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Porsche 356 History

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:

  • 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.