The History and Evolution of the Porsche 356

The Porsche 356 is car that has a history dating back to the late 1940s. The first example of this highly collectible sports car was made in 1948-1949 by the German automaker Porsche Konstruktionen. The original 356 was designed by Ferry Porsche, the son of the founder of the Porsche company, and co-founder of the Austrian manufacturing plant. It was designed with a 4 cylinder engine, located in the rear and air cooled in rear wheel drive.

Erwin Komenda or the Porsche company designed a new chassis, but many of the mechanical components were based upon the design of the Volkswagen. Ferry was inspired by his experience driving fast cars, including an Alfa Romeo, a BMW, and his biggest inspiration, his supercharged Volkswagen Cabriolet, to create the Porsche 356. His overall goal was to build a prototype that would be lighter, feature a two seat styling and have more horsepower in the engine than other cars of its time. Upon completion, his 1948 Porsche 356 was entered into the race at Innsbruck and placed as first in its class. From this point forward, performance was the main focus of engineers and designers for the car.

Humble beginnings of the Porsche 356

When the first edition rolled out of the manufacturing plant in Gmund, Austria it started a tradition that led to a series of innovations and new generations of the flagship model. The Porsche 356 was born in a facility where just 50 cars were built in 1948. It would soon become one of the biggest successes in motor sports, gaining immense popularity throughout the world. But the first 356 was created during a time of tremendous political upheaval in the world.

Austrian Plant in the 1940s

The original factory was moved from Germany to Austria during World War I because of bombing raids in Stuttgart, and the threat to the assets stored in the manufacturing plant. After the threats were alleviated, Porsche moved operations for manufacture of the Porsche 356 back into Germany and resumed production. The second home of the 356 was the Dr. Ing.h.c.F Porsche GmbH company of Germany from 1950-1965. This was the first production automobile that Porsche of Austria manufactured, but they had plenty of experience with the manufacturing of the Volkwagen Beetle, The Auto Union Grand Prix cars and the Cisitalila Grand Prix, which was also a race car, prior to the development of the Porsche 356.

The long run of a successful model

The 356 was produced from 1948 through its final year in the Spring of 1965, when it was succeeded by the model 911. Throughout the era, a total of 76,000 were manufactured with approximately half of these still known to exist. The price for the original 1948 coupe was set at $3,750. It was available in a two door hardtop coupe or an open configuration. It was a great success throughout Europe and was produced as both racing car and a production car, available for sale to the public.

Porsche 356 First Generation (1948-1954)

Each year of its existence, Porsche continued to make improvements as new innovations in automotive technology were created. The first generation of the 356 was produced through 1955 with a total number of 7,627 manufactured. The bodies of the early 356 models were hand crafted of aluminum. In 1951, the 356 made a good show at LeMans and gained international attention, which boosted its popularity.

A Second Generation of the 356 (1955-1959)

The 356A became the second generation which received a redesign with the bodies now produced in all steel material. The bodies and seat assemblies were made by the Reutter company, which Porsche acquired in 1963. A total of 21,045 356A models were made, and most sales were in Germany and Austria.

During this era, improvements were made in the engine and design of the car with a new “Carrera” engine with a four cam racing feature and a total redesign just in time for the second generation. Improvements in build quality, handling and aerodynamics increased its desirability. In 1957, the 356 Speedster was made. This was the second revision made to thee 356A, and became known as the T2. It featured the four cam “Carrera” engine that was only made available in the spyder race cars in the first editions made, but was later made available in production models.

The first 356 to feature a Carrera was owned by Reinhard Schmidt who was an engineer for the Porsche automaking company. He was the original owner, but the car passed to other owners and was recently valued at 335,000 in European currency.

Third Generation (1959-1963)

This era would see a massive increase in orders for the Porsche 356 B model with a total of 30,963 produced. This is a combination of the racing and production models which by now were in high demand. In 1959 the T5 356 B was produced and it was followed by the T6 series in 1062, with the 356 C as the last model produced in the Porsche 356 lineage with a total number of 16,678 produces between 1963 and 1966. Porsche held on to the four speed manual transmission option.

1962 356 B

This model was redesigned in the middle of the 1962 production year and was produced with the T6 body type that featured twin engine lid grills, an enlarged rear window in the coupe edition and an external fuel filler that was located on the right front of the fender. This was a noticeable change from the T5 version that presented its own minor stylistic alterations.

Evolution of Body styles

The first 356 made was only available as a 2 door coupe from 1948 through 1955. As time moved on and new developments in automotive design and technology were made, styles began to change and this triggered a variety of new body styles which included the extremely now rare split roof, the cabriolet, the convertible and the roadster. Although the basic design was never altered, a few functional enhancements were made through the generations such as better aerodynamics, curved windshields and several interior additions.

In 1954, the 356 Speedster featured an open top which found a niche in the American market, and in Southern California in particular. It was fitted with a low, raked windscreen that provided comfort for passengers, but could easily be removed for taking the car out on the track and racing it. The unibody construction was a constant. This has proven to be a detriment for auto enthusiasts attempting to restore older cars that have succumbed to the elements.

The 356 C model (T6)

Aside from getting new disc brakes, there were no visible changes made to the new T6, and also referred to it as an SC. This model did come with the option for a more powerful engine that could be upgraded. The 356 C from 1964-1965 offered the following engines:

  • 1.6 L Type 616/15 B4 (1600 C)
  • 1.6 L Type 616/16 B4 (1600 SC)
  • 1.6 L Type 616/26 B4 (1600 SC, police car)
  • 2.0 L Type 587/1 B4 (Carrera 2)
  • 2.0 L Type 587/2 B4 (Carrera 2)

A four speed manual transmission was paired with each of the engines. One noteworthy change for the C edition is the redesign of engine. It was a 95 horse power SC which earned the reputation for being the most powerful push rod engine offered by Porsche. The first releases were limited to Europe with later shipments going to the United States. The C edition maintained sales in North America through thee end of 1965, and although 356 sales were down in general, they would be resurrected for the automaker through the heavier and new 911, which succeeded the 356.

1960s Power train

A total of seven different engine types were made available in the Porsche 356 during the 1960s era. These included:

  • 1.6 L Type 616/1 B4 (1600)
  • 1.6 L Type 616/2 B4 (1600 S, 1960–1962)
  • 1.6 L Type 616/7 B4 (1600 Super 90)
  • 1.6 L Type 616/12 B4 (1600 S, 1962–1963)
  • 1.6 L Type 692/3 B4 (1600 Carrera GS GT, 1960)
  • 1.6 L Type 692/3A B4 (1600 Carrera GS GT, 1961)
  • 2.0 L Type 587/1 B4 (Carrera 2 GS)

Although there were more choices than ever before, interest in the once popular 356 began to decline at a fast pace.

The Convertible D Model

In 1958, the Convertible D model made its appearance. It was easily distinguished from other models because the wind shield was taller to grant more head space for its occupants. The windows were upgraded to a roll up glass side style and the seats also received upgrades to make them more comfortable. These would be one of the last few years that Porsche would enjoy high demand for 356 sports cars. In the early 1960s, demand went into a sharp decline, and ultimately, this would lead to the discontinuation of the 356.

The last 10 356 models produced

It seems fitting that the very last ten models of the Porsche 356 were special orders made by the Dutch police. This car had the power and excellent performance to meet the demands of law enforcement. They were 1965 models but were not assembled until 1966. These Cabriolet models marked the end of an era but the cessation of production would have a positive impact for current owners. As time went by, the remaining Porsche 356 autos would become highly desired collector’s cars.

The Legacy of the Porsche 356

This vehicle established a reputation for its speed, style and ease of handling. With an emphasis on performance, the 356 established a legacy that remains to this day. It has been a popular topic of conversation among motor press journalists and decades after the end of production, the 356 C was named tenth of the list of the top sports cars from the 1960s in 2004.

Value as a collectible

A car that started its history in 1948 with a selling price of $3,750, is now valued at between $20,000 and more than $100,000 at auction, with collectors placing enough bids to verify its desirability. The models fetching the highest auction price are the limited production Carrera Speedster, equipped with its own special DOHC racing engine, the SC editions, The Super 90 and the Speedster models.

The Carrera 356 has the highest value

The Carrera is a rare model and highly prized by collectors. only 140 total examples of this vehicle were manufactured. If you’re lucky enough to find a fully restored Carrera, expect to pay an auction price of at least $300,000. That is if you can outbid the rest of the horde of enthusiasts placing their bids.

Motorsport success

The Porsche 356 was revered as a street legal sports car in addition to being a revered racing car. In the early ’60s, Albarth collaborated with Porsche to build the highly esteemed Porsche 356 B Carrera GTL Albarth coupe edition which made an impressive showing in multiple motor sports events.

There are currently thousands of Porsche 356 owners throughout the globe who take special care to restore and maintain their treasures which only increase in value as time goes by. A tradition has been established by the 356 Registry’s website that has thee reputation for being the largest classic Porsche club in the world. While some collectors insist on keeping these beauties safe in a controlled environment, most of them live life to the fullest by driving them to shows and for other activities.

Replications of the 356

There are quite a few companies that have taken on the task of creating replicas of the 356 from scratch. These exquisite imitations are built to the specifications of the customer with cars built to their precise specifications. The replicas are near exact with the 356 Speedster being the most popular version requested.

Conclusion

The Porsche 356 has a unique place in history, arriving on the scene during a time when the world was recovering from intense chaos. The popularity of this car soared to great heights, then dipped briefly prior to its succession by another member of the Porsche family. Since this time, it’s seen a revival with collectors bidding on the rare examples that become available, and others ordering their own customized replica.


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