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Porsche 356 History

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

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

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

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