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The 356: Porsche Genesis
The history of the 356 begins with Porsche Konstruktionen, a company founded by Ferry Porsche and Louise Piech in 1947. The son and daughter of Ferdinand Porsche were joined by designer Erwin Komenda and coachbuilder Friedrich Weber in the Austrian town of Gmund, where the first prototype of the boxer-engined sports car was finished in 1948.

The 356: Porsche Genesis

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Certified on June 8th, the “Gmund Roadster” is rocking a 1.1-liter powerplant borrowed from the Volkswagen Beetle. Tipping the scales at 585 kilograms (1,290 pounds) and capable of 135 kilometers per hour (83 miles per hour), chassis number one caught the attention of a Swiss businessman, car dealer, and advertising agency owner Rupprecht von Senger. When he saw the prototype, he ordered a grand total of five examples.

Senger paid upfront for them, and he also supplied the up-and-coming automaker with raw materials that would be used to manufacture a second prototype. As opposed to the tubular space frame of the 356/1, the 356/2 features unitary construction for extra rigidity. Formed by hand just like its predecessor, chassis number 356/2-001 is a fixed-head coupe. Not long after, it was joined by a roadster known as chassis number 356/2-002.

Both were displayed at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show by Rupprecht von Senger and his business partner, a gentleman by the name of Bernhard Blank. Von Senger and Blank were given the contract for Swiss imports. Although a small detail at first glance, Porsche was required by the government to sell the 356 abroad, opening Porsche Konstruktionen to the international market and bolstering Austria with precious foreign currency.

A rear-engined affair compared to the midship 356/1, which placed the four-cylinder lump in front of the transaxle for better weight distribution, the 356/2 is gifted with a 50-millimeter shorter wheelbase. Previously a sawmill, the Gmund assembly site produced the 356/2 to the tune of 52 units. The first Porsche 356 completed in Zuffenhausen, Germany, rolled off the assembly line in 1950, yet Gmund was kept on life support until 1951.

The move to mass production saw the 356 switch from aluminum to steel body panels. Colloquially known as the Pre A, this variant of the 356 is easily distinguishable thanks to the taller waistline, more rounded roof, and higher hood. The split-window windscreen is curved outwards toward the A-pillars, and the Porsche script is mounted below the hood rather than on it.

As ever, a 1.1-liter boxer drives the rear wheels with the help of Solex 32 carburetors. From a compression ratio of 7:0:1, the Type 369 engine cranks out around 40 horsepower and 70 Nm (51 pound-feet).

Heavier than the Gmund cars, the Pre-A specification weighs 745 kilograms (1,642 pounds) and takes 19 seconds to reach 100 kilometers per hour (62 miles per hour). Chassis 5000, the first 356 produced in Zuffenhausen, was originally owned by Ferry Porsche. Come October 1950, racing driver and car dealer Auguste Veuillet approached the company’s representatives at the Paris Motor Show with a solid offer to sell Porsches in France. Max Hoffman also met with Porsche in Paris, inking a deal for the U.S. market.

March 1951 saw the introduction of a 1,300-cc engine with 44 ponies on deck. Proven in the 356 SL racecar that finished the Liege-Rome-Liege Rally third overall in the 1.5-liter class, a 1,500-cc engine launched in October 1951 with 60 horsepower at its disposal. In 1952, while dining at a New York restaurant, Max Hoffman told Ferry Porsche that his four-cylinder sports cars need an emblem. The son of Ferdinand Porsche grabbed a napkin, drew the crest of Baden-Wurttemberg with Porsche written across the top, and that’s how the German manufacturer’s iconic logo came to be.

Upon his return to Europe, the man in charge of Porsche handed over the logo to Porsche engineer Franz Xaver Reimspiess for refinement. To whom it may concern, Reimspiess came up with the Volkswagen logo in 1937. The 356 Speedster was publicly unveiled at the 1954 Frankfurt Motor Show. Originally bodied by Drauz in Heilbronn, then Reutter in Zuffenhausen alongside the coupe and convertible, this variant features a cut-down windshield as well as detachable screens rather than conventional side windows.

After 10,466 cars, the Porsche 356 Pre-A specification was discontinued in favor of the Porsche 356 A. Presented at the 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show, this iteration could be had with 1.3- and 1.6-liter engines. Following a 20,525-unit run, production ended in 1959 with the launch of the 356 B.

Offered as a coupe, cabriolet, and roadster, the B was also available as a short-lived notchback known as the Karmann Hardtop. The B came exclusively with 1.6-liter mills featuring alloy rocker arms compared to the previous cast-iron rocker arms. Capable of up to 90 horsepower in the Super 90, this iteration was discontinued in July 1963. Over 31,000 were made.

Last but certainly not least, the 356 C entered the scene for the 1964 model year with disc brakes on every corner. The 1.6-liter engine was improved to 95 horsepower in the 1600 SC. Discontinued in September 1965 after a little more than 16,500 units were delivered, the 356 C was replaced by the four-cylinder 912 derived from the six-pot 911 sketched by Ferry’s son, Butzi.

 
 
 
 
 

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