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Porsche 356 History

1955 Porsche 356A

Great things for Porsche began with 1956 models that looked little different at first glance but actually represented a thorough update. Per established Porsche custom, the new 356A bowed at the Frankfurt Show, in September 1955, entering production a few weeks later.

Porsche 356A
The evolutionary Porsche 356A featured a one-piece windshield.

Coupe, cabrio, and Speedster body styles continued (again supplied exclusively by Reutter), but styling was subtly altered. Most obvious were slim rocker rub rails and a one-piece curved windshield without a vertical crease. The Speedster’s windshield and top-frame bows rose about 2 1/2 inches to improve headroom (a running change actually made in mid-1955). Less noticeable, but a key chassis improvement, was a switch from 16- to 15-inch-diameter wheels with a new “super-wide” 4.5-inch breadth. Tires were correspondingly fatter: 5.60 × 15s versus 5.00 × 16s.

Inside, the all-metal center-bulge dash of yore gave way to a new flat-face panel with padded top and, Speedsters excepted, a radio mounting slot. Ahead of and readily visible through the steering wheel were a large central tachometer flanked by an equal-size speedometer on the left and a combination fuel level/oil temperature gauge on the right. Headlight flashers were standard, again Speedsters excepted, and handbrakes were more conveniently located. Entry/exit and front legroom improved via a 1 1/2-inch lower floor, and the ignition switch gained a starter detent. Car for car, more thorough sound insulation in strategic places made A-models quieter than 356s.

The A also sported major revisions to the now-familiar 356 chassis that stemmed from a prototype (nicknamed “Ferdinand” after the elder Dr. Porsche) used for testing since 1954. Suspension was modified for more travel, and a softer ride was achieved by removing leaves from the laminated front torsion bars and by making the rear bars both longer (from 21.8 to 24.7 inches) and thinner (by 1 mm, to 24). These changes and the chunkier rolling stock were found to improve roadholding.

Shock absorbers were suitably stiffened and repositioned, the rears mounted vertically instead of angled. Up front, suspension mounts were beefed up and a stiffer, thicker anti-roll bar appeared. Outer suspension-arm bearings changed to the needle-roller type. Steering geometry was altered and a small hydraulic damper was added to absorb road shock and reduce kickback through the wheel. While the chassis tuning definitely aided ride, roadability was unaffected, so a 356A feels considerably more modern than a 356.

Porsche 356A, Rear
Suspension and tire changes helped the Porsche 356A to improved handling.

Road & Track described the A as “an impressive combination of control and true riding comfort. The inbuilt oversteer, an old story to those who know Porsches well, can still make the novice a little jumpy until he is sure just what the car is going to do. Then he will find himself hunting up sharp curves for the sheer pleasure of being in control of so exceptionally maneuverable a car.”

Inevitably, Porsche also improved its flat-four engines, which now numbered five: 1300 Normal and Super, a new 1600N and 1600S, and the 1500GS. Only the last three came to America. All were available in the three body styles save a non-existent 1300N Speedster. They remained air-cooled, of course, and all but the 1500GS retained overhead valves actuated by pushrods and rocker arms. The GS was nothing less than a detuned version of the twincam 550 Spyder unit from Porsche’s 1954 sports-racing model -- the heart of the soon-to-be-legendary Carreras that were sufficiently different to warrant separate coverage in another article.

The brace of 1.6-liters was prompted by a new 1,600-cc competition limit. The engines were created by simply fitting larger cylinder barrels that widened bore on the existing 1500 block by 2.5 mm, giving bore/stroke of 82.5 × 74 mm and precisely 1,582cc. Higher compression yielded 60 DIN horsepower European (70 SAE) at 4,500 rpm for the Type 616/1 Normal engine; the 616/2 Super delivered 76 horsepower (DIN) at 5,000 rpm (88 horsepower SAE). With their extra cc’s, both mustered more low-end torque for even better tractability at low and midrange speeds. Incidentally, transaxles received longer-lasting mounts, and the clutch was redesigned.

Motor-noters generally judged the 1600 better behaved than previous Porsches. It responded, said Britain’s Autocar, “more like an orthodox high-performance sports car, although a certain skittishness at the rear, partly attributable to the the swing-axle rear suspension, can still be felt...Stability remains very good indeed, and the design as a whole gives a liveliness to the controls of which the skilled driver can take advantage.”

Porsche 356A, Interior
Nicely grouped new gauges enhanced the Porsche 356A's driving experience.

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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  • Consumer Guide Porsche used car prices and reviews
  • Consumer Guide Premium performance car prices and reviews
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