Though it was no slouch, this was Porsche’s first production car and some way from the higher-performance models that were to come. The Porsche 356 was based on Volkswagen Beetle running gear with flat four engines also borrowed from the People’s Car, albeit subject to serious tuning.
This compact sports car was designed by Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche — like his father’s Beetle – was a rear-engined, air-cooled, rear-wheel drive car with monocoque construction in coupe, and cabriolet styles.
The first few Porsche 356’s were fabricated in Austria with hand-built aluminum bodywork, but production soon switched to Germany and bodies made of pressed steel. This advanced-for-its-time machine was a slow burner, with but a handful made in the first two years — mostly sold in Germany and Austria. But excellent build quality, aerodynamic shape and great road holding were gradually noticed by serious motoring enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic and by 1955 nearly 8,000 had been sold.
One of the last variants was the desirable Speedster, introduced for American consumption in 1954. This had a raked windscreen, bucket seats and a skimpy folding top, falling into the ‘ride-and-race’ category beloved of sporting types who would drive to the meet, remove the windscreen and start racing. The Speedster was popular in California, but its introduction marked the way forward. The basic 356 had had its day, and the future lay with evolution models.
These continued in production for another decade, starting with the 356A in 1955, followed by the 356B in 1962 and finally by the 356C of 1964, which was capable of a very respectable 125 mph (201 km/h). Meanwhile, the first Porsche 911s hit the road and the 356 series was discontinued in 1965, by which time a grand total of 76,000 356s had been sold.
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
1949 (until 1955)
1,131 сс, 1,286 сс or 1,488 сс Flat Four
Top speed increased with engine size, but for early models was 84 mph (135 km/h); 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in 12.5 secs
YOU SHOULD KNOW:
The car in which James Dean died in 1955 was a Porsche 550 Spyder, a car that was actually derived from the 356 Speedster – whose track successes had prompted Porsche to develop the 550 specifically for racing purposes.