Janis Joplin’s Porsche: Would You Pay $500,000 For this Car?
Vintage Porsches have long crossed over from being drivable classics to near-unobtainable status symbols. Case in point: In 2006, A well-used original ’64 Porsche 356C 1600SC Cabriolet, one of the rarer 356 models, was worth around $46,000 in daily driver condition. Today, the same car is worth close to $90,000, with the finest examples fetching upwards of $250,000. And come this Thursday, a regularly-driven 1600SC is likely to shatter that mark two times over.
Of course, we’re talking about Janis Joplin’s ’64 Porsche here, and the last person to buy this car was, well, Janis Joplin. Pre-sale estimate on her Porsche? $400,000-$600,000.
Here’s the story: In 1968, after the success of Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Big Thrills, Janis bought the Porsche used from Estes-Zipper, a Beverly Hills Porsche-Ferrari dealership for $3,500. It was originally finished in Dolphin Gray (still the color of the car’s dashboard), but this was the height of Psychedelia, so she paid roadie Dave Richards $500 to transform the car into the lysergic-friendly “History of the Universe,” complete with “The Eye of God” on the hood, a landscape with Sputnik soaring overhead, and a portrait of Big Brother on the front left fender.
After her death in 1970, Joplin’s Porsche made its way to New York, where her manager (and Bob Dylan’s) Albert Grossman drove the car regularly. In 1973, her siblings Michael and Laura Joplin took possession of the car in Ohio, where it’s spent years as a daily driver – imagine seeing this parked across from you in a Kroeger parking lot. Later on, the car was treated to a restoration, where the History of the Universe mural was removed, and it was painted back to its original gray. By the 1990s however, the Joplin family began to realize the car’s importance, and had the mural restored using a stack of period photographs. It was loaned to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the early 1990s, where it spent 20 years on display. Today, Michael and Laura Joplin are selling the car through RM Sotheby’s at its Driven by Disruption auction in New York, and it could very well set a new record for Porsche 356Cs.
In person, the Janis Joplin Porsche is gorgeous. The thick brush strokes and texture of the mural make it charmingly unpretentious, and the simple gray metal dash and spartan black seats drive home just how simple classic Porsche interiors really are. Despite benefitting from a ’70s engine rebuild, later refresh, and a resent refreshing by RM Sotheby’s, the car looks nicely broken-in, with small dings to the original hubcaps, and minor imperfections around the car. None of this detracts from the car; in fact, it makes it all the more believable that Janis really parked this thing on San Francisco streets – mural and all – nearly 50 years ago. The original California black plates, 1968 registration stickers, and license plate holders are a great touch too.
Celebrity provenance aside, the 356C 1600SC is a highly desirable car, thanks to its unique place in Porsche history. The 356 debuted in 1948 as the first production model in Porsche history. The 356C bowed in 1964 – the same year the 911 was introduced – and featured standard four-wheel disc brakes, as well as the hottest engine Porsche had built to date: a 95 horsepower flat-four. As a Rutter-bodied Cabriolet model, Janis’ Porsche is one of just 832 built in 1964, with even fewer having the desirable SC upgrades.
So will Janis Joplin’s 1600SC become one of the most expensive 356s ever sold this week? Even without the artwork, the history, the fame, and the celebrity connection, this is technically a one-owner ’64 1600SC with 38,530 showing on the clock (though it’s probably rolled over) – collectors are apeshit over vintage Porsches like these anyway, they’re going to fetch stupid amounts of money anywhere. Art and cultural artifacts from the ’60s have been red hot on the auction market over the past few years, in Janis Joplin’s Porsche, they intersect, which means bidding on this could get very interesting. RM Sotheby’s ends its description of the car with a quote from Janis: “Enjoy and have fun, and why not, if in the end, everything will end, right?” We never thought her playfully nihilistic quote would ever be attributed to a half-a-million dollar Porsche, but here we are.
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