When I first saw a Porsche 356 in a magazine I thought it was just an uglier, slower 911. I was just a kid and I didn’t really appreciate the car. Then I forgot about it until I saw an Outlaw Porsche 356 a little while later and I thought it was pretty cool. It wasn’t until I bought my first 911 and joined the Porsche Club of America that I really started to appreciate them. The Porsche 356 is genesis, the first Porsche ever. Ferdinand Porsche Sr. designed the Volkswagen Beetle, his son “Ferry” Porsche designed the 356. He designed the car because he felt that a small car with enough power was more fun than a larger, over-powered car. The first road-certified car was released in 1948 and won its first race.
Porsche 356 (1948-1956)
The first version of the Porsche 356 had a split front window and a tiny little 1.1 liter from a Beetle making an increased 35 horsepower. Not 35 more horsepower but 35 total horsepower! It didn’t really need that much horsepower though as it barely tipped the scales at 1,200 lbs. A modern-day Porsche 911 Turbo weighs three times as much! They were able to eventually increase output of the flat-four to 1.5 liters cranking up the horsepower to 68. Similar to his dad’s Beetle, the 356 used a rear-engine, rear-wheel drive that would define the company for decades. They built just over 7,600 of these early models. The steel bodies were created by Reutter who would go on to be known as Recaro. A very clean 1951 356 recently sold for over $1 million.
Porsche 356 Type A (1956-60)
Porsche would redesign the 356 in 1956 adding a single piece front windshield and five engine options. Engine options included the 356A 1300 and 1300 Super with 44 and 60 horsepower respectively. The middle of the pack included the 1600 and 1600 Super with 60 and 75 horsepower. At the top end was the Fuhrmann-powered 1500 GS Carrera with 100 horsepower. All engines were flat, air-cooled 4-cylinder engines mated to four-speed manuals. Porsche added the Carrera name after their win we detailed in the Porsche 550 piece. They would continue to carry on that name today. Today, prices of the Porsche 356A or Type 1 (T1) range from low $100,000’s to mid-$400,000’s. Porsche produced over 21,000 Type A’s over just 4 years.
Porsche 356 Type B (1960-1964)
The Type B Porsche 356 was significantly redesigned in 1960. The redesigns for what was called the T5 include larger vertical slats on the front bumper, higher headlights, and a redesigned slats on the rear decklid. This time the top model was the 2000 GS-GT Carrera model again featuring the Fuhrmann-designed engine. These engine featured four overhead cams this time making 140 horsepower. This was a far cry from the measly 35 horsepower they started with. 1961 and 1962 saw the unique hardtop “Karmann notchback” design. In mid-1962, Porsche added disc brakes to the front. In January of this year, a 1963 Porsche 365B went for over a million dollars. Maybe it is because I don’t want to burn my scalp, but I think the hardtops just look better. Production topped out at 30,963 that year.
Porsche 356 Type C (1964-1965)
The 356 returned with the Type C in 1964 with their most powerful engine yet, a 95 horsepower SC. They reduced the engine selection to just three with the top of the line 2000 GS making 130 horsepower. Visually, hardly anything changed outside some hubcap redesigns. Porsche was saving a lot for their design tricks for the upcoming Porsche 911. They did add disc brakes all-around this time. Overall, it was a great sendoff for the car that put Porsche on the map. Amateurs raced them and Porsced learned enough to contribute to the brilliant Porsche 911 that would appear afterwards. You can pick up a fair Type C for around $48,000 but excellent models can snatch up well over $100,000. Porsche made over 16,000 Type C’s.
People have been building outlaw Porsche 356s almost as soon as they were released in the 1950’s. An outlaw Porsche 356 means that the body and performance have been changed. To the numbers matching people, this is sacrilege. Me personally, I’m not a numbers matching type of person. I like to see what sort of wild stuff people can come up with. There are few cars I wouldn’t modify in some way. Before you think that outlaw 356’s are somehow rat rods, think again. Many of these current-day Outlaw 356’s go for well into the six figures. Two of the biggest companies are Emory Motorsports and Canepa. The reason they are so expensive is that these companies build outlaws from actual 356’s. There are companies making pretty good kit cars such as JPS Motorsports that has several variations from the high 30’s.
The Porsche 356 really started the Porsche legacy. From rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layouts, to performance improvements over aesthetics, this car started it all. Before they produced the purpose built 550 for racing, Ferry Porsche knew that race victories would lead to sales. He entered two 356’s in the 1951 24 Hours of Le Mans. These Porsche 356 SLs or Super Lights were even lighter than the factory car despite having a larger fuel tank. This was no small task considered they only tipped the scales at 1,200 pounds. Only one car would finish the race winning its class and placing a respectable 19th overall.
These early years of the 356 really set the tone that Porsche would continue to carry well into the 21st century. If I were to build my own it would definitely be an Outlaw with improved horsepower and performance. It would also be a hardtop in black. Now I just need a few hundred grand to make it happen! Of course, there are always the kit cars…