2018 is a year that sees several car manufacturers celebrating milestones, and one of the biggest is the 70th anniversary of the Porsche 356. Created in 1948, the vehicle was Porsche’s first production model. It started off as a niche car that gradually grew in popularity and set the pace for future Porsche cars. To honour the 356’s anniversary, we’re looking back at its history.
Development of a legend
The designer of the 356, Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche, took inspiration from the Volkswagen Beetle. With the help of Erwin Komenda, he built a new chassis around a four-cylinder air-cooled engine. Other parts were sourced from Volkswagen. The first 356 was road certified on June 8th 1948 and entered into a race in Innsbruck. Although it won in its class, Porsche re-engineered the 356 to focus more on performance.
Ferry Porsche explained the process behind designing the 356 in an interview with Panorama. “I had always driven very speedy cars. I had an Alfa Romeo, also a BMW and others…By the end of the war I had a Volkswagen Cabriolet with a supercharged engine and that was the basis idea. I saw that if you had enough power in a small car it is nicer to drive than if you have a big car which is also overpowered. And it is more fun. On this basic idea we started the first Porsche prototype.”
In 1950, production moved to Zuffenhausen, Germany and the 356 models that were produced came with steel bodies. In the early days, 356s only sold in a small number, primarily ‘Pre-A’ versions. Over the car’s lifespan, three other versions were developed, which were called the 356 A, B and C. The design remained more or less the same throughout production. The changes that did happen were meant to improve the functionality of the car as opposed to making it more stylish.
By the mid 1950s, the 356 had become popular in several countries. The mixture of aerodynamics and performance made it a desirable model. This was around the time the A version came out with a four-cam ‘Carrera’ engine that had previously only been available in Spyder race cars.
Production of the 356 lasted until 1965 and its successor became the 911. The car is still highly valued among classic car collectors. The 70th anniversary of the car is a representation of Porsche’s overall success. The 356 started off a story that led to seven decades of innovation and triumph.