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Porsche 356 History

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:

  • Consumer Guide Porsche new car prices and reviews
  • Consumer Guide Porsche used car prices and reviews
  • Consumer Guide Premium performance car prices and reviews
  • Ferrari: Learn about hundreds of road and racing Ferraris.
  • Muscle Cars: Check out 1960s and '70s American muscle cars.