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356A 1600 (616/1) T1 Cabriolet 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.
Porsche’s first series-produced 356 Cabriolets appeared in 1950, with Karrosseriewerk Reutter building five examples and Gläser of Dresden issuing another 33. Production amped up the following year, with Reutter assuming all 356 Cabriolet production in 1954 and continuing production through to the end of the 356 series in 1965. As it was both luxurious and expensive, the model enjoyed popularity with touring drivers, and its fixed windshield, multi-layered folding top, and fully bolstered seats made it a comfortable choice for all-day cross-country travel.
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.
Cabriolets had been manufactured right from the start of 356 production, but the first open Porsche to make a significant impact was the Speedster, introduced in 1954 following the successful reception in the USA of a batch of 15 special roadsters. The Speedster was dropped in 1958 and replaced by the more civilised Convertible D, which differed principally by virtue of its larger windscreen and winding side windows. Porsche sub-contracted cabriolet body construction to a number of different coachbuilders including Drauz of Heilbronn, d'Ieteren of Brussels and, of course, Reutter. By the time the 356B arrived in September 1959, the car had gained a one-piece rounded windscreen and 15"-diameter wheels, and the newcomer's introduction brought with it further styling revisions and an engine now standardised at 1,600cc.
In late 1955, with numerous small but significant changes, the 356A was introduced. Its internal factory designation, "Type 1", gave rise to its nickname "T1" among enthusiasts. In early 1957 a second revision of the 356A was produced, known as Type 2 (or T2). Production of the Speedster peaked at 1,171 cars in 1957 and then started to decline. The four-cam "Carrera" engine, initially available only in the Spyder race cars, became an available option starting with the 356A.
Cabriolets had been manufactured right from the start of 356 production, but the first open Porsche to make a significant impact was the Speedster, introduced in 1954 following the successful reception in the USA of a batch of 15 special roadsters. The Reutter-bodied Speedster was dropped in 1958 and replaced by the more civilised Convertible D, which differed principally by virtue of its larger windscreen and winding side windows. Porsche sub-contracted cabriolet body construction to a number of different coachbuilders, Convertible D production being undertaken by Drauz of Heilbronn.
To celebrate the Spyder’s class victories in 1952, 1953, and 1954 (the last bringing in a 1st and 2nd in class and a 3rd and 4th overall, behind the much more powerful 4.5- and 4.9-litre Ferraris), Porsche decided to install a slightly de-tuned version of the 550’s complicated 1.5-litre, four-cam, twin-plug racing engine into a limited number of production cars. A few 356 Pre-A examples were built to test the concept; the number is placed at four coupés and 14 speedsters. The new high-performance 356 A was introduced at the 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show as a 1956 model. The new model would, of course, be named the Carrera—a name that has resonated to the present day as representing Porsche’s fastest street machines.
With the potent little four-cam engine that powered its “giant-killer” 550 Spyders having proven itself in competition, Porsche decided to capitalize on that success by installing a slightly de-tuned version of the motor in a limited number of its production cars. Thus, the Carrera was born, which was named for the famously brutal and demanding long-distance Carrera Panamericana road race that ran the length of Mexico in the early 1950s. Porsche’s little spyders and production-based coupes were driven by both factory-backed and privateer entries, and they had distinguished themselves in those races. Afterwards, the factory deemed those efforts worthy of commemoration.
This engine was introduced in 1,300-cubic centimeter form, then in 1,500 cubic centimeters, and eventually in displacements ranging upward to a full two liters. This two-liter version was the complex, Fuhrmann-designed, air-cooled, flat four Carrera, which was very powerful for its size but, more importantly, extremely durable, as it could thrive at high revolutions. The Carrera was installed in 356 coupes, cabriolets, and the lightweight speedster, and it turned an already strong performer into an almost unbeatable package. Four-cam speedsters were produced in both well-equipped GS (for Grand Sport) street form and the GT (Grand Turismo), and it was stripped-out and lightened for racing. As such, GTs offered few creature comforts included in the GS.
Weighing barely 1,900 pounds and comfortably equipped with a solid 100 horses tucked into the tail, the GS Speedster was capable of a top speed of 117 mph. The 356 A Cerrera GS Speedsters are nearly identical in appearance to their pushrod-engined sisters, but they could be spotted by the knowledgeable for their larger-diameter exhaust pipes, an 8,000 rpm tachometer, a couple of extra dashboard ignition control switches, somewhat wider wheels, a slightly lower rear ride height (the Carrera motor with its external oil tank was a bit heavier than the pushrod engine), and, of course, the telltale gold “Carrera” script on their front fenders and rear body panel.
The Type 547/1 engine was very similar in appearance to the 1500RS engines that powered the 550 Spyder racing cars. The “four-cam” took its name from the pair of overhead camshafts with replaceable lobes that were installed on each cylinder bank. The cams were driven by a complex system of bevel gears and shafts, which were operated via a countershaft off the built-up Hirth roller-bearing crankshaft. Carrera engines had light alloy cylinders with hard-chromed bores and dry-sump lubrication. Two spark plugs per cylinder were fired by a pair of separate ignition systems, with the twin distributors being driven off the ends of the intake cams. With a 66-millimeter stroke and an 85-millimeter bore, the Type 547/1 engine displaces 1,498 cubic centimeters, has a compression ratio of 9.0:1, and produces 100 horsepower at 6,200 rpm.
The most potent mechanical variation of the 356 was the Carrera model, which was powered by the slightly detuned, Fuhrmann-designed four-camshaft, 1,600-cubic centimeter racing engine. Available in both “GT” race specification and “GS” touring specification, Porsche made sure that their new engine could be marketed on a platform to individuals who were looking to spend time on the track, or to those who were looking to drive down the Autobahn in style. The engine quickly found acclaim from enthusiast groups.
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