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Lot 206

1964 Porsche 356 C 1600 SC Cabriolet by Reutter

  • Chassis no. 160371
  • Engine no. 811908
  • Gearbox no. 77912

Sold for $1,760,000

95 bhp, 1,582 cc OHV air-cooled horizontally opposed four-cylinder engine with dual Solex downdraft carburetors, four-speed manual transmission, independent front and rear suspension, and four-wheel disc brakes. Wheelbase: 82.7 in.

  • Janis Joplin’s “History of the Universe” Porsche 356 Cabriolet
  • The iconic daily driver of a legendary rocker
  • Offered by Janis’s siblings, Michael and Laura Joplin, owners since 1973
  • Displayed for the last 20 years at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
  • A potent artistic symbol of 1960s counterculture

To say that this car is no mere Porsche is stating the obvious. It all but strikes you over the head with its presence, a rolling ensemble of flowing colors and emerging shapes that drifted out of pen, smoke, Southern Comfort, and the spirit of the age. It is an embodiment of its owner and her ethos.

Janis Joplin never needed status; she needed honesty, sincerity, and a hell of a lot of emotion, and those qualities spilled out of her in gravel tones and settled on these Stuttgart curves. She was her Porsche, and her Porsche is Janis Joplin.


The genesis of the Joplin Porsche was a similar psychedelically liveried car that Janis had seen on the streets of San Francisco in 1968, with which she was delighted. With typical frugality, she picked up a four-year-old Porsche 356 SC Cabriolet from renowned Beverly Hills dealer Estes-Zipper for $3,500. She then handed it over to her band’s jack-of-all-trades “roadie,” Dave Richards. In the words of her brother, Michael, in a 2009 interview with Rick Marianetti of the San Francisco Examiner, “she liked his work…she gave him $500 and not a whole lot of direction.”

Richards covered the car’s grey paint—an ideal canvas—in Candy Apple Red from nose to tail. He then set to work on the new finish, inch by inch, his brushes etching out what he referred to as “The History of the Universe.” Portraits of the Big Brother and the Holding Company band members flowed up the left side; Janis’s astrological sign, Capricorn, appeared on the right rear quarter-panel. The verdant green valley of Northern California, containing a brown road that twists beneath mountains, appears on the right door, while the front hood contains “The Eye of God,” overseeing all else. Not a square inch of the Porsche’s bodywork was left untouched.

Janis and her cabriolet then became a familiar sight around the Bay Area and indeed over much of California. It was no stage prop; it was Janis’s daily driver, and where she went, the Porsche went too, with her own hands on the wheel, her hair blowing in the wind, and her feathered dresses rustling in a blur of color. It says a lot that when the car was stolen one night from a San Francisco street, the first thing the thief did was repaint it, having realized a bit too late that he had stolen the most recognizable car in town. Fortunately, the car was soon recovered, and as Richards had protected his art in clear coat, the spray-paint primer was removed with little damage.

Her Porsche returned to her, Janis drove it up and down the West Coast, tracing the rest of her career. By 1969, Big Brother had separated, and Janis formed a new group called the Kozmic Blues Band, followed in 1970 by her final ensemble, the Full Tilt Boogie Band. In 1970, Janis was in Los Angeles, recording what was to become her most popular album of all time, Pearl. On the evening of October 4, Janis parked her Porsche outside her hotel in Hollywood. Janis died that night, tragically young, at only 27 years old.


Janis’s attorney, Bob Gordon, commandeered the car from the ensuing press spectacle outside the hotel and garaged it safely away. It was returned to the Joplin Family and given to Janis’s manager, Albert Grossman, who took it to New York and loaned it to his various friends and clients. It was retrieved in 1973 by Michael Joplin and his sister, Laura, and was taken to Michael’s home in Ohio, where he rebuilt the original engine. The surviving Joplin siblings then shared use of the car for a number of years before having it restored in Denver in its original Dolphin Gray finish.

By the early 1990s, the car’s importance as an artifact of its owner and her era had become more clear, and the Joplin Family commissioned Richards’s original artwork to be duplicated on a new finish, with work performed by artists Jana Mitchell and Amber Owen of the Denver Center Theater Company. Working from stacks of period photographs, they recreated each of the artist’s original brush strokes, in essence retelling the history of the universe. With the work completed, it was loaned in 1995 to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio. With the exception of short stints with other museums, including touring with the Summer of Love: Art of the Psychedelic Era exhibition, along with an appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, Janis’ Porsche has remained on display on the main floor of the Hall of Fame for the past 20 years.

Recently recommissioned, with its numbers-matching drivetrain returned to running and driving order by RM Auto Restoration, Janis Joplin’s Porsche is offered today for the first time since 1968 by her siblings, Michael and Laura, its sole owners since 1973. It is a singular opportunity to acquire what is, indisputably, the automotive icon of a generation and a story for the ages.

"Enjoy and have fun, and why not, if in the end, everything will end, right?"
– Janis Joplin

Please contact our exclusive automotive transportation partner, Reliable Carriers, for a shipping quote or any other information on the transport of this vehicle.

Alexander Weaver

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California, United States

Alexander Weaver joined RM Sotheby’s in 2011 as a Car Specialist after graduating from Furman University in South Carolina. Born... read more

Augustin Sabatié-Garat

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United Kingdom

Augustin Sabatié-Garat joined RM Europe in 2012 as a Car Specialist after more than a decade in the collector car hobby. Gradua... read more

Barney Ruprecht

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Barney’s interest in classic cars began at an early age after being introduced to his father’s all-original 1965 Porsche 911. Barney l... read more

David Swig

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David Swig joined RM Sotheby’s West Coast division as a Car Specialist in May 2015. David is a life-long automobile enthusi... read more

Don Rose

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Don joined RM in 2006 after several years of professionally trading sports and classic cars, and after earning a reputation as a noted... read more

Donnie Gould

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Donnie Gould joined the RM team in 2002 as a partner and Car Specialist after more than two decades in the vintage automobile auction ... read more

Gord Duff

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Gord Duff began his journey with RM Sotheby’s in 1998. Since then, he has gained an intimate knowledge of a variety of marques a... read more

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Jake Auerbach got his start in the automotive industry at an early age, spending his summers during high school working at a classic c... read more

Kurt Forry

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Having worked for Bonhams’ Automobilia department for over 10 years, Kurt Forry joined RM Sotheby’s with more than a decad... read more

Matt Malamut

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A long-time car enthusiast and Southern California native, Matt studied Automotive Technology at San Diego Miramar College and complet... read more

Michael Squire

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United Kingdom

Michael Squire joined RM Sotheby’s European Division in the summer of 2016. He comes to RM with a prestigious racing background ... read more

Mike Fairbairn

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Ontario, Canada

As one of the three founding partners of RM Sotheby’s, Mike has a long-standing interest in the classic car industry. Graduating... read more

Oliver Camelin

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United Kingdom

With an extensive background in exotic sports car history and sales, a particular passion for American curves, and fluency in three la... read more

Paul Darvill

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Paul Darvill joined the RM Sotheby’s European team at the beginning of 2015. Paul holds a degree in French and Politics from the... read more

Pete Fisher

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Pete Fisher was first introduced to antique cars in high school, working for Classic Coachworks in his hometown of Blenheim, Ontario. ... read more

Shelby Myers

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Shelby Myers grew up with the classic car industry infused into every aspect of his life. He had the unique opportunity to watch the R... read more

Tonnie Van der Velden

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United Kingdom

Tonnie Van der Velden joined RM Sotheby’s European division in September 2015 as a Car Specialist. A lifelong enthusiast, Tonnie... read more