Blues-rock singer Janis Joplin was a popular artist in the late 1960s who was known from her pioneering spirit, soulful lyrics and rule-breaking style. Her early death at the age of 27 was a major loss to the music community and fans everywhere. Joplin, a Texas native, struggled to break into the music scene of the San Francisco Bay area around 1965-66, but eventually joined the band Big Brother, which had a following in the area. In 1968, the band released a successful album called “Cheap Thrills,” and Joplin celebrated by purchasing a 1965 Porsche 356C Cabriolet. Let’s take a look at the history of the car and how Joplin made it her own.
How It Started
Joplin bought the cabriolet from a car dealer in Beverly Hills, Calif., in September of 1968. She paid about $3,500 for it, a serious amount of money at the time. When she purchased it, the car was painted “Oyster White,” which didn’t suit Joplin’s style in the least.
Making It Her Own
Joplin paid a Big Brother roadie named Dave Richards $500 to give the car a psychedelic makeover. She didn’t tell him what to paint, and he spent a month on the modifications. The final result was a colorful mélange he titled “The History of the Universe.” It features swirling colors, various vignettes and a group picture of Joplin and the other members of Big Brother on the fender.
The unusually painted vehicle became one of the most recognizable in the Bay Area, and fans would sometimes leave notes for Joplin under the windshield wiper blades. The ragtop that announced Joplin’s presence spoke volumes about her tastes and stand-out personality. Unfortunately, this was a disadvantage when, in 1969, the car was stolen while Joplin was doing a solo gig in San Francisco. The thief made a half-hearted attempt to paint over the mural with grey primer but only achieved a partial cover-up before the car was recovered. Joplin to it to a repair shop where “The History of the Universe” was restored to its original glory.
Joplin died in October of the following year of an accidental drug overdose, and her memorable car sat idle for a few months before her parents gifted it to Joplin’s manager, Albert Grossman. Meanwhile, several replicas were popping up all over the nation, making fans wonder which was her real cabriolet. Grossman took the car with him to New York, where his office was, and loaned it to various clients and friends.
Return to the Family
After a few years with the iconic car, Grossman returned it to the Joplin family. Janis’ brother, Michael, found the little car to be in very poor condition after having been used dozens of people who treated it carelessly. Michael had the car repaired at a Volkswagen mechanic’s shop before he took it home to Texas. After that, he and his sister, Laura Joplin, traded the Porsche back and forth for about two decades.
After many years of use, Joplin’s car was showing its age. The vibrant paint job was faded and flaking, and there were more than 130,000 miles on the engine. The Joplin siblings had the car painted white, and it was stored for many years. In 1994, a Denver company repainted the exterior in as close a replica of the original artwork as possible. The cloth seats and ragtop have been replaced as well. In 1995, the Joplins donated the car to the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and it has recently been part of an exhibition of rare Porsches.