The Story Behind Janis Joplin's Psychedelic Porsche 356 C

Any classic rock fan worth his or her vinyl record albums is familiar with the Janis Joplin song "Mercedes Benz." In the final song recorded before the singer's untimely death at age 27, Joplin asks God to prove his love by buying her the title car, a Mercedes-Benz. But the fact is, Joplin already owned a premium German automobile, a rad 1964 Porsche 356C cabriolet.

Although Janis could surely have afforded just about any car of her choosing, she plucked the 1964 Porsche off a used car lot in 1968 for $3500 — slightly less than half what a new 911 model would have cost. The 356C was factory finished in a silvery hue called Dolphin Grey, but Joplin didn't waste any time applying her personal touch to the car. Reportedly, a roadie for the band, Dave Richards, was paid $500 to radically repaint the car in a psychedelic motif that included butterflies, mushrooms, portraits of the band members, scenes of California nature, and more. The final step in the wild paint job was a layer of clear coat to protect the artwork, which would later play an important role.

Janis loved the Porsche and would drive it everywhere, including to her local performances. At one such show in 1969, the Porsche was stolen from outside a concert venue in San Francisco. Of course, the car's unique appearance was a huge liability to the thief, so he began painting over the mural. Fortunately, he wasn't able to make too much progress before the police recovered the car. Thanks to the clear coat protection, the offending paint was removed without significant damage to the artwork underneath.

The mural was eventually painted over anyway

After Janis Joplin died from a heroin overdose in October 1970, the Porsche was commandeered by Joplin's manager, Albert Grossman, who lent it to guests visiting at his estate. But by 1975, the car was in a state of disrepair, so Grossman returned it to Joplin's siblings, Michael and Laura. Michael had the Porsche's engine rebuilt and used it as a daily driver for several years.

By this point, the Porsche 356C was becoming an extremely valuable collector car, even without celebrity provenance, leading Michael Joplin to have the car restored, including a change back to its original Dolphin Grey color. Later, in the 1990s, the family did a 180-degree turn and decided to have the psychedelic murals reapplied.

Artists Jana Mitchell and Amber Owen faithfully replicated the mural, called "The History of the Universe," using stacks of period photographs as a reference. Fittingly returned to the condition when Janis owned the car, it was displayed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Ohio for approximately 20 years until the Joplin family decided to sell the Porsche to fund various works of charity.

In December 2015, the iconic Porsche was auctioned at RM Sotheby's in New York City. Expected to fetch around $500,000, the winning bid came in at a whopping $1.76 million. The buyer, who wishes to remain anonymous, lives in Michigan and occasionally displays the car locally.

[Featured image by Sam Howzit via Wikimedia Commons | Cropped and scaled | CC BY 2.0]