberg

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