How the '80s, not James Dean, Made Me Love a Speedster

Posted July 27, 2017

By Brad Bisnette

Photos by Brad Hammonds and Alexandre Prévot

How growing up in the ’80s, fighter jets, Tom Cruise and hot blondes, not James Dean, helped carve my infatuation with the 356 Speedster.

I’m not a "car guy" in the technical sense of the phrase. Engine specs can get over my head pretty quickly here, and often I need to ask one of the other guys at ReinCarNation to explain what someone was referring to, or how exactly a specific part works with another. However I do love cars. I love driving, I love the sounds, the creativity, the lines, the power, etc., etc.

Something about the 356 Speedster has always caught my attention. Now I’m not saying that’s the car I would buy if I had some disposable cash, but something about it resonates. There’s just something about it. Was it the simple lines? I just could never peg it. I’ve always known about James Dean and how he became such a pop-culture icon before being lost tragically at a young age. I’ve also seen and read about the white Speedster with black interior that he owned and raced back in the ’50s, as well as the sliver Spyder that led to his passing. I can picture both the actor and that specific Speedster in my head, but I was born in 1981, 26 years after the actor’s tragic death in 1955. I’ve never seen his movies, and the more I looked at Speedsters, the more I thought about how they carry meaning to me and that it wasn’t from James Dean ... I had just never figured out why.

James Dean Prague

"James Dean Prague," by Brad Hammonds licensed under CC 2.0

Then it hit me. I was reading the July issue of ReinCarNation recently, specifically the article titled “Doc Hollywood,” which is a fitting title given the Speedster’s importance in American culture through James Dean, and for what I was just about to realize personally. As I was reading the article about this Intermeccanica-built replica, a single movie scene kept playing through my mind from one of my all time favorite movies — the 1986 hit Top Gun, starring Tom Cruise.

The only thing I can see, is that black 356 Speedster driven by the stunning Kelly McGinnis, driving, of course, as Charlotte Blackwood (call sign “Charlie”) in the movie, who is Tom Cruise’s (aka Maverick’s) flight instructor and love affair. I kept seeing that black Speedster speeding through the San Diego streets, catching some air while chasing Maverick on his motorcycle up a steep hill. Then, of course, a random stream of thoughts and quotes from the movie fly through my head:

Maverick: “And you think I’m restless?!?! When I fly, I’ll have you know that my crew and my plane come first!”

Maverick/Goose: “I feel the need, the need, FOR SPEED!”

Goose: “Ice Man, that’s the way he flies — ice cold.”

Ice Man: “Mother Goose, how’s it going?!”

Stinger: “You screw up just this much and you’ll be flying a cargo plane full of rubber dog shit out of Hong Kong.”

Random quotes and random thoughts yes. My wife and most relatives won’t watch the movie anymore with me, because I can’t help but recite every single spoken word and sing-a-long to the killer sound track. But for a kid in the ’80s, Maverick dating his hot flight instructor played by Kelly McGinnis, and Goose (Anthony Edwards) married to a young Meg Ryan in the movie, were the coolest. They flew fighter jets, wore aviator sunglasses, got in trouble, but somehow were always let off the hook because they were just so good at what they did. They played beach volleyball in jeans because they could, and the song choice for that scene wasn’t terrible, it worked because it was the ’80s. They were rebels with a cause, fighting for our freedom at home, while simply being studs all at the same time. How much more awesome could they get in my eyes at that point in time?

Porsche 356 Speedster

"Porsche 356 Speedster," by Alexandre Prévot licensed under CC 2.0

Now the car? Well most great movies have a car that you can think of, that you can tie to the movie. Think about your favorites, and there’s a good chance that there is a car you can associate with that film. Although Charlie’s black Speedster from Top Gun only shows up in a few short scenes, it’s the only car I can think of. The whole movie is all fighter jets, aircraft carriers, and Maverick’s motorcycle. But then, there’s the Speedster, chasing Maverick through hilly San Diego before an argument ensues, which is followed by an epic love scene that my parents always told me to close my eyes for, but I peeked anyways. That is the car for this movie. That is why the Speedster resonates with me so much. It was a part of my childhood because it was the single car I associated with my favorite movie of that time.

After a little research, I did find that the black Speedster from the movie is also an Intermeccanica, like the one we covered in the "Doc Hollywood" article from our July issue. We’ve covered several Intermeccanicas that you can read about here, and another Speedster here.

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