The Porsche 356 was a sports car buffs dream. The 356 was the brain child of Ferdinand “Ferry" Porsche. The body style was the work of Erwin Komenda and the mechanical came off the VW Beetle the design of Ferdinand Porsche Sr.
When it first hit the market it was available as a roadster, cabriolet, and coupe and over the years it saw many changes both in power and style. You might be surprised to discover that the 356 Porsche was actually Porsche's first production automobile and one has to admit it was a great pick!
This timeline is a bit rough around the edges but it will give you and idea of how the 356 evolved from start to finish.
Just after the war Porsche located to Austria so that they could be closer to parts suppliers. Ferry Porsche was the designer of the 356. He was the son of Dr Ing Ferdinand Porsche who was the founder of Porsche. The original car used a tubular chassis with an 1100cc engine so it was both light and quick. The gearbox was designed by Frolich and Komenda designed the body of the 356.
The original 001 raced at the Innsbruck city race and it won in the 1100cc class on its very first run. Not surprising! The original 001 sits in the Factory Museum.
The first 356 Cabriolet is built with alloy aluminum.
The factory moves to Zuffenhausen and begins producing the 356 where they will stay until 1965 producing around 80,000 cars.
Innovation continues to impress the world with the 356 Cabriolet and the new split windshield. The 1.3 liter was chrome plated with aluminum cylinders and the very first synchromesh transmission came to be. The 356-002 wins hands down at the LeMans in the 1100cc class.
At the age of 75 Dr. Ing Ferdinand Porsche Sr. died at the age of 75. By this time 1400 people worked under the direction of Ferry Porsche.
The 1488 cc 70 HP super engine is introduced.
A deal is made with New York's Max Hoffman which allowed for the introduction of the 356 in the United States. It wasn't long before Hoffman became the US importer for Porsche making arrangements for the Porsche line to be carried around the country. This was also the era where split windshields became bent windshields.
Hoffman convinces Porsche that they can gain more market share by producing a stripped down version of the 356 for less money specifically designed for the west coast where fair weather and amateur racing go hand in hand. And so the Speedster is born and an instant success with more than 4000 sold in just 5 years.
The 1600 motor makes it to production. The 1500 GS Carrera motor which is being developed for the race track suddenly finds its way into the 356 line. The A line is introduced which has several small changes to the body style.
The 10,000th 356 comes off the assembly line and it is celebrated at the factory.
More improvements saw the T2 prototype with the new transmission. The 644 replaced the 519 with a much better shifter, dual nose mounts, and much better synchros.
The Carrera engine continued to see improvements that produced higher horsepower. The Convertible came to market replacing the Speedster and it was much taller and luxurious than its predecessor.
The last Speedster is released and the 1300 engine is also dropped.
The 356B is given the Super 90 motor. The 90 has a counterweighted crank, Solex P40-II Carburetor, and sodium filled valves.
1961: The hardtop is introduced and is instantly a hit and is fondly nicknamed the “Notchback". Over 1700 of these cars sold in less than two years.
Porsche is talking with Reutter about the purchase of the coach maker. The factory launches Christophorus which is a Porsche lifestyle magazine.
356C is brought to market with the 95 HP SC engine. It has 4 wheel disc brakes, and it is available with an optional 12 volt electric system.
The 356 production has moved over the 10,000 a year number.
The final Cabriolets come off the assembly line.
After several evolutions the 356 came to be retired in 1965 but today the car still remains sought after and it is common to find them selling for over $175,000. Back in the 1950s you could buy that car new for $4000.
The 356 also made it big in the movies staring in Top Gun, 48 Hrs and Another 48 Hrs. And Janis Joplin has a psychedelically painted 356C. The 356 underwent many changes over the years some mechanical while others cosmetic but what remained consistent was its charm, style, sportiness, and speed. Still today this is a car that gets noticed.
Wayne has been owned and ridden Porsches for 15 years. Visit his Porsche site at http://www.porschesworld.com to learn more about Porsche 944 .