Not Exactly Cheap Thrills: Janis Joplin’s Porsche 356 Going on the Block
What do you do after the Summer of Love? If you’re Janis Joplin in 1968, you buy an Oyster White ’65 Porsche 356C convertible and have a pal paint it up in grand psychedelic style. With apologies to the 1970 917 Langheck that competed at Le Mans, this little bathtub earned the title of Original Porsche Hippie Car.
Joplin’s band, Big Brother and the Holding Company, had left its initial mark the previous year, at the Monterey Pop Festival—an event also notable for having borne witness to Jimi Hendrix’s legendary Stratocaster flambé. Flush with a fresh record contract with Columbia, Joplin picked up the three-year-old 356C from Estes-Zipper in Southern California. She then left the car with friend and roadie Dave Richards for a paint job more in line with her tastes while she went on tour. What resulted—a mural called “The History of the Universe”—made Joplin’s 356 an automotive artyfact of the first psychedelic era on a par with Ken Kesey’s Furthur and John Lennon’s madcap Roller.
And now, like many long-held air-cooled Porsches and important rock ’n’ roll totems of rebellion, it’s for sale. After a period in the wilderness—where it was left in the custody of manager Albert Grossman after Joplin’s death in 1970, then returned to her family in the mid-1970s and resprayed gray—the car was restored to its Owsley-spec glory in the late-’90s/early aughts. In the interim, it had been used by musicians at Grossman’s Bearsville Studios as a commuter car—leading to rumors that it had been purchased by either Robbie Robertson or the late Levon Helm of The Band, then driven by Joplin’s younger siblings, Laura and Michael. After restoration, it was loaned to the Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland for a lengthy stay, and now, finally, it’s up for auction at RM Sotheby’s “Driven by Distruption” auction, which is a terrible name for any auction of important stuff and Sotheby’s should be stiffly fined for using it.
The car is estimated to sell for somewhere in the neighborhood of $400K, which seems low to us, given its status as perhaps the best-known example of the 356, in an era when 356 prices have gone absolutely bananas.