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Porsche 356 History

Porsche 356 1300S, Porsche 1500S, and Porsche America

The ultimate developments of the original Porsche 356 models were the 1300S and 1500S -- “S” for Super. The latter came first, in October 1952. Its new Type 528 powerplant had the same displacement as the 502/507 but ran 8.2:1 compression, good for a rated 70 DIN horsepower European and 80 pounds/feet of torque at 3600 rpm. That torque peak hinted at Porsche’s intentions -- production-class racing -- and the Super was inevitably less powerful below 3,500 rpm than the normal 1500.

Porsche 356 America
The Porsche 356 America was a slick open-top racer conceived by Max Hoffman.

Both the 1500S and 1300S (announced in November ’53; same CR, 60 horsepower) benefited from a revised camshaft designed by future Porsche chairman Ernst Fuhrmann, a Gmund engineer who’d been involved with the GP Cisitalia. The factory assigned the 1300S an official top speed of 100 mph, the 1500S 105 mph. But again, the evidence is that these were conservative claims.

Perhaps the most important of the early 1500 Supers was the America, a rakish roadster with aluminum bodywork by Glaser, marked by an ultra-low beltline. Though almost unknown in Europe, it was hardly familiar in the United States either, thanks to a lofty $4,600 price.

Like many of the more-interesting Fifties imports, the America sprang from the fertile mind of Max Hoffman, who wanted a lighter open Porsche without the heavy top and side windows of the standard cabrio. Of course, he had racing in mind, and so the America was designed with weight-saving touches that prevented overall weight from exceeding 1,600 pounds. These features included light aluminum-frame seats, Plexiglas side curtains, thin snap-on canvas roof, no glovebox door, and a divided windshield that could be replaced by a racing windscreen. With all this, the America was even more exciting than the regular 1500S. Auto Age magazine’s test showed a 110-mph top speed, 0-60 mph in 9.3 seconds, and the standing quarter-mile in 17.9 seconds.

Porsche America Interior
The interior of the Porsche America was stylish and refined in true Porsche style.

Regrettably, not many Americas were built, largely because of how they were built. Reutter sent rolling chassis to Glaser in Ullersricht, north of Munich, where artisans hand-hammered the aluminum bodywork and welded it to the chassis. The semi-finished cars were then trucked back to Zuffenhausen for final assembly.

Only four were sold in the United States in all of 1952, and production ended the following year. One Porsche expert puts the total built at 20, another at 50. Regardless, the America remains a rare and highly collectible Porsche. A seemingly limited market and high production costs (aggravated by transportation expense) condemned it to an early grave, though it would not be forgotten.

A literal symbol of Porsche’s progress marked the 1953 models: the now-famous Porsche crest. This, too, was prompted by Max Hoffman, who thought all cars should wear emblems. He suggested it while lunching in New York one day with Ferry, who quickly sketched out a bit of heraldry on a napkin. As finalized by freelance graphic designer Eric Strenger (who at the same time developed the Porsche logotype still used today), it bore the Stuttgart coat of arms: a rampant black horse on a yellow shield representing an old part of the city (Stuotgarten) where a stud farm had once been; surrounding this were the colors and six staghorns from the crest of the state of Baden-Wurttemburg.

Other Porsche changes for 1953 were more obvious. Parking lamps moved inboard to beneath the headlamps, taillamps became circular pairs on each side instead of circle/oblong duos, and a separate trip odometer joined the total mileage recorder. Engines stayed essentially the same.

The 1500 Super gave up its Hirth crank for one of forged steel, as Rabe was able to shorten the original rod design by making a diagonal cut across the big end, thus leaving adequate clearance for the longer stroke. The 1500 Normal had 6.5:1 compression and only 55 horsepower at 4,400 rpm, but the factory claimed that good for 96 mph all out. It was an ideal foil for the 1500S as it was more tractable at lower speeds and thus better for everyday driving. All these engines (except the 1100, which vanished after 1954) were available in coupe or Cabriolet, and would run through 1955.

Only the 1500s came to the United States in ’53, where the Normal was called America and attractively priced at $3,445 for the coupe and $3,695 for the cabrio -- the most affordable Porsches yet. (The upmarket Supers listed at $4,284 and $4,584.) Maxie had struck again, but he wasn’t offering an entirely free lunch, for he had Porsche delete the reclining seatbacks, wheel trims, the fold-down provision for the vestigial back seat, the radio, passenger-side sunvisor, and the tachometer, all standard on European 1500s.

Porsche America, Engine
This Porsche America featured the new 1500 cc engine, making it an ideal racer.

Porsche passed a production milestone on March 15, 1954, with Zuffenhausen car number 5,000, which nearly coincided with another batch of running changes. Parking lamps now sat within tiny grilles that, despite their size, efficiently channeled cooling air to the brakes and opened up hooting space for new twin Bosch horns. Inside were a semicircular, Detroit-style horn ring, passenger grab handle and instrument-lighting rheostat. A windshield washer and oil filter were also adopted.

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.