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Porsche 356 History


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:

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