Story and Photos by Steve Temple

Some folks want to turn back the clock, revisiting a simpler time when devices were analog instead of digital, rotary dial instead of Wi-Fi. Others want to bring things forward, integrating advances in technology into old-school setups. Sort of like integrating the latest music-streaming technology into an antique Victrola.

It’s not our place to pass judgment on either approach, as the whole point of owning a replica is to have it your way. Either approach has its virtues, as we realized on a recent visit with John Steele of JPS Motorsports. We came across a couple of different approaches to the classic 356 while there, as this umbrella firm now has two separate companies within the same facility.

The contrasting Porsche 356 replicas shown here serve to differentiate the two operations. The silver Speedster was built on a tubular chassis in Brazil for JPS Classics, while the coupe was built for JPS Customs on site using a shortened VW pan. As the name implies, the latter firm builds customized 356s and 550 Spyders.

John oversees JPS Customs and has been in the Porsche replica business in the SoCal area since 1990. He’s also built 289 FIA Cobra replicas and street rods, but currently focuses solely on Porsche reproductions. He also provides some technical oversight to Patrick Crane since John has built several hundred replicas over the years.

While JPS Classics might sound like an older firm, it’s actually a comparatively new venture. The firm is headed up by Patrick and offers ready-to-drive, “off-the-rack” replicas with some standard options.

It was somewhat by accident that John and Patrick came together under the same roof. Many years ago, John became close friends with Bob Eells, Patrick’s father-in-law. They shared a love of classic custom cars and frequently hung out together at car shows all around the Los Angeles area. While John was usually exhibiting his JPS 356 replicas, Bob showed off his award-winning Cobra replica.

In 2008, Bob took Patrick to visit the JPS Motorsports shop. As a lover of Porsches, Bob knew Patrick would enjoy meeting John and seeing the cars. Smitten by what he saw, Patrick soon sold his 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera to purchase a black JPS Speedster replica. He relished the vintage feel of that car, driving it in and around the San Francisco Bay Area for almost 30,000 miles before selling it to move overseas.

Upon his eventual return to the U.S., Patrick and John met up at Bob’s 90th birthday party and got into a discussion about doing some work together. John saw that Patrick was done with his former Silicon Valley executive life and sensed an opportunity. John suggested a new line of JPS cars, pre-produced in popular paints and leathers, along with more modern water-cooled Subaru engines. Those would be produced under a separate company, JPS Classics.

The new JPS Classics was up and running much sooner than the JPS Customs operation, as it offered fewer customization options and bolt-on accessories and had a lower starting price as well. Both companies are now up and running at a new facility in San Marcos. The coexisting firms, and their founders, enjoy a close, occasionally competitive, and very productive relationship.

Sadly, Bob passed away in May 2017, but John and Patrick commemorate his love and friendship every day with a plaque dedicated to Bob’s memory hanging on the shop wall.

The synergy between Bob, John and Patrick all started with a shared appreciation for timeless automotive designs. With that being said, John and Patrick work within their own interpretations, and the final products are unique from one another. The Arctic Silver Speedster was built at JPS Classics, and it’s basically patterned after a ’57 356. The Speedster body is executed in steel-reinforced fiberglass mounted on a DOM tubular steel chassis.

JPS Classics also did some work under the hood to maximize the potential of the VW flat-four. The 95 hp engine starts with a ’72 VW 1,600 cc case (the same size the original Speedster ran), which is punched out to 1,776 cc and fitted with a custom crank and Engle 110 cam with billet lifters. This setup is topped by Empi’s dual 34 EPC carburetors and linked to a VW four-speed transaxle. Five different engine options are available from JPS Classics, including Subaru power plants.

Braking is handled by VW discs all around, and KYB shocks dampen the ride. The four-lug wheels are wrapped with 185/65R15 rubber. In the cockpit, VDO-style gauges are nested into the dash, and the Speedster buckets have leather upholstery.

Differing quite a bit from the JPS Classics Speedster is this Blue Pearl ’55 356 coupe replica built by JPS Customs. The coupe is owned by Chris Phillips of Denver, who drives the car on a daily basis. Given the mountain roads in his area, it makes good sense to go with a modern turbocharged EFI engine. Pulled from a 2007 Subaru, the engine boasts 330 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque. With some subtle modifications and a five-speed Subaru transmission, the 356 coupe has plenty of power on tap to conquer the grades west of the Mile High City. The 2.2-liter engine’s electronics also automatically compensate for rapid changes in altitude and climate.

Based on a ’72 VW Beetle chassis, the IRS pan has been shortened several inches and stiffened. Four-piston Wilwood discs scrub off speed from rapid descents, and KYB shocks and heavy-duty sway bars keep handling in check. Since this coupe runs way more power than the original, the tires are much fatter at 205/50R16. For creature comforts, the buckets are custom covered in cloth and leather. Dynamat insulation under the automotive cut pile carpeting maximizes the effectiveness of the Blaupunkt audio system.

All told, these two vehicular approaches are like the old saying, “You pays your money and you takes your choice.” And in this case, either one results in a satisfying ride.