For some Porsche enthusiasts, the road to ownership follows a course which perhaps starts as an interest back as a young child, followed by increasing interest through those teenage years and early adulthood, ending in ownership at some later point. Others simply splash out later in life and buy a Porsche in what is generally termed a ‘mid-life crisis’. But there is always one story that bucks the trend, such as how a passionate teenager stopped his father from selling the sports car he loved.
Francisco Trespalacios was born and raised in that passionate Latin American melting pot, Mexico City. His real introduction to the world of motor cars started in 1964 when his father began teaching him to drive the family VW Beetle at the tender age of just 8 years. The other car in the family at the time was a 1958 Porsche 356 A 1600 Super Cabriolet, which his father had bought when he traded in the family Ford Thunderbird back in ‘61. But during those early formative years, Francisco was only allowed behind the wheel of the VW Beetle.
The Porsche had been purchased new by its first owner, Bruno Krieger Potts, who was a rally driver which is why the car has the Blaupunkt Hamburg short wave radio and the Heuer rally pack. Mexico has a strong history of racing, and when asked if his father was a racing driver, Francisco replied, “No, my father didn’t race, he would just drive fast on the road!” At 8 years of age, Francisco could not see over the top of the dashboard of the Porsche, and so he would have to wait another four years before he was allowed behind the wheel of the Porsche. But in 1968, at just 12 years of age, Francisco’s dreams were realised when he was allowed to drive the Porsche with his father beside him.
Motoring was no doubt an important aspect of life in the Trespalacios household, as from the age of just 14 years, Francisco was allowed to drive the family cars alone on the streets of Mexico City. This no doubt stirred the emotions of the young teenage Francisco, as he yearned to get behind the wheel of the Porsche that lurked in the garage at home. He felt an early bond with the Porsche 356 Cabriolet, but we are getting ahead of ourselves as the story of how one very lucky 14-year old became the proud owner of his dream car is a fascinating one, as readers will find.
Vamos empuje! (Come on push!)
Francisco’s father used the Porsche as his daily driver, and he had a Japanese mechanic who looked after the car. A good job he did too, but then that mechanic mysteriously disappeared one day. This left his father without a mechanic, and with the engine having suffered a malfunction, the car became a non-runner. In 1965 the car was relegated to a corner in his father’s warehouse where it sat for the next five years, sadly forgotten, and facing a rather uncertain and somewhat undeserving future. Then one day, it came to Francisco’s attention that his father was contemplating selling the Porsche, and in fact, his father had already found an interested buyer.
Francisco, then just 14 years old, was not happy with this situation, and mentioning it to a close friend at school, Manuel Cusi, a plan was duly hatched to rescue the Porsche. The plan was as audacious as it was cunning, and it certainly was only within the bounds of possibility in the fruitful, hormone-induced minds of two teenage boys that it could be even remotely successful. Some may have labelled their plan as foolhardy, but brave the two boys certainly were.
On the agreed day, the two intrepid youngsters arrived at the warehouse, and with Francisco being well-known by the staff, they probably thought nothing more as the two boys disappeared into the depths of the warehouse. The two boys waited for an opportune moment and just then, with the warehouse entrance unguarded, they pushed the Porsche out of the warehouse unnoticed and around the corner to a gas station where they put air into the tyres. But this is where the plan becomes even more incredible, as the two youngsters proceeded to push the vehicle which had not moved for five years, the 10 km distance from Francisco’s fathers’ warehouse, to their home. You read it right, two teenage boys pushed a Porsche 356 for 10 km through the streets of Mexico City, unchallenged by the authorities. The route they took can be followed on Google Maps (other search engines are available) to verify the distance. It must be said that the Porsche was minus its engine which made it a good deal lighter, as this had been removed for repair, and sat nearby on the floor of the warehouse.
Fortunately most of the planned route was along flat roads, but Francisco describes the one section where they needed help, “…From Insurgentes we did a right into Ricardo Castro Street, through Ricardo Castro Street there is one block from Insurgentes which is flat, the next block was also flat with many small stores (convenience, grocery, ice cream, pharmacy, etc). The next block was up hill, we were so tired and we couldn’t push it anymore, but this is where many people from the small stores came onto the street to help us push the car – ‘vamos empujen’ (come on push!) I called to them.” They got the Porsche home, and pushed it round the back of the house.
This was only half the battle, as Francisco knew that when his father returned home that night, he was going to have to answer some awkward questions. When his father returned home, he called for Francisco to come downstairs, and asked him where his car was. When his father asked why it was outside, Francisco replied, “Well Dad, it is parked outside because I don’t want you to sell it. But he said to me that it was his car and not mine, and he wanted to know why we took it without his permission. So I said, because I really don’t want you to sell it, and I want to keep it. My father burst out laughing and said that I didn’t have to take it like that, the car was mine and he threw me the keys. And that is the way I came to own it.”
And so at the age of just 14 years, Francisco became the proud owner of a 1958 Porsche 356 A 1600 Cabriolet. “I kept the car in the garage at home and I didn’t use it until 1974, and then my father said to me, ‘Look if you’re not going to use the car I am going to sell it, so go and do something to the car!’” Francisco recalled. The quickest and easiest way to get the car running was to purchase and install a VW engine, and so Francisco began the search for a 1600cc VW engine. “I was looking for a 1600 engine which was new to the VW Beetle that year as it had a twin port intake head,” Francisco added. The new 1600cc engine was hard to find being new, and so he had to settle for a single port 1500cc unit, “I had no money to buy the VW engine, so my dad paid for it,” he revealed.
Porsche 356 A 1600 Super Cabriolet daily driver
The laws in Mexico at the time allowed a learner driver to acquire a temporary driver’s permit at the age of 16 years, and a full driver’s licence at age 18. Between the age of 14 (1970) and 16 years, Francisco was not stopped by the police for driving under age, but once he had his temporary permit (1972), the police stopped him three times…all on the same day!
Francisco got the Porsche working well with the VW engine, but he kept the original 1600 Super engine back in the garage at the family home.
In 1974, Francisco turned 18 years and the Porsche became his daily driver when he went to university. It was while at university that someone helped himself to the ‘1600 Super’ badge detail on the car’s engine lid, a development that understandably upset Francisco, as he had literally gone the extra mile to make the car his own. Although the Porsche was otherwise undamaged, his grandmother kindly offered to loan him her Renault Gordini, an 850cc engined car, to use for his daily commute to university. It was perhaps not surprising that Francisco set about making the Gordini a little more perky, “I fitted a two-barrel Zenith 32 carburettor with 28mm Venturis, the same that I had on the 356. It was as quick as a 1600 VW, but the engine was nearly half the size! I used it as my daily driver and the Porsche was kept in the garage,” Francisco admitted.
Meeting Siegfried Hönl
A decade after Francisco started his university studies, he decided to elevate his 356 back to the status of near originality. In ’77, Francisco found a 1964 356 C 1600 engine, and this he fixed several times over the next few years. But the engine was smoking continuously, and after one unsuccessful attempt by a race mechanic, Francisco needed to get his ’64 engine working properly, and he was referred to ‘Sigi’, a German Porsche mechanic. Siegfried Hönl used to maintain the 911 RSR IROC that belonged to one of the owners of the television company Grupo Televisa, a multimedia company which is second largest in Latin America.
“Sigi used to work at Porsche and he is one of the few mechanics trained in the assembly of the Fuhrmann engine. He was responsible for developing part of the Carrera 2 exhaust, and he was honoured in being asked to service to Ferry’s 356 Carrera 2 Cabriolet. He also assembled several cars that raced in Switzerland and then he came to the USA with a racing team, where he met and married a Mexican woman,” Francisco explained.
Francisco and Sigi agreed to meet up, “We met in the parking lot of the PANMEX Bakery and he looked over the car. Then we drove it around a bit and he said, look it is very nice and I’m going to fix it for you, call me in one year! One year past and I called him and I reminded him that one year has passed, but he had forgotten about our discussion. Anyway, he said we should take the engine out and so we went to my parent’s house where we took the engine out. He then took it to his house and took the engine apart there and fixed it. We have since become good friends!”
Francisco ran his 1958 Porsche 356 A 1600 Super for around twenty years, fitted with the ’64 356 C engine. In 2003 the car’s original 1958 engine was reinstalled, following an almost two-year rebuild by an extraordinarily meticulous Mexican mechanic, Alfredo Durand, a Civil Engineer. It was decided to embark on a gradual rebuild while the ’64 engine was still running, and so the process began with sourcing the missing and broken parts for the heads. It was while visiting a friend, Jose Luis Olmedo, that he noticed some Porsche heads on the floor, so Francisco enquired what he planned to do with them, “He told me ‘put them in your trunk or I’ll just throw them out’, so he gave me the C-heads for free. We used those C-heads because we couldn’t find the wedges for the A-head valve keepers, they were more expensive than buying new heads. Then I purchased an original good used distributor.”
The biggest worry was the sourcing of a replacement crankshaft, but this proved less problematical than expected. The chances of finding a spare crankshaft lying around were next to nothing, but fortunately, Alfredo Durand, had the exact crankshaft he needed so this was purchased at a reasonable price without delay. So the original engine was reunited with the 356, although with the C-heads, Francisco has watch that he does not overrev the engine as the engine is still fitted with the A’s conrods which are a known weakness.
“I told Alfredo Durand that I had a terrible noise in the transaxle and he said, ‘Sigi is the only one that can fix it’, and so Sigi’s services were called upon again,” Francisco admitted. It all started one day after Francisco had rented out the car for a clothing product shoot. Sitting around doing nothing while the photo shoot was taking place was not Francisco’s idea of fun, but when the time came to leave he was greeted with another unpleasant surprise. “As I was leaving that place, the transaxle began to make a really bad sound. So I told Sigi that there was something wrong with my transaxle and he took the transaxle apart and found one of the teeth from the first gear was broken. I purchased a complete transaxle from a ’64  C but that differential was damaged, so we used the differential from my car and we just adjusted it. Unfortunately the first gear was also damaged, so I had to purchase a first gear which was the most expensive component, and so we built up the original transaxle and it is now perfect, they did a very good job.”
Fortunately for Francisco, his 356 has never sustained any serious damage in its lifespan of more than six-decades. Apart from a couple of minor scrapes, such as a ding in the rear bumper and a broken headlamp, there has been no other damage to the car. Some rust had to be removed from the chassis and lower doors, but this is to be expected in a car of this age. Alas, it appears though, that not everyone respects Porsche’s heritage and the importance of the 356 model, as Francisco mentioned that a donkey sat on the front hood, and that obviously had to be repaired!
356 on the international stage
Francisco’s 356 earned its place in Formula One history, when it was chosen as one of the parade cars ahead of the Mexican Formula One Grand Prix in 2016. Francisco explains, “In Mexico, we have a commission that looks after the vintage and sports cars, and the Porsche Club of Mexico belongs to that commission. So the Porsche Club proposed my car, and my car was chosen for the 2016 Formula One Grand Prix Drivers’ Parade. I didn’t know how they assigned the cars, but it turns out that they are not assigned, the drivers choose the car and Carlos Sainz chose my car!”
The Drivers’ Parade takes place immediately before the race itself, so it is not exactly what the drivers are wanting to do ahead of a tension-filled race. Francisco elaborates, “You know the drivers are very nervous because the race is going to start a few minutes later, and while it is a show for the public, it is not really a party for the drivers. I mean they are very nervous, they want to be concentrating on what they were going to do. But I tell you, this Sainz is a gentleman, he was warm and friendly!”
The 356 today
Francisco remembers when his father used to take him to elementary school in the Porsche as a young boy. This car’s official designation is 356 A 1600 Super Cabriolet with optional Hard top – in Mexico, a 356 that sported the option of both a hard top and a soft top roof, was known as a ‘two-top’ Porsche. In those early impressionable days, Francisco’s father had the hard top fitted as he very seldom used the soft top, but today it is the reverse, as Francisco uses the soft top and not the hard top.
“I like to take it to the race track for the Porsche Parade, they have rented Mexico City racetrack and from time to time I have an opportunity to go to that racetrack. I race it but I don’t go fast because you know, the tyres that I have are Michelin tyres, but they are from 1989!” Francisco added with a smile.
Between the years 1997-99, Francisco was President of the Porsche Club Mexico. As Francisco says, “Mexico City is not a safe place to have a Porsche as a daily driver.” As a result, since reuniting the original engine with his 356 back in 2003, the car has covered just 7500 kilometres in those intervening 17 years.
Few owners can boast that they pushed their favourite Porsche for 10 kilometres as a 14-year old boy, in an effort to save that car from being sold. Francisco’s story is one of a deep love for his father’s ’58 356, so much so that he risk pushing it through the streets of Mexico City to his home. That determination has lasted almost his whole life, and today the 356 Cabriolet is his pride and joy. We congratulate him on his rescue effort, and hope that he has many more years of enjoyment with this car.
Written by: Glen Smale
Images by: Francisco Trespalacios, Sergio Nieto, Jose Duch, Jose Antonio Arguimbau, Bruno Krieger & Porsche Club Mexico