Porsche 356 History

The Porsche 356, introduced in 1950, put this renowned German automaker on the sports-car map. But even though the 356 was the first Porsche sports car, it was far from the first sporting Porsche.

Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche, 1948
Ferry and Ferdinand Porsche with the Porsche 356/1 at Gmund.

Ferdinand Porsche was born on September 3, 1875, in the Austrian village of Maffersdor. Turning away from his father’s metalworking business, the young and imaginative Ferdinand pursued a fascination with electricity, and in the 1890s, even designed an electric car. His engineering acumen was obvious, and extended to the design of aircraft engines. After World War I, Porsche began to focus on the subject that would become his life’s passion, a pursuit that began with the design of a small, efficient open-two-seat sporting car, the 1.0-liter Sascha.

Porsche’s career path, however, drew him in the 1920s to the German automaker Daimler, where he helped design powerful 6.0- and 7.0-liter racing engines for expensive Mercedes-Benz classics such as the fabulous SSK. His small-car dreams never died, though, and would find an outlet with his design for an inexpensive air-cooled rear engine car built in the 1930s at the behest of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler. This was the original Volkswagen, the people’s car. It was known almost from the start by its nickname, the Beetle. World War II derailed the project after but a handful were produced.

VW Beetle Prototype
Ferdinand Porsche aided in the construction of this early VW Beetle prototype.

Porsche and his design firm, which included his son, Ferry, turned their attention to war production. They would emerge from the conflict battered but intact. VW went on to thrive under its own ownership, while Porsche and his son Ferry returned to that first love and created a small sports car based on the VW Beetle design.

The Porsches had already proved adept at building good sports cars from ordinary components, but it would be left to Ferry to realize the first production Porsche. As he related to CAR magazine’s Steve Cropley in 1984: “During the war I had an opportunity to drive a supercharged VW convertible with about 50 horsepower, which was a lot of power then. I decided that if you could make a machine which was lighter than that, and still had 50 horsepower, then it would be very sporty indeed.”

Ferry and Karl Rabe, an associate from Ferdinand’s days at Daimler, again turned to a VW-based sports car in 1947. Ferdinand had been imprisoned by the French for a brief time after the war on charges relating to his design work for the Third Reich. By the time he rejoined his son and Rabe in August, they had the specifics firmly on paper. Ferry recalls his father being “very interested...of course. He took an interest in everything, but didn’t have the energy anymore...I had to assume the risk myself.”

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche 356 Prototypes

When Ferry Porsche decided to build a light, supercharged car to rival the VWs he had driven, what ultimately emerged was Project 356. It was a smooth, aerodynamic open two-seater with an 85-inch-wheelbase tubular chassis, air-cooled VW engine, and dry weight of about 1300 pounds. The chassis was a sturdy affair, anchored by bulkheads in the cowl and behind the seats that turned inward at each end to connect by hefty transverse tubes.

Porsche 356/1
The first Porsche prototype, known retrospectively as the 356/1.

The chassis was influenced by the Type 114 and Karl Frohlich’s Auto Union concepts. As the flat-four was amidships, the VW’s rear suspension was reversed so that the transverse torsion bars sat at the back and the trailing arms became leading arms. In theory, this meant wicked oversteer that was reduced by careful attention to weight distribution, which ended up nearly even, and by an ultra-low center of gravity. Front suspension was stock VW, as were steering and the cable-actuated 9-inch-diameter drum brakes. Special Porsche-modified cylinder heads with larger intake valves and ports, plus higher compression (7.0 versus 5.8:1) boosted brake horsepower from 25 (DIN European) stock to near 40 (at 4,000 rpm). Displacement remained at 1131 cc on a 75 × 64 mm bore and stroke.

“We built that car only for experience,” Ferry recalled in 1984. “It was to see how light we could go and how many VW parts we would need.” He and a bright young engineer named Robert Eberan von Eberhorst first tested the running chassis in March 1948 on a natural proving ground not 20 miles from Gmund: the daunting 32-percent grade of the Katshberg Pass. It easily passed every test, confirming that the VW hardware could withstand the most demanding conditions.

Retrospectively known as 356/1, the first prototype Porsche received its aluminum roadster body, designed by longtime Porsche hand Erwin Komenda, in April 1948 and was completed a month later. Smooth and low, with a two-piece unframed windshield, it set the pattern for the future production 356 but had many unique touches.

For example, there were no air grilles in back, and engine access was via a long front-hinged lid instead of a small hatch. Behind the engine was room enough for a spare wheel, six-volt battery, and a small amount of luggage. Inside were a rudimentary semi-contoured seat and the only instrument, a speedometer, though a clock was built into the glovebox at the far right. Up front, the Porsche name was proudly spelled out in letters not unlike those used today.

In all, the 356/1 was attractive, sporty, obviously aerodynamic, and different from anything else on the road. Only one problem surfaced on a shakedown run from Gmund to Zell am See: A rear frame tube bent from pounding the rugged pavement of Grossglockner Pass. With the 356/1 limping into the village, Ferry and his riding engineer fashioned a two-piece metal sleeve to cover the weakened nub, a reinforcement later applied to production 356s. A July showing at Berne in Switzerland earned good reviews from the British and European press. That same month, the 356/1 captured a 1,000-1,200-cc road race in Innsbruck, Austria -- the first of many 356 victories to come.

Porsche 356/1
The 356/1 helped define the shape of Porsches to come.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

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The Porsche 356/2

Next for Porsche came the 356/2, which automotive historian Karl Ludvigsen determined "was developed in parallel with the space-frame roadster and not as a successor to it, as has often been maintained. Planned in both coupe and cabriolet models, [the 356/2s] differed sharply in design [with] new frame construction, body style and engine position." They were, in fact, the first production Porsches.

Porsche 356/2
The Porsche 356/2 was developed alongside the 356/1, yet differed in design.

And once they appeared, little was heard of the 356/1. Komenda moved closer to the definitive 356 look, while retaining aluminum construction for both body types. The engine now sat firmly behind the rear-wheel centerline, which produced even more oversteer that was only partly countered by reverting to normal mounting for the VW rear suspension.

But of course, these changes were not without rationale. "We felt the mid-mounted engine had little interest for the customer," Ferry explained later. He also believed that even a sports car should have good passenger and luggage space; a more "out of the way" engine provided it within the same overall package size. Besides, "our goal has always been to build cars for normal purposes, that can go on all kinds of roads and in all weathers" -- hence, the beetle-like fastback coupe.

Backed by encouraging good-faith orders from Swiss enthusiast-businessmen R. von Senger and Bernhard Blank, Porsche Konstruktionen GmbH planned to build 50 Type 356/2 chassis, of which 10 would have coupe bodies. Publicity brochures announced the coupe at $3,750, the cabrio at $4,250 -- stiff pricing for the time. Americans could buy two 1947 Chevys with that money, and VWs sold in Germany for about half as much.

But the issue of hefty price tags was very nearly moot, for Gmund couldn't turn out many cars very quickly. Only four 356/2s were built in 1948 -- all by hand -- then 25 the next year and 18 in 1950. By spring 1951, just 51 had been sold. But then, as Ferry Porsche later declared, "It seems almost a miracle to me that we managed to build [cars] in Gmund..." The coupe/cabriolet breakdown has been variously quoted as 45/5 and 42/8; the latter seems more likely, as six cabrios bodied by Beutler of Switzerland are known.

Most of these early Porsches were sold by the aforementioned Bernhard Blank, a successful Zurich dealer. A few had a bore of 73.5 mm, instead of 75 mm, to keep displacement below 1,100cc for class racing purposes. Historians doubt the published 7.0:1 compression ratio; 6.5:1 is more like it. But it's interesting that the Porsche was at least as economical as a VW, maybe more so.

Despite its piddling 40 horsepower, the 1,300-pound curb weight and slippery body allowed near 90 mph all out with economy (according to contemporary road tests) of no less than 27 mpg -- and usually closer to 35. (Testers commonly reported 30 mpg at a 70-mph cruise.) This unusual frugality would characterize later roadgoing Porsches capable of far higher speeds.

As noted, most 356/2 cabrios were bodied by Beutler in Thun, near Berne, using bare chassis shipped from Gmund. These were slightly longer than the coupes, undoubtedly the coachbuilder's doing. The last one was delivered in August 1949.

Porsche 356/2
The Porsche 356/2 was a coupe/cabriolet alternative to the 356/1 roadster.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche Takes Root

As months passed and word spread about the Porsche, a minor sales demand developed. Rabe had promised 150 units by the end of 1948, but conditions just wouldn’t allow it. Bodies, for instance, had to be hand-hammered over wooden forms. Engines varied slightly from car to car because everything was in such short supply. Still, the ledgers were being written in black, even if the numbers weren’t large.

Porsche factory, Gmund
Workers constructing a 356/2 at the Porsche factory in Gmund.

Seeking firmer footing for his company, Ferry Porsche concluded a multifaceted deal in September 1948 with VW’s Heinz Nordhoff, whom the British had installed to lead the rebuilding effort at VW’s Wolfsburg factory (which fell within the British zone of the new postwar West Germany). The Porsche organization agreed on a new license for the VW design, as well as on a consulting contract that reestablished the prewar Porsche/VW relationship. Additionally, Porsche became the import agency for Austria, gaining favored status on delivery of VW parts used in its own cars. Finally, Porsche enjoyed joint use of the worldwide VW sales organizations. All of this, Ferry noted, “was the basis for our fresh start.” The Marshall Plan and subsequent recovery of the German economy would do the rest.

Suddenly, the site of Porsche’s postwar headquarters, the Austrian village of Gmund, posed a thorny problem: It was too small, too remote, and completely removed from the car-building heart of industrial Germany. Porsche needed to return to Zuffenhausen, where the Porsche works were centered during the war. Trouble was, the Americans had been using the old Porsche premises for military motor pools. But when the GIs reluctantly agreed to leave in mid-1950, Porsche began preparing to close up at Gmund and move back home.

The decision was not made lightly. VW work was Porsche’s bread-and-butter then; sports cars were but a hobby by comparison. Conceivably, Porsche viewed returning to Zuffenhausen as a tax write-off against earnings from VW. But sports cars were more fun than people’s cars, and there was no question of designing tanks or any other new military hardware. The one fly in this ointment was a big one: Production start-up in Stuttgart would be far costlier than any likely amount of VW income could cover.

Porsche 356/2, Interior
The cabin of the Porsche 356/2 was plain but functional.

The problem was solved when Alfred Prinzing, Ferry’s wily business manager, took a Porsche coupe on a tour of Germany’s main VW distributors and returned with orders totaling DM200,000. Adding that to VW receipts gave Porsche at least a fighting chance. Thus, by April 1950, Porsche was building cars in Zuffenhausen.

“We signed a contract with Reutter to build bodies for the 500 cars we planned to start with,” Ferry Porsche recalled 29 years later. “Since Reutter had no experience with welding light alloy, we had to change to steel for the coupe. We had only perhaps $50,000 on hand to start production and never dreamed we would eventually reach...78,000 of the 356-model cars.”

Reutter Karosserie was right next door, which was a stroke of good fortune. Porsche had to rent 5000 square feet of the coachbuilder’s plant for chassis fabrication and final assembly because its own factory wasn’t immediately usable. A short time later, Porsche bought a nearby 1100-square-foot building for administrative offices and design space. The company soon changed its name again, to Dr. Ing.-h.c. F. Porsche KG (KG denoting the German term for limited partnership).

Porsche 356/2, Engine
The Porsche 356/2 featured a 40-horsepower engine, up from the 365/1's 25.

“Having Reutter nearby was a great advantage for us,” Ferry said later. “In those days, chassis and body construction were far more separated than they are today. Later we took over the Reutter firm so that we could build the bodies, which are the most expensive part of an automobile, ourselves.”

In preparation for an ambitious tenfold production boost, Komenda revised the 356/2 coupe and cabriolet into the now-familiar shape of what was simply called the 356. The windshield remained divided but was enlarged; side-window area was reduced via a higher beltline; and vent wings were eliminated. An oil temperature gauge appeared inside, and the clock moved from the glovebox to beside the speedometer. A gas gauge was still lacking, though, as Porsche relied on VW’s reserve-tank system and its thoroughly un-modern measuring device, a wooden dipstick.

The engine was still the 40-horsepower (DIN European) Type 369 air-cooled flat-four but now with twin carburetors (Solex 32 PBI). Chassis changes followed those of the 1950 VW, which meant hydraulic shock absorbers (in steel towers) and hydraulic drum brakes. The latter proved inadequate in the Porsche and thus gave way by 1951 to twin-leading-shoe Lockheed front drums supplied by the German Alfred Teves company (Ate). At the same time, the previous lever-arm rear shocks were replaced with modern tubular units.

Porsche 356/2
The Porsche 356/2 outlined the distinctive Porsche shape that is still seen today.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

The First Production Porsche 356

Porsche 356 completed its first Stuttgart car on Good Friday, 1950 and never looked back. Deliveries were underway by April, with the coupe priced at DM9950 (about $2,030). By midyear, sales were 33 a month, versus the eight or nine projected in the Reutter contract. By year’s end, sales totaled 298. Sadly, the great Dr. Ferdinand Porsche died in late January 1951, but he did live long enough to see the rapid progress of the cars and company that bore his name. By the time of his passing, the factory’s claimed output was 60 a month.

Porsche 356 Coupe and Cabriolet
Ferry Porsche and associates pose with a Porsche 356 coupe and cabriolet.

Meantime, Porsches were gradually getting into the hands of non-German testers, who would presumably render the harshest verdicts. But the folks in Zuffenhausen needn’t have worried. Consider this excerpt from Britain’s weekly The Autocar in April 1951: “Even a short run serves to give the characteristic impression of a really well streamlined car. The acceleration above 50 mph is quite beyond what would be expected from the engine size, and is achieved in extraordinary quietness. About 60 mph is available in third gear...It is a rare car these days in which the designer has gone all out for certain qualities...and has accepted certain disadvantages instead of trying to achieve a well-balanced mediocrity...It is not a car for everyone’s taste, but it offers a unique combination of comfort, performance and economy, for which some people will pay a very good price.”

That same month at the Frankfurt Automobile Show, Porsche introduced the 356/1 and 356/3, its first 1,300-cc models. Their new engine -- precisely 1,286cc (78.5 cubic inches) on a bore and stroke of 80.0 × 64 mm (3.14 × 2.52 inches) -- was a bored-out Type 369 with aluminum instead of cast-iron cylinders, chrome plated on their working surfaces for greater durability. The 369’s compression may be disputed, but this Type 506 engine definitely ran 6.5:1. This plus the extra displacement, it was claimed, lifted horsepower to 44 (DIN European) at the same 4200 rpm. Reflecting Porsche’s traditional concern for craftsmanship, each engine was assembled by a single worker, a job that took 25 hours.

More modest compression made the 1,300 engine more amenable to Europe’s low-grade fuel than the 1100 version, yet performance actually improved slightly by about 2-3 mph, to 92 mph all out, according to factory records. Also announced at Frankfurt as across-the-board changes were improved defrosting, an optional tachometer, and the new VW-based suspension, tube shocks, and Lockheed-Ate brakes. In all, the 1300 was a step forward that helped it earn more good marks from the press.

Porsche 356
The first production Porsche 356 looked not-too different from early prototypes.

Volume began taking off in 1951. Porsche completed its 1,000th Stuttgart car on August 28, and that year’s 1,103 total units earned the company a $3 million profit. Though not widely known at the time, Porsches were built in Gmund through March 1951, after which production centered solely in Zuffenhausen.

A small part of 1951 revenue came from the United States, home of hard currency, the bigger-is-better philosophy, and many well-heeled buyers. Much of this sales activity was owed to Max Hoffman, the veritable godfather of postwar America’s import-car business, who in 1950 added Porsche to the select nameplates displayed at his Park Avenue showroom.

Hoffman was dubious at first, perhaps because some customers thought the 356 curious: small and “funny,” yet as costly as a Lincoln. But he had a weakness for Porsches, being Austrian-born and a great admirer of Ferry and his father. Hoffman had brought the VW to America, selling two in 1949 before giving up the franchise -- one of his greatest mistakes, he later admitted. But Hoffman did sell Porsches -- up to 10 a week by 1954. He later acknowledged that sales, and his own opinion of the cars, rose considerably in 1953 when Porsche dumped the VW-based “crashbox” for its own four-speed synchromesh transmission.

Porsche 356, Interior
The Porsche 356's interior did advance significantly from its prototype beginnings.

This gearbox stemmed from a design patented in 1947 and conceived for the GP Cisitalia. Gear synchronization was its most unique feature, accomplished by intermediate servo rings instead of conventional cones. Each pinion had a servo ring revolving with it at equal speed; as a shift was made, the appropriate servo ring matched the clutch ring’s rate of rotation to that of the rear output shaft. The result was quicker shifts, owing to the shorter gear braking/acceleration time. The arrangement was also more compact. Synchromesh was eventually extended to all Porsches, and other carmakers were quick to copy the design of this superior system, including Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, even Daimler-Benz (beginning with the racing 300SLR of 1952).

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche 356 1500

If the Porsche 1100/1300 could perform well while sipping tiny amounts of fuel, why not a 1500? Porsche began work on it in mid-1950 once 1,500cc became the upper displacement limit for several racing classes. Moreover, it seemed an ideal size for a small, light sports car like the Porsche 356.

Porsche 356 1500
This unique Porsche 356 used the Porsche 1500 engine that powered later 356s.

Since the 1100 had been bored to get 1,300cc, it was logical to lengthen stroke to achieve 1,500. The Hirth company of Stuttgart devised a connecting rod compact enough to allow a 10-mm increase (to 74), giving 1,488cc. Hirth also supplied a new crankshaft with roller bearings, which reduced friction but soon had Max Hoffman and others complaining about durability. Prolonged low-rpm running or delayed oil changes most always led to early crank failure. Avoiding it was as easy as reading the owner’s manual -- which, of course, not everyone did. Interestingly, the 1488-cc engine began the practice of “keeping the revs up” that many Porschephiles (especially 911 owners) happily perpetuate, even though it’s long been unnecessary.

Initially, the 1500 used the small twin carbs and developed 55 horsepower (DIN European) at 4,500 rpm. However, only 66 of these Type 502 engines were built before Porsche switched to a Type 547 derivative with Solex 40BPI instruments and 60 horsepower (the smaller carbs could be fitted if desired). The original Solex 32s reflected caution on Porsche’s part rather than engineering error. The company felt the gearbox might not be up to the extra power, but the new all-synchro transmission ended that concern.

A squad of 356s, 1100s, and 1500s, went to Monthlery, France’s huge banked oval track for some speed-record attempts in September 1951. All performed brilliantly. The 1100s set three new marks, averaging over 100 mph for 500 miles, 1,000 kilometers, and six hours. The 1500s, including a mildly modified car from Volkswagen dealer Walter Glockner, broke no fewer than 14 records. The factory car raised official averages to over 97 mph for 3,000, 4,000, and 5,000 kilometers; 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000 miles; and 24 and 48 hours. It also averaged 95.75 mph for 10,000 kilometers and 94.6 mph for 72 hours. The “Glockler,” a streamlined roadster, ran 500 and 1,000 kilometers and the six hours at 114-116 mph, breaking three more records. The 72-hour mark came despite a disabled top gear that forced drivers to run in third at 90 mph with the engine whirling at a busy 4,500 rpm. It was a tremendous performance that conclusively proved the 356’s mettle.

Porsche 356
A modified Porsche 356 coupe after an impressive showing at Le Mans.

Ferdinand Porsche once said it makes no difference where a car’s engine is located, so long as it’s light. The 1500 unit weighed a mere 160 pounds, while early 356s rarely exceeded 1,750 pounds at the curb. Fore/aft weight balance was around 780/970 pounds, but this wasn’t the drawback it might seem. In unofficial tests conducted by an unnamed Southern California aircraft company, the 356 body generated 175 pounds of front aerodynamic downforce that effectively equalized weight distribution.

Balance of another kind impressed editor Dick von Osten of America’s Auto magazine during a test of a Porsche 356/1500: “The top-speed runs were made with two different drivers on a level, measured quarter-mile at sea level. I expected to clock slightly over 100 mph, [but I] reached that figure with no apparent effort and kept on going. [We] both managed to hit the maximum speed of 111.1 mph on both an east and west run. Five mph were probably added to the top speed by the perfect wheel balance, a typical detail of this car: all Porsches come from the factory with the wheels and tires in a perfect state of dynamic and static balance. Dr. Porsche once said that ...wheel balance can add or subtract 500 engine rpm at top speed.” (Incidentally von Osten’s reported maximum speed was 15 mph above the factory claim and indicative of the conservatism that marks official Porsche performance figures even today).

Despite the more-powerful engine, fuel economy was hardly affected. Von Osten covered 329 miles (75 in city traffic) on one tankful, including top speed, acceleration, and braking tests, plus a 70-75 mph highway run. All this required just 11 gallons of gas for an overall average of close to 33 mpg. With figures like these, you wonder if we’ve learned all that much in the last 45 years.

Significantly, von Osten was also taken with his test Porsche’s “unmistakable quality. From the gentle ‘click’ of the door to its smooth paint, from the handling ease to the engine’s performance, the Porsche reflects genius in design and pride in craftsmanship... Although it is not a low-priced car (approximately $4,284 for the coupe and $4,560 for the convertible), it is a car to which every owner can point with pride.”

Even in these early days, the 356 reflected the Porsches’ belief in the perfectibility of a given design -- provided it was good to begin with. By mid-1952 all 356s wore a one-piece windshield (albeit with a vertical central bend), perforated disc wheels, and deeper bodywork beneath the bumpers. A large 6,000-rpm tachometer replaced the clock, and both it and the speedo were newly hooded for better legibility.

Porsche 356
A modified 356 coupe set distance and speed records in Montlhery, France.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche 356 1300S, Porsche 1500S, and Porsche America

The ultimate developments of the original Porsche 356 models were the 1300S and 1500S -- “S” for Super. The latter came first, in October 1952. Its new Type 528 powerplant had the same displacement as the 502/507 but ran 8.2:1 compression, good for a rated 70 DIN horsepower European and 80 pounds/feet of torque at 3600 rpm. That torque peak hinted at Porsche’s intentions -- production-class racing -- and the Super was inevitably less powerful below 3,500 rpm than the normal 1500.

Porsche 356 America
The Porsche 356 America was a slick open-top racer conceived by Max Hoffman.

Both the 1500S and 1300S (announced in November ’53; same CR, 60 horsepower) benefited from a revised camshaft designed by future Porsche chairman Ernst Fuhrmann, a Gmund engineer who’d been involved with the GP Cisitalia. The factory assigned the 1300S an official top speed of 100 mph, the 1500S 105 mph. But again, the evidence is that these were conservative claims.

Perhaps the most important of the early 1500 Supers was the America, a rakish roadster with aluminum bodywork by Glaser, marked by an ultra-low beltline. Though almost unknown in Europe, it was hardly familiar in the United States either, thanks to a lofty $4,600 price.

Like many of the more-interesting Fifties imports, the America sprang from the fertile mind of Max Hoffman, who wanted a lighter open Porsche without the heavy top and side windows of the standard cabrio. Of course, he had racing in mind, and so the America was designed with weight-saving touches that prevented overall weight from exceeding 1,600 pounds. These features included light aluminum-frame seats, Plexiglas side curtains, thin snap-on canvas roof, no glovebox door, and a divided windshield that could be replaced by a racing windscreen. With all this, the America was even more exciting than the regular 1500S. Auto Age magazine’s test showed a 110-mph top speed, 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds, and the standing quarter-mile in 17.9 seconds.

Porsche America Interior
The interior of the Porsche America was stylish and refined in true Porsche style.

Regrettably, not many Americas were built, largely because of how they were built. Reutter sent rolling chassis to Glaser in Ullersricht, north of Munich, where artisans hand-hammered the aluminum bodywork and welded it to the chassis. The semi-finished cars were then trucked back to Zuffenhausen for final assembly.

Only four were sold in the United States in all of 1952, and production ended the following year. One Porsche expert puts the total built at 20, another at 50. Regardless, the America remains a rare and highly collectible Porsche. A seemingly limited market and high production costs (aggravated by transportation expense) condemned it to an early grave, though it would not be forgotten.

A literal symbol of Porsche’s progress marked the 1953 models: the now-famous Porsche crest. This, too, was prompted by Max Hoffman, who thought all cars should wear emblems. He suggested it while lunching in New York one day with Ferry, who quickly sketched out a bit of heraldry on a napkin. As finalized by freelance graphic designer Eric Strenger (who at the same time developed the Porsche logotype still used today), it bore the Stuttgart coat of arms: a rampant black horse on a yellow shield representing an old part of the city (Stuotgarten) where a stud farm had once been; surrounding this were the colors and six staghorns from the crest of the state of Baden-Wurttemburg.

Other Porsche changes for 1953 were more obvious. Parking lamps moved inboard to beneath the headlamps, taillamps became circular pairs on each side instead of circle/oblong duos, and a separate trip odometer joined the total mileage recorder. Engines stayed essentially the same.

The 1500 Super gave up its Hirth crank for one of forged steel, as Rabe was able to shorten the original rod design by making a diagonal cut across the big end, thus leaving adequate clearance for the longer stroke. The 1500 Normal had 6.5:1 compression and only 55 horsepower at 4,400 rpm, but the factory claimed that good for 96 mph all out. It was an ideal foil for the 1500S as it was more tractable at lower speeds and thus better for everyday driving. All these engines (except the 1100, which vanished after 1954) were available in coupe or Cabriolet, and would run through 1955.

Only the 1500s came to the United States in ’53, where the Normal was called America and attractively priced at $3,445 for the coupe and $3,695 for the cabrio -- the most affordable Porsches yet. (The upmarket Supers listed at $4,284 and $4,584.) Maxie had struck again, but he wasn’t offering an entirely free lunch, for he had Porsche delete the reclining seatbacks, wheel trims, the fold-down provision for the vestigial back seat, the radio, passenger-side sunvisor, and the tachometer, all standard on European 1500s.

Porsche America, Engine
This Porsche America featured the new 1500 cc engine, making it an ideal racer.

Porsche passed a production milestone on March 15, 1954, with Zuffenhausen car number 5,000, which nearly coincided with another batch of running changes. Parking lamps now sat within tiny grilles that, despite their size, efficiently channeled cooling air to the brakes and opened up hooting space for new twin Bosch horns. Inside were a semicircular, Detroit-style horn ring, passenger grab handle and instrument-lighting rheostat. A windshield washer and oil filter were also adopted.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

1954 Porsche Speedster

Porsche’s big event of 1954 arrived in September: the charming, sporty Speedster. It was still another bit of marketing magic from Max Hoffman, who, despite his experience with the ‘52 America, didn’t think U.S. demand for roadsters was quite so limited -- and that an inexpensive model should be a permanent part of the Porsche line.

Porsche Speedster
The Porsche Speedster was another rakish Porsche inspired by Max Hoffman.

The Speedster was actually evolved from the Glaser-built America, and even had the same Type number (540), but was designed by Reutter for minimum production cost. For example, it used the regular cabriolet body but had none of its accoutrements. Like the America, the Speedster arrived with only a simple canvas top and side curtains instead of a built-in padded top and roll-up door windows, though its windshield was cut about 3 1/2 inches shorter for extra raffishness.

The cockpit was as Spartan as a Triumph TR2’s. Seats were simple buckets with fixed backrests. Instrumentation was limited to speedo, tach, and temperature gauge; technically, the tach and heater were extras, but it was hard to find a car without them, so they were effectively “mandatory options” that pushed the typical delivered price over $3,000. But Hoffman realized his target base price of $2,995 POE (Port of Entry) New York.

Exterior appearance was standard Porsche from the waist down save the aesthetically pleasing, nearly full-length bodyside chrome strips that ran neatly through the door handles. Still, the Speedster was invariably likened to an inverted bathtub, and it looked a bit bizarre buttoned up.

Porsche Speedster, Engine
The Porsche Speedster featured the strongest engine Porsche had, the 1500.

Not surprisingly, the 1500 Normal engine was standard for the Speedster, but the Super spec was available for about $500 more. Speedsters weren’t immediately sold in Europe but were well received in the United States. After an exploratory 200-unit run for 1954, the factory increased output. By the time the last one was delivered in 1958, the total exceeded 4,900.

Visually, the 1954 and ’55 Speedsters were quite similar, the differences confined mainly to gauges, bonnet handle, and emblems. Like all 356s since the first, they rolled on 16-inch-diameter wheels and tires.

The Speedster seemed born to race and was certainly quick enough for it. The base model weighed nearly 200 pounds less than a 1500N coupe and was thus about a second faster in the 0-60 mph sprint, though superior aerodynamics let the coupe pull away after about 80 mph. The 1500S version was commensurately faster but could not catch its coupe counterpart at the top end. Comparing Super and Normal Speedsters, respective 0-60 mph times were 10 and 14 seconds; figures for the standing quarter-mile were 17.5 seconds at 100 mph versus 19 seconds at 95 mph.

Of course, being Porsches, the Speedsters did race, and with distinction. John von Neumann, Porsche’s West-Coast counterpart to Max Hoffman, started running them in SCCA events in November 1954, when his 1500S finished eighth overall in a six-hour enduro at Torrey Pines, near San Diego, and won its class the following day. In 1955, Bengt Sonderstrom drove one to win the national SCCA F-Production championship.

Walt Woron waxed enthusiastic after testing a Speedster for the July 1955 issue of Motor Trend: “Its size, power, easy shift and steering make it fun to drive...The brakes are extremely good...they get you out of situations where you may have delayed too long...For a sports car, and especially such a small one, the Porsche Speedster has a very smooth ride...There’s absolutely no wallowing when it comes out of a dip...”

Like most drivers, Woron felt slightly claustrophobic in the Speedster. “With the top up...you have to jackknife in; the top is extremely low [overall height was a mere 48 inches] and if you’re over six feet, your head is going to touch. It doesn’t leave much room between the top and doors for seeing out; and with the side curtains on, you may as well be content with just looking forward.”

Though rudimentary next to the cabrio roof, the Speedster top was high-tech next to the Erector-set affairs of British contemporaries. “Putting up the soft top is absurdly easy,” said Woron. “You reach behind you, grab the top’s forward bow, pull forward so that it reaches the windshield and snap the two locks in place.” He also noted that Reutter had managed to sneak a little padding between the top’s inner and outer layers, an advance unknown in darkest Coventry.

Summing up the Speedster’s appeal, Woron rhetorically asked, “Where else are you going to get a sports car that has the performance, the ride and the workmanship of this one? Sure, it lacks certain features like roll-up windows, but if...you drive for the fun of driving, you’ll love this one.”

Porsche 356A Speedster
This 356A Speedster shows the evolution of this classic Porsche body type.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

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1955 Porsche 356/2

Soon after the Speedster’s debut, Porsche introduced a wholesale engine revamp for 1955. Though the 1100 was dropped, the four remaining units became “/2” types (for example, 546/2 and 528/2 for the 1500 Normal and Super). Among the changes: improved valvegear, strengthened castings, virtually square cylinder dimensions on 1300s (74.5 × 74.0 mm), and three-piece, 4.5-liter aluminum sumps (replacing two-piece, 3.5-liter magnesium types).

Porsche 356
This Porsche 356 wears the "Continental" script accorded all U.S. 356s in 1955.

The “/2” engines put further distance between Porsche and VW engineering, being designed for easier servicing and quicker camshaft swapping under race conditions. Though fewer parts interchanged with VW’s, that was okay with Ferry Porsche. His cars were rapidly becoming more specialized and thus increasingly removed from their humble origins, marking his firm’s emergence as a manufacturer in its own right and, no less important, reducing its reliance on VW components. Porsche didn’t make much of these changes (indeed, they’re listed mainly in factory documents), but they reflected the continual quest for perfection that remains a fact of life at Zuffenhausen.

There was one other change for ’55. Again at Hoffman’s behest, U.S. models were called Continental that year -- and that year only, because Lincoln owned the name and was about to bring out its new Continental Mark II.

The Autocar captured much of the early Porsche essence in its November 1953 test of a 1500: “By virtue of its very low build and fine aerodynamic lines it attracts immediate attention and interest from young and old. It is so obviously a car designed by [those] who knew what they wanted and were able to carry out their ideas. Its very-appearance suggests speed, and as soon as one is seated...any desire to loiter is quickly [forgotten]. The Porsche [holds the road] in no uncertain manner, the soft torsion-bar springing allowing it to hurry round main road corners without roll, while the rather direct steering gives the driver exact control over the front wheels.”

Porsche 356
American-bound Porsche 356s were fitted with 1500cc engines standard.

Atypically, the editors admitted to extending their seat time simply because the 1500 was so much fun: “The high top gear makes cruising effortless, with an indicated 75-80 on the speedometer. One can imagine the car being thoroughly at home storming Alpine passes, where the admirable third gear and also second could be used to advantage. At night there is the impression of being in an aircraft cockpit, with the close curved windscreen and discreet lighting from the fascia, the suspension ironing out any sudden undulations in the road surface and no squeal being evident from the tyres [sic] when cornering fast. There is a feeling of rushing through space with the road disappearing rapidly immediately in front and the subdued beat of the engine from the rear.” That was about as lyrical as the conservative British weekly ever got.

As the final ’55s came off the line, Porsche could look back on a successful quarter- century. The company had certainly come far since the great Ferdinand opened the doors on Kronenstrasse in 1930. Calendar-year production was a satisfying 2,952 units. Even more important, Porsche was back in its original premises, restored by the West German government on December 1. But though few would have believed it, even greater things lay ahead.

Porsche 356 Speedster
The 356 design would live on in the Speedster, shown here in hard and soft top.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

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Porsche Cayman

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1955 Porsche 356A

Great things for Porsche began with 1956 models that looked little different at first glance but actually represented a thorough update. Per established Porsche custom, the new 356A bowed at the Frankfurt Show, in September 1955, entering production a few weeks later.

Porsche 356A
The evolutionary Porsche 356A featured a one-piece windshield.

Coupe, cabrio, and Speedster body styles continued (again supplied exclusively by Reutter), but styling was subtly altered. Most obvious were slim rocker rub rails and a one-piece curved windshield without a vertical crease. The Speedster’s windshield and top-frame bows rose about 2 1/2 inches to improve headroom (a running change actually made in mid-1955). Less noticeable, but a key chassis improvement, was a switch from 16- to 15-inch-diameter wheels with a new “super-wide” 4.5-inch breadth. Tires were correspondingly fatter: 5.60 × 15s versus 5.00 × 16s.

Inside, the all-metal center-bulge dash of yore gave way to a new flat-face panel with padded top and, Speedsters excepted, a radio mounting slot. Ahead of and readily visible through the steering wheel were a large central tachometer flanked by an equal-size speedometer on the left and a combination fuel level/oil temperature gauge on the right. Headlight flashers were standard, again Speedsters excepted, and handbrakes were more conveniently located. Entry/exit and front legroom improved via a 1 1/2-inch lower floor, and the ignition switch gained a starter detent. Car for car, more thorough sound insulation in strategic places made A-models quieter than 356s.

The A also sported major revisions to the now-familiar 356 chassis that stemmed from a prototype (nicknamed “Ferdinand” after the elder Dr. Porsche) used for testing since 1954. Suspension was modified for more travel, and a softer ride was achieved by removing leaves from the laminated front torsion bars and by making the rear bars both longer (from 21.8 to 24.7 inches) and thinner (by 1 mm, to 24). These changes and the chunkier rolling stock were found to improve roadholding.

Shock absorbers were suitably stiffened and repositioned, the rears mounted vertically instead of angled. Up front, suspension mounts were beefed up and a stiffer, thicker anti-roll bar appeared. Outer suspension-arm bearings changed to the needle-roller type. Steering geometry was altered and a small hydraulic damper was added to absorb road shock and reduce kickback through the wheel. While the chassis tuning definitely aided ride, roadability was unaffected, so a 356A feels considerably more modern than a 356.

Porsche 356A, Rear
Suspension and tire changes helped the Porsche 356A to improved handling.

Road & Track described the A as “an impressive combination of control and true riding comfort. The inbuilt oversteer, an old story to those who know Porsches well, can still make the novice a little jumpy until he is sure just what the car is going to do. Then he will find himself hunting up sharp curves for the sheer pleasure of being in control of so exceptionally maneuverable a car.”

Inevitably, Porsche also improved its flat-four engines, which now numbered five: 1300 Normal and Super, a new 1600N and 1600S, and the 1500GS. Only the last three came to America. All were available in the three body styles save a non-existent 1300N Speedster. They remained air-cooled, of course, and all but the 1500GS retained overhead valves actuated by pushrods and rocker arms. The GS was nothing less than a detuned version of the twincam 550 Spyder unit from Porsche’s 1954 sports-racing model -- the heart of the soon-to-be-legendary Carreras that were sufficiently different to warrant separate coverage in another article.

The brace of 1.6-liters was prompted by a new 1,600-cc competition limit. The engines were created by simply fitting larger cylinder barrels that widened bore on the existing 1500 block by 2.5 mm, giving bore/stroke of 82.5 × 74 mm and precisely 1,582cc. Higher compression yielded 60 DIN horsepower European (70 SAE) at 4,500 rpm for the Type 616/1 Normal engine; the 616/2 Super delivered 76 horsepower (DIN) at 5,000 rpm (88 horsepower SAE). With their extra cc’s, both mustered more low-end torque for even better tractability at low and midrange speeds. Incidentally, transaxles received longer-lasting mounts, and the clutch was redesigned.

Motor-noters generally judged the 1600 better behaved than previous Porsches. It responded, said Britain’s Autocar, “more like an orthodox high-performance sports car, although a certain skittishness at the rear, partly attributable to the the swing-axle rear suspension, can still be felt...Stability remains very good indeed, and the design as a whole gives a liveliness to the controls of which the skilled driver can take advantage.”

Porsche 356A, Interior
Nicely grouped new gauges enhanced the Porsche 356A's driving experience.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

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1957 and 1958 Porsche 356A

Porsche’s workforce continued to grow, but so did output per worker. Yet there was no compromise in the by-now-famous Porsche workmanship. The Germans’ painstaking attention to detail must have been as mind-boggling to the British as it was to Americans, perhaps more so. For example, all steering mechanisms were run-in “on the bench,” lock-to-lock, for the equivalent of 5,000 kilometers. Trim, upholstery, and paint were a noticeable cut above the norm even for Porsche’s price class.

Porsche 356A Speedster front view
The Porsche 356A got detail changes during 1957 and bigger alterations for '58.

The Autocar made this conclusion: “The superbly controllable Porsche brings back to motoring some of the joy that those privileged to drive sports cars in the earlier spacious days must have experienced. At the wheel one feels to be one up on the other fellow in all the things that matter in driving for its own sake. The imposition of duty and purchase tax make the total price formidable for British buyers [and Americans, at $5,300 for the 1600 coupe] but the car remains, nonetheless, highly desirable.”Having made such a long leap, Porsche was content to let the 356A carry into 1957 unchanged, then made some detail refinements in the spring of that year. The speedometer exchanged places with the combination gauge, the four round taillights gave way to horizontal teardrop types, the license plate/backup-lamp bar moved from above to below the plate, and padded sun visors became standard.

Evolution was again the watchword on the ’58 models, designated T-2. Vent wings appeared in cabriolet doors, and coupes could sprout extra-cost windwings on the outside of their window frames. Larger rear windows improved top-up vision in Speedster and cabriolet, and both open models were offered from late ’57 with a lift-off fiberglass top as a factory option (made by Brendel in Germany for Europe, Glass-par in California for America).

Exhaust tips on all models now poked through the lower part of the vertical rear bumper guards, and a double-bow front bumper overrider replaced the former single-bow design. Though controversial, that Cadillac-style exhaust routing was practical in that it better protected the tips and raised exhaust-system ground clearance.

On the mechanical front, the 1300 engines were dropped, the 1600s reverted to plain bearings, and cast-iron cylinders returned on the 1600 Normal to reduce both cost and noise for what was basically a touring Porsche. Carburetors were now Zenith NDIX devices. A Hausserman diaphragm clutch replaced the coil-spring Fitchel & Sachs unit, and the shift linkage was reworked for shorter throws. The old worm-and-peg VW steering gave way to a Ross-type mechanism by ZF and, from late ’58, progressively wound single valve springs replaced dual springs in all pushrod engines.

Along the way, Porsche also instituted better door locks, a one-piece aluminum transaxle (ousting cast magnesium), redesigned oil coolers and, for the 1600N, offset-wristpin pistons (to eliminate cold-engine piston slap) and fiber camshaft gears. Later came racing-homologated gear ratios and a 5.17:1 final drive. Convenience and appearance were served by repositioned heater controls, new outside door handles and inside window winders, revised rear package shelf, optional gasoline heater, slim-back bucket seats, larger-diameter steering wheel, and new hubcaps bearing the Porsche crest.

Porsche 356A Speedster rear view
This 356A Speedster shows the bumper, exhaust, and taillamp changes for 1958.

­Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:­

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

­­­­

1959 Porsche Speedster

A change in sales tactics was evident in August 1958, when Porsche got a head start on model year ’59 by replacing the Speedster with the Speedster D, retitled Convertible D shortly before its public debut. The “D” denoted Drauz of Heilbronn (about 20 miles from Stuttgart), which built the bodies.

Still a two-seater but priced $500 higher, the Convertible D had a taller chrome-framed windshield and a top somewhere between the original Speedster’s low, simple design and the cabrio’s deluxe padded top. Also featured were roll-up windows (no more side curtains) and reclining front seats, as on other models. Retained was the unique Speedster dash with no glovebox (kick-panel map pockets substituted) and a hood over the instruments. The Speedster’s bodyside chrome strips were also retained, giving the D some of its visual character, but the taller top was far more practical.

Porsche 356A Speedster D
The Porsche Speedster D featured a tall windshield and sturdy soft top.

The rationale for the Convertible D was simple: Ferry had never liked the Speedster. He felt a “stripper” didn’t really fit the make’s image, and he cited low sales in making a case against it on cost grounds, as well. As usual, he was right. Though more like the regular cabrio and thus, perhaps, less charming than the Speedster, the Convertible D earned plenty of press praise. Road & Track called it “the best buy in a highly desirable line [offering probably] more driving pleasure per dollar than almost any car you can buy.” Which was saying something, considering that it cost only some $200 less than a ’59 Corvette.

Apparently noting that narrow price spread, Motor Trend conducted an odd comparison test between the Convertible D and a fuel-injected example of
America’s sports car. While concluding that both were great buys, writer Wayne Thoms admitted that the Porsche was superior on most counts: fit and finish, handling, braking, low-speed tractability, passenger comfort, and fuel economy. The ‘Vette won points only for acceleration (7.8 seconds 0-60 mph versus 15.2) and more readily available service.

R&T seemed amazed at “how a company can continue to improve a car so much over a period of years with only detail refinements.” This was simply Porsche’s way, of course, but planning for the 356’s successor had already begun -- back in 1956, in fact, just as the first As were reaching customers.

Porsche Speedster D
Teardrop tail lights replaced circular units on Porsches after 1957.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

1959 Porsche 356B

Still, the basic Porsche 356 design had a lot of life left in it. As if to prove that, Porsche trotted out the 356B in time for the Frankfurt Show in late ’59. It was as close as Zuffenhausen ever got to a GM-style facelift. Indeed, General Motors itself could have devised the cowl-forward makeover that seemed pretty frightening to old Porsche hands. Erwin Komenda, still an active company designer, conjured a more massive front bumper with jumbo guards, then elevated it four inches for better protection. Rear bumpers were larger, too, and higher by the same amount.

Porsche 356B
The Porsche 356B featured high-set bumpers and enlarged windows.

Headlamps became more upright, prompting near-straight front fenders and blowsier lower front sheetmetal. A more garish chrome handle adorned the hood, phallic parking lamps sprouted from the outboard ends of the horn grilles, and a pair of brake-cooling slots was cut in below the front bumper. Some reviewers who fancied themselves styling purists carped that Porsche had “done a Detroit.” But like most of the factory’s changes, these were soon accepted. As Karl Ludvigsen later wrote, many people had come to think that if Porsche did something, it must be right no matter how it looked.

Regular engines now encompassed a trio of 1,600-cc Type 616s: the Normal with 60 horsepower (DIN European) at 4,500 rpm and a claimed top speed of 100 mph; the 110-mph Super with 75 horsepower (DIN European) at 5,000 rpm, and thus sometimes called Super 75; and the new Super 90, with 90 horsepower (DIN) at 5,500 rpm and an official 116-mph maximum. The last, though announced at Frankfurt, didn’t reach production until March 1960. Bodies (designated T-5) carried over from the last 356As: coupe, cabriolet, and Convertible D. The last was renamed Roadster in 1960. As before, all were available with any engine, giving a total of nine separate models (save Carreras).

Porsche 356B, Interior
The Porsche 356B's dash remained simple and functional.

Aside from the more blatant changes already mentioned, the B arrived with a stubbier gearlever and a lower rear seat that gave added head room. The latter’s fold-down backrest, a feature since the earliest 356s, was newly split so that three persons and some luggage could be carried inside. All models wore door vent windows, and defroster vents appeared inside below the backlight.

Alterations to chassis and running gear were subtle but notable. Porsche’s synchromesh transmission, with an easier-to-engage first gear, was carried over from late 356As, while the drum brakes became cast-aluminum units with 72 radial fins (instead of circumferential ones) and cast-iron liners secured by the Al-Fin process. They were not only stronger but better sealed against moisture. After the first 3,000 cars, transaxles reverted from single to dual mounts.

In a March 1960 test for R&T, Hansjoerg Bendel observed that the Super 90 was “developed because Porsche wanted to [provide] performance similar to that of the original Carrera, using the simpler, less expensive pushrod [engine], which is also less exacting in maintenance than the sophisticated 4 ohc engine.” Its power was accordingly produced through conventional means: a higher-lift cam, improved carburetion (two twin-choke Carrera-style Solex 40 P-II-4s with larger throats and high-performance jets) and tighter compression (9.1:1, versus 8.5 for the Super 75 and 7.5:1 for the Normal). In all, the changes brought precise but unexotic tuning (typical of the Porsche philosophy) and no loss of flexibility.

Porsche 356B
The Porsche 356B's upgrades didn't detract from the classic Porsche look.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche Super 90 Engine

Porsche 356B coupe
The Porsche 356B coupe with the Super 90 engine did 0-60 mph in 10 seconds.

Sports Car Graphic reported that the Porsche Super 90 was “tamer in traffic and [in the] lower speed ranges than the 1600 Super. Getting off the mark fast from a standing start takes some practice, as the big carburetors can’t be dumped open too fast. Once the biggest chunk of inertia is overcome, you can [floor the accelerator] and start moving out very fast indeed. In fact, one of the most impressive things about this engine is the feeling of torque -- the sheer push in the shoulders -- that one gets on booting the throttle...”

Objectively, the Super 90 was quick: under 10 seconds 0-60 mph in SCG’s test. Bendel, however, managed only 12.5 with his Roadster. Still, he found “the level of performance...remarkably close to that of the Carrera, though...the acceleration times are not quite as good as those of lour [1958] Super Speedster...because the new body is heavier and because 4th gear is now 3.78 instead of 3.91.”

Testers generally praised the B’s handling, especially in 1961 when Koni shock absorbers became standard for both Supers, matched by suitably lower spring rates. More significant was a reduction in rear roll stiffness via 23-mm torsion bars (one mm thinner than previously) and the addition of a transverse leaf spring -- sometimes called a “camber compensator” -- as standard for S90s (optional elsewhere). “Normal procedure,” said SCG, is “letting the front end plow to compensate for the rear coming out ...[which] net you a trip through the tules. It must be set into a high drift attitude before the corner and varying amounts of power applied.” This was on German Dunlop Sports tires; with harder racing tires, handling was more like what Porsche drivers were accustomed to.

Porsche Super 90 Engine
Unique features of the Super 90 Engine appealed to performance-minded drivers.

Nevertheless, R&T’s Bendel stated, “the present chassis remains practically neutral up to very high cornering speeds. This means the driver is in control of a most responsive car, which goes around corners with deceptive ease and stays on its course even when the road surface is decidedly bumpy and/or cambered. The springing is a good compromise between firmness and comfort, damping is good and [the suspension] never bottoms...The steering is wonderful, highly accurate and yet light...It gives superb contact with the road without undesirable feedback...”

Super 90s could be revved about 800 rpm higher than other 356B 1600s thanks to a special cooling layout that gathered in more air, plus nitrided crank and cam-bearing surfaces, a lighter flywheel, stiffer valve springs, light-alloy rockers, larger-diameter (by 5 mm) main bearings, and cylinders lined with Ferral, a coating of steel over molybdenum. S90s also had a unique oil pickup system that allowed the engine to draw lubricant from the sump’s full side in hard cornering, thus ensuring proper lubrication at all times. It was an important advance that Porsche racers had wanted for several years and was especially welcome in the high-performance 90.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

­

1963 Porsche 356C

Meantime, models and coachbuilders proliferated. Bodies for the Drauz-built Roadster, which continued into the early part of model-year 1962, were also supplied by D’Ieteren Freres, and Karmann in Osnabruck began production of a new fixed-roof notchback coupe looking much like the cabriolet with optional lift-off top in place.

Porsche 356C
The Porsche 356C would be the last 356 produced, to make way for the 911.

Subtle body changes marked the ’62-model T-6 356Bs. Coupe windows were enlarged, and twin grilles appeared on a bigger engine lid. The front lid acquired a flatter lower edge, an external gas filler appeared (under a flap positioned in the right front fender), and a cowl vent was added ahead of the windshield. The series then continued in this form through July 1963, when the 356Cs appeared; these were the last and arguably best of the early pushrod Porsches, available in steadily diminishing numbers through 1965.

Apart from new flat-face hubcaps and a still-larger coupe backlight, the Cs were visual twins to the Bs. Even so, constant improvement was again quite evident. For instance, a lever replaced the clumsy VW-derived heater knob (VW itself made this change a few years later), and seats were more “buckety” than before.

A significant mechanical update was the arrival of standard four-wheel disc brakes (as on the previous year’s Carrera 2). It was quite typical of Zuffenhausen -- and inevitable. Porsches were getting faster, and they needed to stop with equal authority.

Since 1958, Porsche had experimented with a pair of disc systems: its own (ultimately used on the Carrera 2) and a Dunlop design made under license by Ate. The technologies forced a choice between pride and cost. The latter won, and Dunlop’s cheaper system was the one selected.

Though the C-Series lost the 60-horsepower Normal engine, the 75 returned as the 1600C. The Super 90 was renamed 1600SC and given higher compression (9.5:1) to achieve 95 DIN horsepower European. Positive crankcase ventilation was adopted for the U.S. versions of both, along with reshaped ports that improved airflow. The 1600C benefited from a higher-lift cam, while the SC gained small-diameter intake valves and larger exhausts. For 1964, the SC’s Ferral cylinder coating gave way to a new Biral treatment that provided more efficient heat dissipation at less cost. Similar to the A1-Fin brake process, it comprised a finned aluminum shell cast around a cast-iron sleeve.

Porsche 356C
The Porsche 356C featured few exterior improvements over the 356B.

With the Roadster’s demise, the 356C lineup was composed of C and SC fastback coupe, cabrio, and the Karmann notchback coupe. A corporate move with lasting implications for enthusiasts generally and Zuffenhausen in particular occurred in 1963, when Porsche absorbed Reutter and spun off a seat-making division that’s still world-famous as Recaro (from Reutter Carozzerie).

As the most refined of a long line, the 356C is as close to perfect as cars get. Karl Ludvigsen records that in the C’s last season, warranty costs averaged only $8.38 per car, “the lowest in history for Porsche and incredibly low for any car.” The other side of the coin is that 356s of all kinds have long been collectible and thus very pricey today.

After more than 15 years and precisely 76,303 units, the 356 Series was honorably retired in September 1965. Production by type is as follows:

Type

Production

Yearly average

356

7,627

1,090

356A

21,045

5,261

356B

30,963

7,741

356C

16,668

8,334

Those figures wouldn’t occasion toasts at General Motors, but for Porsche, which had started from ground zero with this basic design, they told a remarkable story: one of constant evolution and steady, satisfying growth within the original 1947 concept laid down by Ferry Porsche and Erwin Komenda. Moreover, the ever-improving 356 had brought Porsche international respect as a builder of durable, superbly engineered performance machines at home on road and track alike.

Prosperity naturally accompanied Porsche’s growth and growing renown. The firm had needed four years to build its first 5,000 cars (April 1950 to March 1954), yet by the time of the 356B, sales were running far above that in every calendar year:

Year

Unit Sales

1960

7,598

1961

7,664

1962

8,205

1963

9,692*

* incuding 356C

Of course, the cars themselves had come a long way from the Gmund days and even the early Zuffenhausen 356s. As Road & Track observed: “Gradually, and part by part, Porsche adopted bits, pieces and complete assemblies of its own. Today nothing remains in the way of VW parts, though there are many similarities in arrangement and construction. The modern Porsche is unique, it has had a tremendous success, and it deserves it.”

Porsche Factory Floor
Porsches continued to be built by hand throughout most of the 1960s.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

Porsche Carrera Origins

Natural progression now brings us to the first of the immortal Porsche Carreras, the ultimate 356. Introduced with the A-Series in late 1955, it combined a supremely capable basic design with an advanced engine developed expressly for racing. The result was a true “giant killer” that achieved through elegant, efficient engineering what rivals could manage only through sheer bulk.

Porsche Carerra
The ultimate incarnation of the Porsche 356 line was the original Porsche Carerra.

The late Dean Batchelor recorded that the Carrera engine originated in 1952: “Ferry Porsche and his team of engineers had wondered what the potential of the air-cooled four-cylinder boxer engine might be, and Dr. (later Prof.) Ernst Fuhrmann was told to find out. A figure of 70 horsepower per liter [was mentioned] and Fuhrmann’s calculations indicated [it] was possible -- with four camshafts instead of the single camshaft and pushrod/rocker-arm valve actuation.

“The Fuhrmann design followed the basic configuration of the standard Porsche engine but differed in almost every detail. It had four camshafts (two per side, called double overhead or dohc), twin ignition, dual twin-choke Solex carburetors, dry-sump lubrication, and roller bearings on both mains and rods.

“Fuhrmann’s new design was tested on Maundy Thursday, 1953. It was a happy day for several reasons: It was three years to the day after the first Stuttgart-built Porsche...and the new [1,498-cc] engine produced 112 hp at 6,400 rpm on the first test...74 hp per liter.”

The four-cam was developed mainly for the racing Type 550 Spyder, but in March 1954, as Batchelor recorded, a developmental unit “was installed in [Ferry] Porsche’s personal car, Ferdinand, to evaluate the engine/chassis combination...” A year later, a similar engine was tried in another of Ferry’s cars, a gray cabrio. The enthusiasm of Porsche personnel was unanimous, but only Fuhrmann had seen the possibilities early on.

The model name honored the Carrera Panamericana, the famed Mexican Road Race where Type 550s had distinguished themselves in 1953-54. The first roadgoing Carrera was internally designated 1500GS, the letters signifying “Grand Sport.” Normal 356s already had plenty of that; the Carrera simply delivered more.

Porsche Carerra
Gold script outside and a four-cam engine inside distinguished a Porsche Carerra.

Differences between the production four-cam engine (officially 547/1) and its competition counterpart were few. Compression was initially lowered from 9.5:1 to 8.7:1 but was soon restored to 9.0:1. Also, the twin distributor drives were placed at the opposite ends of the intake cams for easier access. On its ‘55 Frankfurt debut, the Carrera packed a rated 100 DIN horsepower European (115 SAE gross) at 6,200 rpm (versus 110 horsepower for the racing version). The engine was such an easy-revver, though, that it could be routinely taken to 7,000-7,500 rpm without harm.

Though the 356 chassis could handle this extra power without major change, Porsche took its typically thorough approach and gave the Carrera wider tires (5.90s), an 8,000-rpm tachometer, and a 180-mph speedometer. External clues were limited to discreet gold namescript on front fenders and engine lid, making this a “Q-car” par excellence. Because their engine was slightly heavier, Carreras weighed about 100 pounds more than equivalent 356As.

Again per Porsche practice, the quadcam was sold in all three body styles, Speedster included. Fuhrmann accurately described the Carrera as “a detuned version [of the Spyder] providing extra performance for high speed, Gran Turismo competition, with more power than the pushrod engine could produce.”

Critic John Bentley timed the gray prototype at under nine seconds 0-60 mph and less than 20 seconds 0-100 mph. He was disappointed that the extra weight in back made handling even more squirrely than on his 356 coupe, but the production Carrera benefited from the suspension upgrades accorded the 356A.

Porsche Carerra
Porsche's optional removable hardtop was available on the 120-mph Carerra.

Road & Track noted that these “do not appear important in detail [but] have made a considerable improvement in the handling. In addition, the Carreras appear to be coming through with about 1° of negative camber at the rear wheels, with no load. This and the larger 5.90-inch section road-racing tires give as close to neutral steering as is conceivable. With the tremendous power available, a burst of throttle in a corner (in the correct gear) will give oversteer, just as it does with any machine of comparable power-to-weight ratio [18.5 lbs/horsepower for the test coupe]. High-speed stability at over 100 mph in a cross wind still leaves something to be desired in our opinion, but this applies to almost any well-streamlined coupe with [a] preponderance of weight on the rear wheels. In any event, the steering is accurate and quick and requires only common sense and alert attention at over the magic century mark.”

Jesse Alexander largely concurred, after driving a Carrera Speedster for Sports Cars Illustrated, but observed that the “use of factory-recommended tire pressures seems to be the answer for making a Porsche handle satisfactorily...”

Both magazines used similar words to sum up the Carrera. “Without a doubt, this was one of the most interesting cars we have ever tested,” said R&T. “It completed the vigorous performance tests as if it were out for a Sunday drive...” Some Sunday drive: 0-60 mph in 11.5 seconds, the standing quarter-mile in 17.7, and a top speed of just over 120 mph.

But automotive excitement is rarely cheap, and the Carrera delivered in the U.S. for a minimum $5,995. On the other hand, R&T stated, “the price doesn’t seem quite so steep” considering the Carrera’s performance, its “fool-proof, if not ultra-rapid” gearbox and “tremendously powerful” brakes.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

1957 and 1958 Porsche Carrera

May 1957 saw a new Porsche Carrera Deluxe replace the “standard” offering. This mainly meant a heater that really heated instead of blowing tepid air at your feet. Announced at the same time was a no-cost GT option for coupe and Speedster, with an extra 10 horsepower (and a higher, 6,500-rpm power peak). The fuel tank now had a 21-gallon capacity instead of 14, and the car’s stopping ability was enhanced via Spyder front brakes with 128 square inches of lining area (versus 115). Spyder worm-gear steering was another significant alteration. Again, the intent was competition, so GTs were literal strippers, shorn of heater and undercoating and fitted with plastic windows and lighter bumpers. By 1958, they’d acquired aluminum doors, hood, and engine lid, and lightweight bucket seats, all of which pared 150 pounds from the coupe and 100 pounds from the Speedster.

Porsche Carerra 1500 GT
This 1958 Carerra 1500 GT sports period-correct racing-oriented modifications.

Journalist John Bentley bought and tested a Carrera Speedster GT in 1958, ordering it in a silver-grey metallic that matched the finish of the prototype that had won him over to Porsches. His car naturally had the latest running changes: new crankshaft distributor drive, ram-type air intake (via engine-lid louvers), built-in rollbar posts, and Fren-do competition brake linings. Bentley was too early for the Koni adjustable shock absorbers that later became standard, but he installed a set post-purchase.

Bentley’s report can still stir your blood: “Low gear [with the standard 5.17:1 U.S. final-drive ratio] is a shade too low; but in second gear the GT leaps forward with a wild, exhilarating surge...The muffler is noisy, but that noise is music of a delightful kind. As the tach needle leaps to 5,200 rpm and peak torque, the car seems to grab hold and a terrific surge of power becomes available. The savage bark of the exhaust levels off to a high-pitched snarl, and before you know it the tach is indicating 7,500 rpm.”

Everything ever hung onto the evolving 356 seemed to work that much better on the Carrera. Both the brakes and all-synchro gearbox were not only smooth and precise but light to the touch; the bucket seats provided ample support. Handling, in Bentley’s view, was now beyond criticism: “With 26 lbs [of air] in the front [tires] and 27 in the rear you can break the tail loose in the secure knowledge that the machine will respond to correction in the normal manner. There is no danger that the slide will become an uncontrollable spin, as in former years.”

Porsche Carerra
Racers would have anguished over carrying the extra weight of the hardtop option.

Plug fouling was the Carrera’s one serious flaw. A week of town driving was usually enough to gum up the plugs -- and changing them, as Bentley said, took “the dexterity of an octopus and the tenacity of a leech.”

Still, most agreed that the Carrera was one impressive car. “What an enthusiast’s dream,” Bentley concluded. “It is in a class by itself.” Even better, it was as reliable as any 356 when carefully run-in. John Batchelor wrote that all Carrera engines were bench-tested at 4,000 rpm for several hours, then given full throttle for several minutes before installation.

With that, the Carrera was rather unhappy in relatively low-speed American driving. After all, it was basically a race car in road dress, which helps explain the changes instituted for 1958 under technical manager Klaus von Rucker. Included were the new distributor drive already mentioned, a plain-bearing Alfing crankshaft to replace the roller-bearing Hirth, and twin oil radiators (located behind the horn grilles) to compensate for the higher oil temperatures produced by the plain bearings. This revised 1500GS engine was designated Type 692/1; a roller-bearing version, Type 692/0, was devised for competition. Nominally rated at 110 horsepower (DIN European) at 6,400 rpm, they weren’t common: just 14 and 20 were built, respectively.

Von Rucker had left room for a bore increase, and it arrived during 1958 with the new Type 692/2 engine. An 87.5-mm bore and the existing 66-mm stroke made for 1,588cc but “only” 105 DIN horsepower (121 SAE) at 6,500 rpm -- still more than sufficient, though.

The GT version, designated 692/3, got 9.8:1 compression (versus 9.5 on the Deluxe), Weber 40DCM2 carburetors, a 12-volt electrical system, a free-flow muffler, and sodium-cooled exhaust valves, the last a real competition touch. Output was a smashing 115 horsepower (132 SAE), over 1.4 horsepower per cubic inch.

But the Carrera wasn’t nearly so potent on the sales chart: just 700 deliveries through January 1960 -- far less than Porsche had hoped -- this despite the addition for 1959 of a plusher, 2,100-pound 1600GS. What’s more, as Batchelor noted, 692/2 engines totaled just 45 in 1958, 47 in ‘59, and a mere two in 1960. The declining production was due mainly to two big problems. First, the “cooking” 356A was pretty high-strung; the Carrera was even more so, thus limiting appeal that much further. Second, it cost a bundle, and those most able to afford one usually didn’t understand how to drive and care for it -- a regrettable paradox. So if you lived in America and didn’t race, owning a pushrod Porsche made far more sense.

Porsche Carerra
The original Porsche Carerra was ill-suited to low-speed, around-town driving.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see:

1962 Porsche Carrera 2

Acknowledging low American sales of its higher-end machines, Porsche offered only detrimmed Carrera GT coupes for 1960-61 with lightweight Reutter bodywork, simplified bumpers without guards, aluminum hubcaps, and a more Spartan interior. The 1960 models retained the 692/3 power unit. An evolution, the 692/3A model, arrived for ‘61 with larger main-bearing journals, stronger con rods, and redesigned cams with a total of six small flywheels to quell harmonic vibration in the valvetrain.

Porsche Carerra 2
The Carrera 2's Type 587 engine also powered real racers, like the Porsche 904.

But sales continued to be disappointing, so the final roadgoing 356 Carreras bowed at the Frankfurt Show in late 1961 for the ‘62 model year. Based on the 1960 B-Series, they included a steel-bodied 1600 coupe with a 1,582-cc engine packing 90 horsepower at 5500 rpm; a lighter 1600GS with 115 horsepower at 6,500 rpm from 1,588cc; and a new 2000GS, also known as the Carrera 2. The last featured the new four-wheel Dunlop disc brakes, and all three had the latest body modifications except the bumper-guard exhaust outlets (the tips exited below the bumper, as before, but within a protective apron).

The Carrera 2’s most prominent selling point was its Type 587 engine. An expansion of the Type 547, it was decidedly oversquare at 92 × 74 mm - 1,966cc in all. Horsepower was 130 DIN European at 6,200 rpm (150 SAE), close to 1.3 horsepower per cubic inch. The torque curve was broad and flat, and peaked at an impressive 131 pounds/feet at 4,600 rpm. Reflecting lessons learned in the marketplace, the Carrera 2 had plain bearings rather than the roller type, and its top two gears had longer-striding ratios for lazy Americans. This alteration to gearing was not a major one but gave the U.S. Carrera 2 that fraction of extra power that made the difference between lugging and strong pull off the line. For this reason, not to mention the car’s innate civility, it proved the most popular Carrera yet.

Indeed, civility was the key. Hansjoerg Bendel lauded the “notable innovation” of a combination fresh-air intake and heater fan (via an optional gasoline heater), the comfortable Reutter seats, the quick shifter, and, above all, the unmistakable quality of a car built for the connoisseur. He also approved of the chassis: “The steering gave improved response with reduced vibration, the car seemed to stick better to the road and stay stuck during hard acceleration, and the disc brakes, added late to the Carrera 2 specification, were more than adequate.”

Acceleration, which Bendel termed “exhilarating,” was more than adequate, as well. He noted, “The clutch takes quite a bit of throttle without protest, and when one finds that it is time for 2nd gear, down comes the stick in a flick, more acceleration, and other cars pass by as if in reverse. High up in the speed range, this is it -- the effortless superiority of the true high-performance machine.”

Bendel complained that the Carrera was still too noisy -- and for a hefty $7,595, it probably was. Also, the engine had a “certain roughness well remembered from older Carreras.” Finally, and perhaps telling in 1962, was the near 20-year-old basic design: “Even the accustomed eye begins to notice some signs of age. The instrument panel, for example, is higher up than is usual nowadays, and visibility could only benefit from a lower waistline.” But he should have been more patient. The 911 was on its way.

But not before a short run of 356C-based Carrera 2s in 1963. Like the ‘62s, they were available with Porsche’s usual vast assortment of competition equipment: a larger fuel tank, a limited-slip differential, and special weight-saving body and chassis components -- virtually anything a would-be racer might want.

Bendel aptly summed up the Carrera 2 as “one of the most desirable GT cars” of its day, one to “delight the owner looking for a car of high quality and exceptional roadworthiness.” But like most good things, it was short-lived, built mainly to homologate the Type 587 engine for competition, initially in production-based cars and later in the factory’s more specialized racers such as the 2000GS/GT and the lovely 904.

But the ultimate 356s left their mark as the first of a grand roadgoing line that persists through the 911 Series to this day. Every indication is that that pedigree will be perpetuated well into the future.

Porsche 356C coupe rear view
The Porsche Carrera 2 of 1962 and 1963 was a 356C honed to a racer's edge.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For more information on Porsche and other exciting cars, see: