1955 Porsche 356 Speedster

Bonsai Porsche rooted in time

Riley Riley

Some artists seem to enjoy a symbiotic relationship with manufacturers for whom they create so-called ‘art’ cars.

The finished product usually ends up as a museum piece after it has done the promotional rounds.

The latest offering comes from Daniel Arsham who has used a 1955 Porsche 356 Speedster as the basis for his work.

In fact, it’s the third Porsche that the American artist has turned his particular talents to.

His private 1986 911 Turbo is a drivable work of art and blends his time-travel concepts with the rich heritage of Porsche racing.

While a Porsche 911 (992) Carrera 4S he created is covered with holes described as “crystal erosions” which add a dramatic look to the car.

Arsham uses his talents to breathe new life into the everyday, experimenting structurally to connect past, present and future in unexpected forms.

His work is distinguished by subtle changes, in particular when he amalgamates objects in order to transform familiar structures.

Arsham turned to Japan as a source of inspiration for the 356 project, dubbed the Bonsai.

The car has been stripped back to its bare essentials in line with the Japanese concept known as Wabi Sabi (no, not the hot green stuff).

Over a two-year period, the artist peeled back the layers to reveal the car’s age and wear.

He stripped all of the paint from the car, revealing all the welds, pit marks, and natural wear over the course of time.

Now, only a layer of linseed oil protects the raw metal from the elements, in line with original Japanese manufacturing processes.

On the rear engine grille, he has added a patinated bronze relief in the shape of a Bonsai tree.

But this patina does not stop at the body, as the artist also sourced all-original well-worn components for the rest of the exterior, from headlight covers to the vintage licence plate.


Though it looks like it’s seen better days, the 356 Bonsai is actually fully drivable.

All the functional components, including the original numbered engine, have been restored to factory spec.

For the technical work, Arsham collaborated with Willhoit Auto Restoration and the Bridgehampton Motoring Club.

Inside, the artist worked alongside Japanese fashion designers Motofumi ‘Poggy’ Kogi and Yutaka Fujihara to outfit the interior in traditional Japanese fabrics from boro patchwork to Japanese selvedge denim.

Originally, this Japanese mending technique was used to extend the life of garments, embracing the natural wear and tear of local workwear.

Alongside the boro, Arsham added more indigo-dyed cotton fabric punctuated with sashiko-stitched lines for the door trim and edge of the seats.

As the final fabric, his team produced a Japanese denim soft top.

In the trunk, a Japanese tatami mat sits under the spare wheel.

Made of rice straw, these mats are a classic element of Japanese architecture and are usually fitted as a floor covering in living areas.

“The 356 sits in such an interesting position within the Porsche catalogue as the starting point for the heritage brand,” Arsham said.

“The nearly 70-year-old vehicle contains the roots of the modern Porsche brand that we know and love in the purest form.”

Porsche Japan plans to exhibit the 356 Bonsai in Tokyo at the end of the year.


CHECKOUT: Warhol took 20 minutes to paint BMW

CHECKOUT: Koons art car not just museum piece

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *