Driving Janis Joplin's psychedelic Porsche

Driving Janis Joplin’s psychedelic Porsche

You might be surprised to find out that Janis Joplin owned and drove a Porsche. Besides the song where she asks “Lord won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz,” the Porsche brand just doesn’t really fit her outrageous counterculture image.

Besides, isn’t that what she said all her friends drove?

Janis bought her own 1964 Porsche 356 as a used car in 1968. Then she had her roadie, Dave Richards, paint it for her. First, he painted it gray then covered that in a coat of candy apple red.

Then he really went to town. He painted the car, from bumper to bumper and door to door, in a mural depicting, in his words, “The History of the Universe.” That narrative is a little difficult to discern but there are landscapes, birds, colorful butterflies, floating eyes, mushrooms and skull-like faces.

The car will to be auctioned Thursday night, Dec. 10, in New York City. The auction house RM Sotheby’s expects it go sell for between $ 400,000 and $ 600,000 which is several times what a car of this type would ordinarily be worth.

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But this car is, obviously, very different. Celebrity ownership doesn’t ordinarily add a lot of value to a car. (The one reliable exception to that rule is actor and racer Steve McQueen.) Usually, though, a car owned by a celebrity was just one of many and maybe not one the famous person in question drove very much.

Not so with this Porsche. This was a car that Janis Joplin drove all over the place. And when people saw this car, they knew whose it was. Fans would leave her notes tucked under the windshield wipers.

On the day she died in 1970, the people who were looking for her knew where to find her because this car was parked in the garage of the Hollywood, Calif. hotel where she’d passed away at the age of just 27.
After she was gone, ownership of the car went to her siblings, Michael and Laura Joplin who shared the use of it for about 30 years. After a while, the paint started to flake and and fall off in chunks so they had the it painted over in light gray.

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“We needed to save the car,” said Michael.

One part of the original work, a monstrous face on the underside of the gas filler door, remained uncovered.

Later on, they had other artists, working from original photographs, restore the artwork that their sister Janis had had painted on the car. This time, though, they had it done in paints that would last.

Today, Joplin’s 95 horsepower sports car remains in strong running condition. On a drive through a New Jersey park, it provided all the sounds and fun, direct feel of a great classic Porsche.

In 1995, Micheal and Laura Joplin loaned the Porsche to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland. It has mostly remained there for the past 20 years. The Joplins plan to use the proceeds from the sale of the car to support social programs in Janis’s memory.

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