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Porsche 356 History

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:

  • 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.