Omahan Shares Rare 356 Pre-A with Midlands International
By Jeff Barnes
(Originally published in the Omaha World-Herald, January 2016)
When you attend the Midlands International Auto Show at the CenturyLink Center (January 28-31) you’ll see what’s truly a Cinderella story of automobiles – a workaday car suddenly invited to the big dance by a prince, with that new existence just as abruptly snatched away by misfortune.
To be sure, Loren Fairbanks’ 1953 Porsche 356 Pre-A has always been a highly desired luxury sports car as Porsche’s first production model. It’s almost amazing that after the car was imported to the United States, it was used as a daily driver for many years in Atlanta. But then the Fishsilver-Grey auto took a turn that borders on the amazing.
“It came into the possession of Olaf Lang, an American who became fascinated with Porsche as a teenager,” said Fairbanks. “He traveled to Germany for Porsche, stayed on as an apprentice and to work with the company, and went on to become their lead historian.”
Lang actually became very well known and respected in the 1990s as THE source of accurate, definitive information on individual Porsches, with historians and writers frequently consulting him on confusing details of early models. He was highly adept at translating Porsche literature into English, and on weekends he even offered instruction at the company’s customer driving schools.
Lang was also a successful race driver, and it was with this very 356 Pre-A that he planned to enter the Carrera Panamerican race in Mexico with Austrian Porsche Cup driver Thomas Gruber. After acquiring the car in 1999, he sent it to a race shop in Sarasota, Florida, to be prepared for the grueling race.
“They took the engine out and a shop in California turned it into a high-performance race engine, adapted from the C-Class 356,” Fairbanks said. “They were using the suspension from the C-Class. The brakes were modified entirely without changing their appearance. All of the glass was replaced with Lexan except the windshield. They installed an oil cooler down low in the front. The fuel tank was modified into a fuel cell, and a roll cage was installed. But otherwise it was stripped down as much as possible – they even took the Porsche emblem off the dash.”
And then – quite unexpectedly – Olaf Lang died. The joint racing venture ended and the Porsche 356 –on the fast track for racing – was instead sent to the pits as an uncompleted orphan. The car was sold by the shop to a local collector and then got passed around between three different parties for a number of years before Fairbanks’ son Trent found the car for him in Columbus, Ohio, and persuaded him to make the buy about a year and a half ago.
“It’s a beautiful example of what can be done to modify one of these,” said Fairbanks. “It has so many different and special modifications to it, but it still maintains as original an appearance as possible to how a Pre-A race car looked. We’ve tried to make it more street ready, and took out the roll cage but left the race seat belt restraints. But we haven’t really done too much to it.”
Fairbanks is the former owner of a farm equipment dealership in Kearney before moving to Omaha to be closer to family. He’s currently restoring a 1965 Porsche 356C Coupe, and also has an Austin-Healey 100-4 and 1962 Triumph TR3V.
The ’53 Porsche, however, is getting the attention right now. “I love it and enjoy driving it, just a little every now and then,” Fairbanks said. “I’ve had it at just a few local shows, had it at the Joslyn Castle (Car Classic) last year. It is truly a beautiful car.”