The Porsche 356 is regarded by many car enthusiasts to be one of the finest sports cars ever to be created. Ferdinand Porsche, the son of the founder of the Porsche business, concluded that it would be more pleasurable to drive a small car with more power than a large car with more power, which is the basis of the Porsche 356.
The car swiftly developed a reputation for its aerodynamics, handling, and quality craftsmanship, with initial projections of sales amounting to 500 vehicles blowing out to over 76,000 units. Of the 76,000 that were produced, about 50% were imported to the U.S. with 40% of these going to California alone. Natural attrition has seen the remaining supply of U.S. cars to perhaps only 20,000, which combined with demand has kept prices high. Throughout the production of 1948 -1965, the Porsche 356 was available in 5 main types: 356/2 (“Gmünd”), 356 (‘pre-A’), then the A (1955-1959), B (1959-1963), and C (1963-1965/66) types until production ceased to make way for the Porsche 901.
History of the 356
Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, known as “Ferry”, began life on 19 September 1909 when he came into this world courtesy of his parents, Ferdinand Porsche, Sr. and his wife, Aloisia Johanna Kaes.
Ferry’s father was a renowned automobile engineer and founder of both Volkswagen and Porsche. He began sharing his knowledge about mechanical engineering with Ferry when he was a young child. When the boy turned 10, he amazed his parents by learning to drive the family car. By the age of 12, he drove an actual race car, the Austro-Daimler Sascha, an impressive vehicle that had won its class in 1922 at the Targa Florio in Sicily.
After finishing school, Ferry Porsche began working for the Bosch Company in 1928 to add additional depth to his interest in automobile engineering. Two years later, he took some additional lessons in engineering and physics but did not enroll in a university.
Ferry’s father, meanwhile, had been working for Stuttgart-based Daimler-Motoren-Gesellschaft as an executive board member and technical manager. In 1926, when Daimler joined with Benz to form Daimler-Benz, he was able to work on several projects. These included the Mercedes S and SSK, a diesel-powered truck, and a popular new automobile.
In 1929, after a disagreement with Daimler management, Ferdinand left the company to work as the technical director for Steyr AD in Austria. A few months later, he left Steyr, and he and Ferry opened their own consulting office of automobile design in Stuttgart.
In 1935, German leader Adolph Hitler had become the head of Germany. One of his priorities was to produce low-cost transportation, “for the masses,” and named Ferdinand to create the new “people’s car”, or “Volkswagen.” Along with a team of engineers, Ferdinand and Ferry designed the new vehicle. It was known as the “Type 1” and had a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine with a designed body that was adopted from a Porsche car, the Type 12 that Ferdinand had constructed a few years earlier.
Manufacturing during the War
On 26 May 1938, Hitler laid the cornerstone for the new factory to build the new Volkswagen in Wolfsburg. The plant would later become the main factory for the automotive giant. A few cars were built for military officers, but production was stopped almost immediately because of the beginning of World War II.
During the war, Ferry and his father were completely dedicated to designing tanks and other motorized weaponry. When the war was winding down, and allied forces began to overrun Germany, Ferry became concerned about the security of the company’s archives and equipment. He relocated a third of his company’s machine tools to a sawmill in Gmünd/Carinthia, Austria, where there was room for a design office and shops. He took another one-third of the important machine tools to a flying school in Zell am See, Austria, near the family farm, and another third remained in Stuttgart.
Life after WW2
After the war ended in 1945, the French government asked Ferdinand to bring as many surviving pieces from the Wolfsburg facilities to France and build a French version of the Volkswagen. The resulting car, the Renault 4CV, would become quite popular later in France.
In 1946, Ferry, Ferdinand Porsche, and his son-in-law, Anton Piech, were accused of war crimes by the French and placed in prison, though the true reason for their arrest appears to have been an effort to force them to cooperate with the French auto industry. In his autobiography, Ferry Porsche stated that one million francs were handed to French officials by his family as a ransom to allow the freedom of his father and brother-in-law (after 17 months’ imprisonment) and to have the war crimes charges dropped.
Meanwhile, after his release from prison, Ferry wanted to return to Stuttgart, but occupation forces barred his entry. Instead, he and his sister Louise moved to the sawmill in Gmünd/Carinthia, Austria, where they found room to set up shops and a design office.
Designing the 356
Ferry and Louise began managing the new company, Porsche Konstruktionen, in the summer of 1945. They joined body designer Erwin Komenda and technical director Karl Rabe and began working on agricultural and tractor designs and repairing cars.
By the end of 1946, the company had expanded to 222 workers at Gmünd, including 53 executives and engineers. Soon, they obtained two contracts for automobile design. As a result of automobile designer Carlo Abarth’s mediation, Ferry was able to ink a contract with Piero Dusio to produce Grand Prix racecars for the Cisitalia racing team.
The second project was to design an entirely new car with the name Porsche on the emblem. On 11 June 1947, the idea was assigned project number 356, and Komenda designed a new chassis, again using many Volkswagen mechanical parts.
Komenda’s overall goal in designing the new Porsche 356 was to design and build a two-seat prototype as light as possible and with more engine horsepower than other cars at the time.
By using a unique chassis and tube-frame aluminum body, the new mid-engine roadster weighed only about 1300 pounds. Ferry had also saved money by building the new Porsche 356 using a large assortment of Volkswagen components.
For power, the car used a modified 1120 cc 4-cylinder air-cooled Volkswagen engine fitted with a single Solex carburetor. By raising the compression ratio of the air-cooled engine and enlarging the intake and exhaust valves, the output power was raised from 25 horsepower to a more sporty 35-40.
Because the location of the engine was so far toward the back, the new Porsche 356 was slightly unstable, but the balance of the car and its light weight gave it much-needed potent handling.
When Komenda completed the prototype, the new 356 was road certified on 8 June 1948 and entered in a race in Innsbruck. It won first place in its class.
Ferry wanted to refine the car further and engineer in even more performance. The company began to reduce the number of Volkswagen parts and find better parts from other suppliers. From this point on, performance became the primary focus of the Porsche designers and engineers for the car.
Interior and Exterior of the 356
The Porsche 356 looks like every other Porsche we see today. It was the foundation on which all the other Porsches were built. Hence, the big oval headlights, rear-mounted engine, slick-backed rear-end were all part of it. It seems that all modern Porsches are a unique iteration of this very vehicle. The taillights on this vehicle are interesting as they look like they were added just for the sake of adding taillights. The four pointy tail lights and the sloping rear-end remind us of the famous Beetle.
One eye at the interior and you will agree that the dash and styling were way ahead of their time. The vehicle is a classic and it sure looks the part. The leather seats, the big round dials, and ample legroom make the Porsche 356 the perfectly luxurious classic. In some ways, it is even futuristic given that the coupe was built in the early 1950s. However, this does not come as a surprise since Ferdinand Porsche was known to be a pioneer and a successful one at that.
Porsche 356 (Pre-A) 1948- 1956
The first models of the original 356 were available only as a 2-door coupe from 1948 through to 1955. With changing developments in automotive design and technology, body styles began to change. The company created a wide variety of new body styles, including an extremely rare split roof, a cabriolet, convertible, and roadster.
Although the basic design of the 356 was not altered, some functional enhancements were made through each of the generations. Aerodynamics were improved with each version, windshields became curved instead of straight, and the car featured numerous interior changes and additions.
The first Porsche 356s were born at the Gmünd manufacturing plant where a total of only 50 aluminum-bodied cars were built in 1948-50. Soon, the company would become one of the greatest successes in motorsports and gain tremendous popularity around the world.
The engine on the Gmund variant came with a 1100cc engine rated for 40 bhp. The Pre-A 356 variant engine needed a VW-sourced two-piece crankcase. After November 1954 it began utilizing a Porsche-designed three-piece crankcase in which engine displacements were 1.1L, 1.3L, and 1.5L.
In 1950, the company moved to Zuffenhausen, Germany, just north of Stuttgart. The new cars produced in Zuffenhausen were a complete redesign. Instead of aluminum, the new bodies were produced in all-steel by the Reutter company.
Reutter also made seat assemblies for Porsche. When Porsche acquired the company in 1963, Reutter continued to make car seats but changed the company name to “Recaro” which is today one of the world’s most famous car seat brands.
The new Porsche 356s were purchased mostly by auto racing enthusiasts in Austria and Germany. But by the early 1950s, the Porsche 356 had begun to gain renown among enthusiasts in Europe and the Americas. Buyers were thrilled about its excellent aerodynamics, handling, and build quality.
In the autumn of 1950 at the Paris Motor Show, Charles Faroux, a founding father of the Le Mans 24 Hour Race, convinced Ferdinand Porsche, Ferry’s father, to enter the new 356 in the following year’s race. He was sure the grueling competition would prove an excellent testing ground for the new car.
A few months later, Ferdinand Porsche died, and there was some concern that Porsche might not participate at Le Mans. On 30 January 1951, Ferry Porsche confirmed to the world that Porsche would indeed be entering the upcoming race with the new Porsche 356.
Faroux was an experienced public relations expert. He recognized the publicity potential of having an all-French driving team at the wheel of a Porsche for the race. He convinced French drivers Edmond Mouche and Auguste Veuillet to pilot the wheel of the only Porsche on the grid.
In June 1951, the new car called the 356 SL (Sport Light) “Gmünd-Coupe”, was officially entered in the race. The car had a streamlined aluminum body, covered wheels, and an improved version of the 356 engine, called the “Carrera”. The Porsche was the first and only German manufacturer to compete at the event.
The Porsche 356 debut at Le Mans was a huge success. Veuillet and Mouche in the #46 Porsche came in 12th overall and first in the under 1,100cc class.
The following year, in 1952, the same drivers entered the race again and finished in 11th place. The car broke the class distance record by covering 2,955 kilometers at an average speed of 76.4 mph (123kph). In later years, the Porsche contribution of winning at Le Mans was considered by many a key element in the continued popularity of the circuit.
As the years went by, the company continued making improvements to the 356 series. By late 1954, with the car’s popularity and increasing racing success on tracks and in road events, Porsche received orders for over 10,000 units.
Additionally, in late 1954, Max Hoffman, the sole US importer of Porsches, persuaded the company to create a stripped-down roadster variant of the car with minimal accessories and a cut-down windshield. The company produced the car, called the 356 Speedster, using unibody construction that reduced weight, allowed better fuel economy, and offered better handling and ride comfort.
The 356 Speedster found a niche in the U.S., especially in Southern California, where its open-top became quite popular. The new low-raked windscreen provided additional comfort for passengers. However, it could be easily removed if the car were taken to the track for racing.
Variants of the Pre-A 356
356/2 (Gmünd) – 1948-1950
Distinctive features of the 356/2 include:
Bumper flush with the body
Trafficators instead of indicators in early models
The new Porsche 356 A featured improvements to the build quality, handling, and aerodynamics and was produced from 1956-1960. The car was launched with the following five four-cylinder choices:
356 A 1300 with 44 hp
356 A 1300 Super with 60 hp
356 1600 with 60 hp
356 A 1600 Super with 75 hp
356 A 1500 GS Carrera with 100 hp
The Porsche 356 A was a more powerful, better looking, and greater performing version of the initial vehicle. The changes made to the car were minor but they resulted in major changes in the drive and feel of the car. The 356 A also came to be known as the Porsche “Type 1” as the moniker got famous among car aficionados.
Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld discuss the Porsche 356 A- Source: YouTube
The Type 1 had the 1.3L engine. Later on, the Type 1 was replaced by the Type 2, and this car brought with it a more powerful 1.5L engine. This four-cam ‘Carrera’ engine became the backbone of the 356 A and led to enthusiasts and car lovers demanding more and more of this car thanks to the 100hp output of this engine.
As a result, a slightly improved 1.6L version was also made to appease the customers. This engine had 2 valves per cylinder and produced 59 hp with 81 lb-ft torque. That may not sound much but it was highly respected for its time.
Porsche 356 A 1300 (1956-57)
Distinctive features of the Porsche 356 A 1300 include:
Bumpers are placed apart from the body with a bumper guard
Curved windscreen involving one piece of glass
A long thin handle with the Porsche Crest on the baggage compartment hood
Round tail-lights changing to tear-drop shape as of March 1957
Round rear indicators next to tail lights changing to integrated tail light in March 1957
In 1960, the third generation of the car was introduced. The new 356B model featured a new and improved body style known as the T5 that combined the racing and production models of the car. A total of 30,983 units of the T5 model were produced before production ended in 1963.
The street-legal Porsche 356 was revered for its performance and handling in addition to being a wonderful car to race on tracks.
In the early 1960s, Abarth collaborated with Porsche to build a highly esteemed version of the 356B named the Carrera GTL Abarth coupe. The car made an impressive showing at multiple motorsports events during the period.
In mid-1962, the 356B received a notable redesign with the T6 body type. The car featured twin-engine lid grills and a larger rear window in the coupe edition. Another change was to move the external fuel filler to the right front of the fender. The car was a noticeable change from the earlier T5 version that presented its own minor stylistic alterations.
Porsche 356 B 1600 (1960-63)
Distinctive features of the Porsche 356 B 1600 include:
Lifted Bumper with bumper guards with noticeable tapering at the top.
One-piece curved windscreen
Handle on baggage compartment hood flared at the base and with the Porsche Crest.
Teardrop-shaped tail lights with indicators
Round and protruding front indicators with adjacent two-slat horn grilles
Reversing light centrally located under rear bumper.
Valuation of the 1962 Porsche 356B 1600 Super Coupe
The fourth and final model in the 356 series was produced in 1964-65. A total of 16,678 units of the 356C were produced until production ceased in 1966. Porsche held on to the four-speed manual transmission, but new disc brakes were added.
There were no visible changes to the new T6, which was also referred to as the SC. The model came with an option for an upgrade to a more powerful engine. The following engines were offered:
1.6 Liter Type 616/15 B4 (1600 C)
1.6 Liter Type 616/16 B4 (1600 SC)
1.6 Liter Type 616/26 B4 (1600 SC, police car version)
2.0 Liter Type 587/1 B4 (Carrera 2)
2.0 Liter Type 587/2 B4 (Carrera 2)
There was a major redesign of the 356Cs engine. A new 95 hp SC engine was used that became known as the most powerful pushrod engine offered by the company. First releases of the 356C were limited to Europe, but later shipments went to the U.S.
The final ten models of the Porsche 356 were made special-order for the Dutch police. The car was chosen because it had the power and excellent performance that met the demands of Dutch law enforcement. The cars were 1965 models but not assembled until 1966.
Porsche 356 C 1600 SC (1964-65)
Distinctive features of the Porsche 356 C 1600 SC include:
Raised bumper with bumper guards with pronounced tapering at the top.
One-piece curved windscreen.
Flat hub caps
Logo on the rear with additional “90”
Front baggage compartment hood slightly squared off
With the final police Dutch Cabriolet models, production of the Porsche 356 came to its end. The car established a deserved reputation for its speed, style, and excellent handling. When 356 production ended in 1965, approximately 76,000 cars had been produced.
The Porsche 356 has a unique place in automotive history. The car arrived on the scene during a time when the world was recovering from intense chaos. The popularity of the car soared to great heights and then was succeeded by the 911, another outstanding member of the Porsche family.