Porsche 356

Porsche 356 1940s German classic sports car

The Porsche 356 was the beginning of a design dynasty. Ferdinand Porsche had opened his studio in 1931. It was another 15 years, though, before the first production car was sold under the Porsche brand-name. It was no coincidence that the 356 was similar to the VW Beetle. Ferdinand Porsche had, after all, previously penned that utilitarian classic, too - for the German government. The 356's compact, rounded shape endeared it to those with an eye for understated charm. Indeed, it was the small - but perfectly-formed - 356 which cemented Porsche's reputation, in the '50s. Right up to '65, in fact - when the Porsche 911 series took over centre stage.

For the first four years, the 956 was manufactured in Austria. It was fitted with a flat-four push-rod engine. Rear-mounted - and topped off with a cute grille - the air-cooled motor kept time in pleasingly pulsing fashion. With a capacity of just 1,100cc, it made a mere 40bhp. Top speed was 87mph. Suspension was via trailing-link up front - and high-pivot swing axle at the rear. There was a 4-speed gearbox. Certainly, the 356's split windscreen was a sweet design flourish.

The Porsche 356A model - released in Germany, in '55 - was less rotund than the original. It came with a curved, one-piece screen. Front suspension, and steering had been revised. A bigger 1,600cc engine had been installed. B and C versions continued to uprate the 356 technical spec. There would be Roadsters, a Karmann coupé, and the Super 75 and Super 90. As well as 356 Carreras. After the 911 had taken over the Porsche reins, the 912 still had a foot in both camps. It was powered by a 356 engine - beneath a 911 body shell. In Porsche legacy terms, then, the 356 could not have been more pivotal!

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