On Dec. 10 in New York, a beat-up 1964 Porsche that once belonged to Janis Joplin sold for almost $2,000,000. We had expected it to bring big money—maybe as much as $500,000, which was already 400 percent more than anyone else’s old Porsche 356. But $1.76 million?
The car’s origins were far more modest. Back in 1968, Janis gave her roadie Dave Richards $500 and a used Porsche and told him to paint it. His “History of the Universe” 356 became Janis’s daily driver until the evening of Oct. 4, 1970, when she parked it outside the Landmark Motor Hotel in Hollywood, went upstairs to her room and overdosed on heroin.
Her siblings drove the car after that, first with an engine rebuild by her brother Michael in 1973 and then, crucially, repainting it in its original Dolphin Gray. It wasn’t until the Nineties that they had reproduction artwork commissioned from period photos in a painstaking stroke-by-stroke process. The Porsche went straight into display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the museum opened in 1995, and aside from some special appearances, that’s where it stayed.
RM Sotheby’s restoration arm got the 356 into running and driving order for their “Driven by Disruption” auction. Not that anyone will be risking getting it keyed at Piggly Wiggly (or Whole Foods, actually, as the prevailing theory has the car heading for the Pacific Northwest, where there are major collectors who are also deeply interested in rock history). On the stage at Sotheby’s, seven hopefuls drove bidding well past its presale estimate, with the price finally reaching $1.76 million including the 10 percent commission.
Could it possibly be worth that much? The car is among the most recognizable pieces of rock ‘n roll memorabilia on the planet, but that repaint is a problem for me. Janet drove it all the time, right up until the night she died. If you took the seats apart, you’d probably find a syringe in there. The Porsche been seen in person by around 10 million people and was sold by Joplin’s brother and sister. But it’s the art that made it what it was, and that was erased decades ago.
You can go on eBay today and buy a fantastic, hand-painted reproduction of the Mona Lisa, but it won’t be the original and it’ll cost you 50 bucks. If they’d left Janis’s Porsche in gray, would it have fetched the extra $1.6 million?