By Jeff Bruss

The iconic Porsche 356 developed by Ferdinand Porsche saw production from 1948 through 1966. Some 76,000 units would be sold over nearly two decades. Considered to be Porsche's first production model, the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive coupe and Speedster is one of the most identifiable sports cars ever. The Speedster, introduced in 1954, defined southern California culture in the 1950s – primarily shaped by James Dean and his enthusiasm for the marque.

The Speedster has been available as a fast and affordable replica for years. The latest generation of reproductions offer engine, suspension and drivability that far exceed the specifications of the original. A host of manufacturers build top-notch reproductions ­– Rock West, Seduction, JPS and Special Edition (Beck) to name a few. However, if you're looking for a turnkey on a budget, or just don't want to wait, here's five great cars for less than $30,000 you can buy before Christmas in our preferred order of acquisition.

#5

Strategically photographed with an E30 racer and mid-60s Corvette in the background, this Chicago-area seller clearly has good overall car taste. His 356 taste isn't quite as exquisite, yet still earns him the #5 spot on the list. The polar grey exterior with burgundy leather shows well in photos. A very thorough description that includes known paint and body issues make a buyer feel at ease, as does a reasonable $21,500 asking price – the least expensive of the bunch. The interior seems a bit more dated and less authentic than some of the other replicas. I prefer a nice Nardi wood steering wheel over the leather-wrapped, and the 911 gauges and B&M shifter don't look all that at home, either. Nonetheless it will all look good when you're flying past people at highway speeds with the top down. 

#4

I'm a sucker for a 356 in an authentic color. This off-white example is color choice perfection in my eyes. However, the owner went Auto Zone-equivalent for Speedster bolt-ons and added leather hood straps, a luggage rack and headlight grills. Individually none seem to be a bad idea, but collectively all the extras seems a bit much. Looking past the accessorizing, the 2,276 cc engine most likely makes this lightweight drop top a fast little bugger. That's the biggest engine on the list, and earns a few extra points good enough for the #4 slot. Asking $29,500, the Scottsdale, Arizona owner has a laundry list of replaced parts, including the new motor. With that extensive list, you kinda have to ask yourself, "Why?" So an in-person preview of this almost-Porsche may be in order.

#3

A new clutch and freshly rebuilt 1,910 cc engine are about the extent of the details on this car. The California owner says it's "absolutely fun to drive!" Yeah, well, duh. The silver over blue interior is tasteful and offers up far more vintage feel and appeal than our #5 car. A tasteful interior adds a $4,000 premium though, as this 356 reincarnation comes in at $25,500 for the #3 spot on our list.

#2

If you're in California, this smog-exempt, low-mileage Speedster appears near-perfect and ready to drive. Finished in PPG sea foam green with beige leather and Mangle's chrome wheels, this car has a very authentic yet modern look. A big-bore 1,776 cc Vokswagen type I engine with dual Solex carbs pushes out through a performance exhaust. A four-speed manual with a 3.88 ratio makes 70 mile per hour cruising a "breeze" per the current owner. A $28,500 price tag with a slew of options and extras make this Speedster worth considering, and place it securely as our #2 Speedster.

#1

I saved my personal favorite for first place. This cream over beige 356 has the perfect look, and it has its Coker wide whites to thank. I wish the seller would provide a few more details on the drivetrain, but the obvious VW engine and what appear to be a manual transmission (YES!) are in place. A Nardi wood wheel, some nice gauges and a set of Cocoa Mats finish off the driver's area. Located just a few hours from my house, if it weren't seven degrees and snowing, I'd drive this little bugger home right now for the reasonable sum of $23,900. That’s good enough for the #1 slot on the winter Speedster shootout.