The highlight of an auction that took place last December at RM Sotheby’s in New York was hands down the bidding for Janis Joplin’s beloved and beautifully painted Porsche. Predicted to sell for around $400,000 to $600,000, the car sold for a whopping $1.76 million. This is more than three times the expected value and over 500 times the amount that the iconic singer originally paid for it. This happens to be the highest price that a Porsche 356 has ever sold for at an auction, and it was the culmination of a fierce competition between no fewer than seven passionate bidders.
“Oh Lord, Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz?”
Joplin, known to her adoring fans as the “Queen of Psychedelic Soul”, famously begged the Almighty for a Mercedes Benz in a song of hers. However, she ended up getting the type of car that her “friends all drive” according to the lyrics: a used Porsche 356 SC Cabriolet that she purchased for $3500 in 1969. This car would be closely identified with her up until her death at age 27.
A Psychedelic Car for a Psychedelic Lady in a Psychedelic Era
Joplin’s Porsche was white when she bought it. However, for someone with such a colorful personality and lifestyle, such a bland car would never do, and it didn’t stay white for long. Shortly after the purchase, she put one of her roadies on the project of jazzing it up with a psychedelic paint job. Dave Roberts worked for a month on the car, decorating it with birds, butteflies, flowers, mushrooms, wild faces, clairovoyant third eyes inspired from the likes of spirituality shops, and more. No car could possibly represent the times than that one. Roberts titled his artwork “The History of the Universe”.
Joplin’s car was stolen when she had owned it for only a short time. Because the car was so unique and easy to spot, the thief had to promptly spray-paint it gray. The trippy artwork was repainted as soon as the car was found and brought back to its rightful owner. Sadly, Joplin would have only about one year to cruise down the roads in her glorious flower child vehicle.
Special Even By Celeb Standards
Ordinarily, cars that have been owned by celebrities don’t really sell for much more than cars without notable former drivers. Joplin’s Porsche, on the other hand, fetched nearly two million precisely because it was so closely associated with her. Unlike most celebrities who don’t have a particularly strong spiritual connection to the vehicles they drive, Joplin made a point of turning her car into an expression of her soul.
Joplin drove her car all the time, and people in San Francisco could readily identify it when she was out and about. She loved to travel up and down the west coast in it, giving concerts and make the rounds of counterculture epicenters. She would even place notes under the windshield wipers from the time. When she passed away in a hotel in Hollywood in 1970 from a heroin overdose, people were able to find the place where she had been staying fairly quickly because her car was outside.
Disrepair and Restoration
After Joplin’s death, her car fell into the hands of her manager, Albert Grossman, who used it as a courtesy car. After a while, it stopped working well and was left in disrepair. Joplin’s brother Michael and sister Laura then took back the car, who fixed it up and used it for another 30 years. They did not take care of the paint job, however, and the butterflies, mushrooms and other images soon began to flake off. They repainted the car a light shade of gray. Eventually, realizing the need to restore the original look and feel of the car, they commissioned artists to recreate the psychedelic artwork from photographs. One small piece of the original artwork still survives on the interior side of the fuel filler door.
Since 1995, the Joplin family has loaned the iconic vehicle to the Cleveland Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They plan to use the money from their auction sale to fund social programs in the memory of their inspirational sister.
The Porsche will be on display at the Amelia Island Concours taking place this year. The Amelia Island Concours is a yearly event that puts 250 rare and notable vehicles from all over the world on display. This year’s iteration of the event is scheduled to take place in early March.