Friday, November 12, 2010


It seems with me and maybe all of us, there are movies that get stuck in our soul. For me at a young age it could have been the imagination of freedom, being out in the real world, cruisin' in a cool car, and getting a bitchen lookin' chick.

Back in 1966 I was driving my '59 Porsche coupe, life was good...and what better thing to do on a Saturday night, but grab your main squeeze and head to the drive-in movies. The movie was 'Harper' and the one thing that made a lasting impression on me? The 'Speedster' that Paul Newman drove in the movie. Within a few short weeks I was selling my coupe and driving an open Porsche Roadster, imagining myself as Mr. Newman...minus the steel blue eyes. Life was even better now.

It was a typical L.A. P.I./detective movie of it's time with scenes of the beaches, Santa Monica mountains, and lots of tough guy stuff.

This was really the first Porsche I ever remember seeing in a movie...and shortly after, the values of Speedsters started to head north, slowly at first.

No fiberglass "Kit Car" back was the real deal with faded "Meissen Blue" paint with red oxide primer on the door and fender!

The long and short of the movie is, after rescuing Betty Fraley (Julie Harris), Harper drives her to the docks to find a kidnap victim (Bacalls husband). Then comes the chase scene where Betty Fraley steals Harper's Speedster and he gives chase in a Lincoln Continental through the Santa Monica mountains. The idea that a Lincoln Continental could keep up with a Speedster through those curves is amusing. The explanation by Harper to his sidekick is that the car is slow because "I haven't changed the plugs in that crate for thirty thousand miles." The chase scene ends with the Speedster taking a dive off the road.

All four wheels off the ground the Speedster takes flight rocketing down the hill.

As the car comes to a stop the rear decklid flies open!

Harper gets out of the Lincoln and runs down the hill after the Speedster to the road below. Then there is a shot from inside the car looking out through the cracked windshield with Harper looking in. A limp arm is shown implying that Fraley has been killed.

So, what ever happened to the Speedster and was this the turning point where the values of Speedsters started to climb? One thing's for sure, Harper and his Speedster certainly had the "COOL FACTOR." As for values, one can only wonder. For me, life went on and I soon came to the realization, much to my dismay, that I was not Mr. Newman. But, I did get a bitchen chick!

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  1. Hello Harper friends!
    Very possible that the Speedster is still around. In 1987 I saw the car at Rudi Klein's junk yard in LA. It had a pretty heavy front end damage. In 2007 I was there again and the car was gone. By that time Rudi was also gone and the new owner may not know the history. But, for sure he's out there.

    1. Wow, that would be very cool and I wonder if the owner would have any idea...

  2. The Speedster that rolled down the hill was not the one that Harper tooled around in during the film. The running Speedster was a 356A, 1956 vintage, the "crashed" Speedster was a "Pre-A" 1955 with no engine and Abarth type muffler tips wired on out the back. It was sourced in a scrap yard and painted up to look like the running one. Even back then Speedster were revered, especially in California, and the respect of the cast and crew for them would not allow a perfectly nice care to be destroyed. I knew Paul and he had a love for cars and early Porsches in particular. It was his idea to have the character drive a ratty Speedster.
    I don't know if either car still exists, but I bet they do. Much worse Speedsters than those were saved, I know because I owned a few of them over the years.

  3. John...Disagree with Annonymous April 27, 2014. I had interviewed Paul Newman for Porsche Speedster TYP 540: Quintessential Sports Car in 2004. Quote: "Paul laughingly recalled, “They wired the throttle ‘wide open,’ started the engine, put it in gear…and the rest was history -- as the Speedster took off like a rocket.” The Porsche managed to stay on all four wheels as it crashes down the hill and coming to rest below, killing Betty Fraley (Julie Harris). A feature story will be in the March 2019 356 Registry about Paul Newman's adventure with his first Porsche Speedster in the movie, Harper, 1966. Lee Raskin Porsche Historian/Author

  4. What a pity if the 1956 356 was destroyed for the film. Like any other respectable car guy, I really hate to hear that such a great car would be wrecked for a film! Ah, well, what can you do?
    Funny, my first car was a 1956 German car too, a 1956 Mercedes Benz 190 sedan. 4 doors and 4 on the tree, it took almost 2 years to restore the car to running order, but it made me a confirmed Mercedes guy ever since then. I've gone through nearly every other car brand in the world trying to find something that stood up to my first car, which is still on the road to this very day! I sold the car to my best friend from high school when I had to sell it and move to the west coast and he gave the car to his oldest son for his 18th birthday. The 1956 Mercedes Benz 190 sedan is still running with over 750,000 miles on its clock.
    These days I drive a 2003 Mercedes Benz Cl 55 AMG and my wife drive a 2009 CLK 550 cabriolet. Not nearly as cool as the '56 356 that Harper drives, but more comfortable for a couple of senior citizens who like a little pep in their cars.
    I did go through a number of other cars before I settled back into the Mercedes bubble, let's see: Saab 99 turbo, Porsche 911, Porsche 914-6, Pontiac Grand Am, Volvos, a 244 sedan and a wagon, Ford Bronco II, and a lot of other cars that just weren't as good/bad as any of those I listed. Then finally back to the Mercedes I listed. The Porsches I bought were really on their last legs when I bought them as I didn't always have enough money to buy the best of the best. But the last Mercedes I bought were just right. The CL 55 AMG is definitely one of the best cars I have ever driven. The CLK 550 is running a bit ragged at this moment, it's just not aa good a car as the AMG, for some reason. Nonetheless, I expect the AMG to be the last car I ever buy for myself.
    Enjoy the Porsches, they're great cars!