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Porsche 356

Published: 26th Apr 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Yes, this is a genuine 356 but remember, there are some very good replica kit cars out on the market. Yes, this is a genuine 356 but remember, there are some very good replica kit cars out on the market.
Porsche cabins have never been flashy and the 356 is stark Porsche cabins have never been flashy and the 356 is stark
Not to be confused with the VW unit (not one major part is common), check for broken fins, overheating, duff cranks, valve guide Not to be confused with the VW unit (not one major part is common), check for broken fins, overheating, duff cranks, valve guide
Detail items, like indicator lenses don’t come cheap; cost accordingly Detail items, like indicator lenses don’t come cheap; cost accordingly
Body rot can be extensive so check as new panels don’t come cheap Body rot can be extensive so check as new panels don’t come cheap
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What is a Porsche 356

It’s an icon, no less! The first car built in a factory bearing the name of the legendary Professor Ferdinand Porsche. Yet while the Bohemian-born engineering genius had been responsible for front wheel drive, electric power, torsion bar suspension, the mighty Auto Union racing cars, and – of course – the VW Beetle, he didn’t design or build the 356. At the close of the Second World War, Porsche was in prison in France as a ‘collaborator’ and it was left to his son Ferdinand, known as Ferry, to oversee the construction of the VW special that was to become the 356. Ferdinand senior was released in time to see the first of 50 aluminium bodied cars (one roadster prototype and 49 coupes) made in the company’s small works at Gmund in Austria before manufacture was transferred to Stuttgart after once occupying American forces had vacated the factory. Ferdinand senior died in 1951 as production got underway in Germany, steel coupe bodies being constructed by the coachbuilder, Reutter. As sales built up the car evolved, shedding VW identity along the way. In all 76,302 examples of the 356 would be built before production ceased in 1965, to make way for the Porsche 911.


The very first Stuttgart-produced 356 models were 1086cc, the rear mounted four-cylinder, horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine growing first to 1290cc and then 1488cc as evolution continued. Although the very first prototype Porsche had a centrally mounted engine, production cars remained faithful to Professor Porsche’s rear-engine concept pioneered by the VW, and relied on light weight, aerodynamics and good (for those days) handling, rather than power, to earn themselves a formidable reputation. The all-independent suspension employed torsion bars for springing and, of course, drum brakes were fitted. Cabriolet and Speedster versions were added to the basic Coupe model before, in 1956, the 356 model (usually referred to as ‘pre-A’) was replaced by the 356A, the first to have a fully curved, onepiece windscreen and 15in diameter wheels instead of 16in. Both the front and rear track was increased to improve handling. In 1957, the original body style, known as T1, was replaced by the re-vamped T2 which had different doors, revised trim, and – on cabriolets – front quarter lights. Engine options grew with the addition of a 1582cc unit giving either 60bhp or 75bhp in 1600S form. The 1500 GS was a limited production motor sport version, with four overhead camshafts instead of pushrods, roller bearings, and 100bhp.

The evolution of the 356 continued with the introduction of the ‘B’ model in 1959 – by which point only the rear trailing arms, half shafts, crown wheel, pinion and differential housing came from the VW parts bin – in a body style known as T5 (T3 and T4 never appeared), recognisable by its raised headlights, and front and rear bumpers. Quarter lights were also fitted to coupes. The T6 body, introduced in 1962, had a larger rear window, differently shaped front luggage compartment lid – squared front rather than rounded – and the fuel filler (previously under the luggage lid) was moved to the top of the right front wing. The 356C of 1963 was the final development, with the T6 body continuing unchanged. Four wheel ATE disc brakes replaced drums, and engine availability was standardised with a 1600C (75bhp) and 1600SC (95bhp) on general production coupes and cabriolets. A fast two-litre 2000GS (130bhp) was offered for motorsport. Production of the replacement Porsche 911 began in the autumn of 1964, but the 356C continued until April 1965. A 90bhp version of the four cylinder engine lived on in the 912 until late in 1968.


We’ve already established it’s not quick by latter-day Porsche standards. Even so, a properly prepared 356 can be a joy to drive, with light and precise handling that means B-road progress can be rapid if you’re the committed type – although in anything but a 356C you have to dial in extra braking time thanks to drum brakes. Often, says Roger Bray of Roger Bray Restorations, it’s the person behind the wheel who is at fault if the car seems to oversteer too much, or wander all over the road. “The driver should not hold the steering wheel too tight, a well set up 356 should be relaxing to drive” he says. The engine is responsive and torquey; the gearchange (four speeds on all) is slow but virtually bullet-proof. Obviously a 75bhp 1600S, or 95bhp 1600SC, is going to be the quickest of the mass production versions. Engine specialists, such as Andy Prill, can quite easily improve power output to around 110bhp.

The secret of good handling is correct suspension set-up. PR Services – one of the recognised specialists – says that the car’s handling can be transformed by correctly aligning the suspension with the centre-line of the car.

Why buy a 356 instead of a 911? Good question, especially when you consider that a halfdecent 911, or a good 912, can cost less than a not-too-good 356! Only your heart can give you the answer to this one. If pace, handling, and a desire to be seen by your not so automotive conscious friends in a ‘modern’ sports car classic is what you want, then go for a 912 or 911.However, if you hanker after driving a piece of automotive history that, for the late 1950s, was way ahead of its time and you delight in being different, then the 356 is the one for you. But beware – it could get expensive.

Putting it bluntly, the 356 is not a ‘daily driver’ classic, but a car that will provide a lot of fun at weekends and on the odd classic run or club motorsport outing.


So what do you pay? General opinion says that any 356B or 356C Coupe under £12,000 could be more trouble than its worth, unless you are very lucky. Driveable (but not perfect) coupes can be had for £15,000, whilst near-perfect ones are more likely to cost £25,000. A properly restored Cabriolet is likely to have a £45,000 price tag. Forget about pre-A, and really 356A models as well. They’re as rare as hens teeth, particularly in the UK, are more expensive to buy (if you can find one) and will undoubtedly – because of their age – cost more to maintain. The B and C models were
made in the greatest numbers, hence are more available and – especially the disc braked C – are a better drive. Porsche never totally made the 356 all on its own, apart from the first aluminium cars in Gmund.

The company relied heavily upon coachbuilders to do much of the work, the factory concentrating on the engineering side. Most general production coupes and cabriolets were made by Karmann and Reutter (which was absorbed by Porsche in 1964), whilst the original Speedster body was made by Glaser. Drauz made the D-type convertible which replaced the Speedster, and the Belgian D’Ieteren company produced the similar Roadster.

The scarcity of very early cars, Speedsters, Roadsters or any of the Carrera GS models means they command their own price – six figure numbers are not impossible. In the real world, Cabriolets can be worth twice that of Coupes, and even then expect to pay a premium for a right hand drive car.

What To Look For

  • Lets’s get the worst factor over with first of all! The dangers of 356 purchase lie within the bodywork. As always, on a car that can be anything from 40 to 50 years old, rust is the killer. In many places body panels wrapped over each other, leaving gaps where water and mud could gather.
  • Wheel arch edges, the area where the front wings meet the scuttle forward of the door openings and the leading edges of the doors themselves are all prime areas for attack by tin-worm, too.
  • Other danger areas include under the fuel tank on the front scuttle (water collects here because the drain hole is never cleared) and under the door seals where, again, water gathers. An obvious area to check is under the carpets, where rainwater (getting in cabriolets) or condensation can cause excessive and expensive rusting.
  • The very wide box sections under the doors (which carry hot air from the engine) don’t suffer too badly, but the rear door posts can become badly corroded at their base. Like all Porsches until the mid-80’s, the factory carried out a lot of rectification of blemishes in body panels on the production line, and so any car is likely to have a lot of lead filler in its make-up and is normal.
  • The good news about rusting 356 bodyshells is that, despite the age, almost all panels are readily available from the specialists, such as Roger Bray or Karmann Konnection. But things are not cheap – a front wing can set you back £500 and a bumper £250.
  • On the mechanical side, all the usual checks need to be carried out but there’s nothing – apart from the Carrera engines – that can’t be fixed by any competent ‘old style’ engineer.
  • All early Porsche engines leak oil (don’t get excited unless its flooding over the floor) and smoke on start-up usually means valve guide wear. The engine itself is good and tough but – like body panels – parts can be expensive, because although there’s a hint of VW about the original design not one major component is the same as a Beetle engine.
  • The 356 suspension needs careful checking for wear around the front king pins and rear arm bushes, and shock absorbers will, inevitably, need renewing on any car that hasn’t had a complete overhaul. The steering box (originally VW and then a Porsche designed ZF unit) is adjustable.
  • Drum brakes (alloy with cast iron linings) on A and B models can suffer from excess heat build-up, and either go misshapen or crack. New ones are not available – Roger Bray quotes £411 for re-conditioning your old units.


Great slice of motoring history that no Porsche fan should overlook if they can afford it. Just bear in mind that any ‘restorable’ Coupe is likely to cost more to restore than it will ever be worth on the open market; but you might just get your money back on a Cabriolet. If you do want to buy, rely on an established expert to help you. Roger Bray will travel to vet a car for £200-£500 depending where it is, or for about £100 at his Exeter, Devon, base. And PR Services has a very comprehensive, 41-point, twoday service designed to throw up any nasties thats good value at £500. Go on, you know you want one!

Classic Motoring

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