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356 1500S (528/2) Pre-A Speedster by Reutter
The first 356 was road certified in Austria on June 8, 1948, and was entered in a race in Innsbruck where it won its class. Porsche re-engineered and refined the car with a focus on performance. Fewer and fewer parts were shared between Volkswagen and Porsche as the '50's progressed. The early 356 automobile bodies produced at Gmünd were handcrafted in aluminum, but when production moved to Zuffenhausen, Germany in 1950, models produced there were steel-bodied. Looking back, the aluminum bodied cars from that very small company are what we now would refer to as prototypes. Porsche contracted with Reutter to build the steel bodies and eventually bought the Reutter company in 1963. The Reutter company retained the seat manufacturing part of the business and changed its name to Recaro.
Little noticed at its inception, mostly by a small number of auto racing enthusiasts, the first 356s sold primarily in Austria and Germany. It took Porsche two years, starting with the first prototype in 1948, to manufacture the first 50 automobiles. By the early 1950s the 356 had gained some renown among enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic for its aerodynamics, handling, and excellent build quality. The class win at Le Mans in 1951 was clearly a factor. It was always common for owners to race the car as well as drive them on the streets. They introduced the four-cam racing "Carrera" engine, a totally new design and unique to Porsche sports cars, in late 1954. Increasing success with its racing and road cars brought Porsche orders for over 10,000 units in 1964, and by the time 356 production ended in 1965 approximately 76,000 had been produced.
The 356 was built in four distinct series, the original ("pre-A"), followed by the 356A, 356B, and then finally the 356C. To distinguish among the major revisions of the model, 356's are generally classified into a few major groups. 356 coupes and "cabriolets" (soft-top) built through 1955 are readily identifiable by their split (1948 to 1952) or bent (centre-creased, 1953 to 1955) windscreens. In late 1955 the 356A appeared, with a curved windshield. The A was the first road going Porsche to offer the Carrera 4 cam engine as an option. In late 1959 the T5 356B appeared; followed by the redesigned T6 series 356B in 1962. The final version was the 356C, little changed from the late T-6 B cars but with the (seemingly all-important) disc brakes all around.
Prior to completion of 356 production, Porsche had developed a higher-revving 616/36 version of the 356's four-cylinder pushrod engine for installation in a new 912 model that commenced production in April 1965. Although the 912 utilized numerous 356 components, it would not be accurate to say that Porsche intended the 912 to replace the 356. When the decision was made to replace the 356, the 901 [later 911] was the road car designed to carry the Porsche name forward. Rather the 912 was developed as the "standard version" of the 911 at the 17,500DM price of a 356SC, while the complex but faster and heavier six-cylinder 911 would be priced more than fifty percent higher. Enthusiasts purchased nearly 33,000 912 coupes and Targas powered by the Type 616 engine that had served Porsche so well during the 356 era.
The car was built of a monocoque (unibody) construction, making restoration difficult for cars that were kept in rust-prone climates. The basic design of the 356 remained the same throughout its lifespan, with evolutionary, functional improvements rather than annual superficial styling changes. Nevertheless a variety of models in both coupé and convertible forms were produced from 1948 through 1965.
One of the most desirable collector models is the 356 "Speedster", introduced in late 1954 after Max Hoffman advised the company that a lower-cost, somewhat spartan open-top version could sell well in the American market. With its low, raked windscreen (which could be removed for weekend racing), bucket seats and minimal folding top, the Speedster was an instant hit, especially in Southern California.
It was replaced in late 1958 by the "Convertible D" model. It featured a taller, more practical windshield (allowing improved headroom with the top erected), roll-up glass side-windows and more comfortable seats. The following year the 356B "Roadster" convertible replaced the D model but the sports car market's love affair with top-down motoring was fading; soft-top 356 model sales declined significantly in the early 1960s.
Cabriolet models (convertibles with a full windshield and padded top) were offered from the start, and in the early 1950s sometimes comprised over 50% of total production. A unique "Karmann Hardtop" or "Notchback" 356B model was produced in 1961 and 1962, essentially a cabriolet-style body with a permanent metal roof.
Porsche designers made the decision to utilize the engine case they had originally designed for the Volkswagen Beetle. It was an air-cooled pushrod OHV flat-four engine. For use in the 356, they designed new cylinder heads, camshaft, crankshaft, intake and exhaust manifolds and used dual carburetors to more than double the VW's horsepower. While the first prototype 356 had a mid-engine layout, all later 356's had a rear-mounted layout. When the four-cam "Carrera" engine became available in late 1955, this engine became an extra cost option starting with the 356A, and was available through the 356 model run.
From the earliest, 1100 cc Gmünd beginnings, the overall shape of the 356 remained more or less set. By late 1952 the divided windscreen was gone, replaced by a V-shaped unit which fit into the same opening. Later, 1300 and 1500 cc engines with considerably more power were introduced. In late 1954 Max Hoffman, the sole US importer of Porsches, convinced Porsche to build a stripped down roadster version with minimal equipment and a cut-down windscreen. Towards the end of the original 356's time (in 1955, when the 356A was about to be introduced) Hoffman, wanting a model name rather than just a number got the factory to use the name "Continental" which was applied mostly to cars sold in the United States. Ford, makers of the Lincoln Continental, sued. This name was used only in 1955 and today this one year version is especially valued. For 1956, the equivalent version was briefly sold as the "European". Today all of the earliest Porsches are highly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts worldwide based on their design, reliability and sporting performance.
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