Janis Joplin’s Porsche – A Quick History
Story and pictures by David Fetherston
Janis Joplin’s Porsche was a bit of a mystery. For years, we heard about this car and people kept referring to it as the Janis Joplin Porsche Speedster. But alas, it was never a Speedster, but rather a 1964 Reuter-bodied Cabriolet 1600 SC.
If you don’t know who Janis Joplin was – look her up! She’s an icon of American Rock & Roll, if there ever was one. To be brief, she epitomized Rock & Roll at the height of her fame in the late sixties with Big Brother and the Holding Company, and later as a solo artist. Sadly, she passed away in October 1970 of a heroin overdose.
But back to the Porsche…
Joplin purchased the four-year-old Cabriolet from a Beverly Hills car dealer Estes-Zipper in 1968 for $3,500. It was Oyster White and she decided a few weeks after owning it that it did not have the right look for her. After all, she was the queen of psychedelic rock and roll and dressed flamboyantly for her role as such, so the Porsche should reflect her persona.
She asked around and soon had an offer to paint it from one of her roadies, David Loring Richards, who was an accomplished artist. For $500, Richard based-coated the car in Candy Apple Red and then started on the artwork. According to Richards, who we spoke with years ago, “I worked near non-stop for a week on the Porsche,” he said. “It was like a dream about the band and Janis. The hood had all sorts of transformations from California rural scenes to the guys in Big Brother and the Holding Company, with the Eye of God spread across the hood. Janis loved it! It soon became known as the History of the Universe Porsche.”
The Cabriolet was one of the best-known cars in San Francisco at the time. Janis lived in Larkspur, just across the Golden Gate Bridge from the SF, so it was common to see the car in SF parked outside various entertainment establishments.
According to Jacques Gandolpho, who serviced the Cabriolet for her in San Francisco at his import repair shop, “She drove the doors off it, and loved thrashing it hard!” This was confirmed in a 1995 speech by her attorney, Robert Gordon when she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He noted: “She liked to drive her Porsche way over the speed limit on the winding parts of Sunset Boulevard!” Apparently, she commuted from San Francisco to Los Angeles, where she laid down tracks at Sunset Sound Recorders studio. The Cabriolet was in the parking lot at the Landmark Motor Hotel when she died.
The Porsche was later returned to the Bay Area, where it was driven by her manager Albert Grossman, for some time. Later, it was stolen and painted to disguise the highly recognizable artwork. (Such a shame to have lost the originals!) With a lot of detective work, it was recovered and then remained in the Joplin family’s ownership for many years thereafter. It was restored to its full glory and went on display at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 for a time.
While the restoration does not have Dave Richard’s original artwork, it’s a very faithful rendition done from photos. This did not seem to affect its price when it recently sold at RM Sotheby’s auction for $1.67 million! It certainly has had a curious life as a celebrity Porsche, one that you would be hard pressed to write about…if it hadn’t actually happened.