The Porsche 356
Model number 356 was the next in line after Ferdinand Porsche's 1939 streamlined racer which was canceled due to the war. The first examples had aluminum bodies and were made in Austria, then in 1950 Porsche relocated to Stuttgart and switched to a steel platform with a modified VW Beetle engine in the back, plus VW-derived suspension. A cabriolet was available from 1951 and a one-piece (but still 'bent' in the middle) windshield from 1952. A 1,290cc engine and anti-roll bar was available starting in 1954.
The 1500 Super engine has an upgraded crank, higher compression, sports cam, and bigger carbs. The 356 is a more tempermental beast than the 356A that followed, and parts are harder to find and can be quite expensive. Expect to pay from $45,000 to $160,000 for a 356, with the cabriolet and speedster occupying the upper end of the price spectrum.
The next generation of the 356 was the 356 A which was produced from 1956 through 1959. America lapped up Porsches from the earliest days, though always craved better performance. The Speedster was designed specifically for American buyers. Launched in September 1954, it was a lightweight roadster version of the 356A, and also happened to look rakishly handsome. The windscreen was cut down by 3.5in and the wind-up windows were ditched; there was also a very low-cut soft top. The 1,500cc and 1,500cc Super engines were upgraded to 1,600cc in '56. In top level of tune, you could expect 120 mph and 0-60mph in 10 seconds. .
The 356 B:
Higher bumpers, a more steeply sloping hood, and new headlamps distinguished the new "T-5" 356B of 1960 and 1961. There were two new body styles: the Roadster (descended from the Speedster), and the notchback coupe made by Karmann. Mid-year in 1961, the T-6 body was adopted. This new shell is immediately identifiable by the twin rear air grilles, external fuel filler door, and the squared-off front hood. The rear window is also larger and the roofline is subtly different. A new Super 90 engine (90 DIN horsepower) was also offered, in addition to the 60 DIN horsepower Normal and the 75 DIN horsepower Super engine. It is interesting to note that all horsepower ratings for 356 Porsches use the DIN system - 60 DIN horsepower is about 70 SAE horsepower, as used by the rest of the world. The 75 DIN of the Super engine is about 85-86 horsepower, and the Super 90 delivered 102 horsepower in SAE terms. Expect to pay between $20,000 - $120,000 for an excellent Porsche 356B - with the upper half of the spectrum reserved to the Roadster. The best value is a notchback coupe - derided by collectors, but it drives just as well as any other 356.
The 356 C
The Carrera 2 appeared in spring 1962 (356B-based for its first year, then it became a 356C) with an enlarged 2-liter version of the amazing four-cam engine. It was plain bearing crank retained, with twin Solex carbs, and had power up to 130 bhp. The car was equipped with all-round disc brakes from the start, ahead of their appearance on the pushrod-engined 356C. Popular with race/rally drivers, especially in America where 140 bhp GS and 155 bhp GT versions were available, both with twin Weber carbs. A very complicated engine, and few specialists can reliably rebuild one. If you want to collect a 356C, be sure to double-check authenticity and, as on all 356s, look for rust.
What's your favorite 356? Let us know in the comment area below.
(Background information provided by Sports Car Market magazine)
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