The Ultimate Guide to the Porsche 356

There are many different versions of the Porsche 356 but each and every one of them holds a special place in the automotive industry.

Looking at any of the iterations, many would argue that the Porsche 356 looks like several other cars – but, they would be wrong. Several other cars look like the Porsche 356.

It was so adored that many of the companies at the time shamelessly copied many of its outstanding design features. Moreover, the success of its design can be seen in the fact that even today, almost 70 years after the first 356 was produced, it still looks fresh and beautiful, unlike many other cars of its era which tend to be deemed archaic in terms of design.

It was conceived as a luxury sports car with two body styles – coupe and convertible – and it featured the RR layout (rear-wheel-drive and rear-engine), which made it incredibly interesting to drive even with the weakest engine option with the displacement of just 1.1 l and about 40 HP.

This was the time way before any driving assist features and lots of weight at the back paired with a rear-wheel-drive automatically meant joy for every car enthusiast even with just 40 HP, especially with the weight ranging from just 1,700 to 2,296 lbs.

The car was incredibly responsive and agile. However, a total of seven different engine options emerged over the years, with the most powerful one being a 2 l unit with a significant increase in power reaching 130 HP.

The design was penned by Erwin Komenda, an esteemed designer responsible for many famous shapes including the first VW Beetle, numerous Porsches (including the first 911) and several Mercedes models.

Major changes in design and mechanics also brought different naming and the first production Porsche existed in the following iterations:

  • The 356 made from 1948 to 1955, with split windscreen until 1952 and creased one until 1955;
  • The 356A built from 1955 to 1959 and being the first street legal Porsche to sport the Carrera engine;
  • The 356B built from 1959 to 1963 with two body styles marked T5 until 1962 and T6 until 1963;
  • And, finally, the 356C built along with the first 911 from 1963 to 1965. It was very similar to the previous T6 356B in terms of design, but it included a very significant technical upgrade – four disc brakes.
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Facts & Figures

BodyCoupe and convertible
Engines1.1 L B4, 40 HP
1.3 L B4, 44-60 HP
1.5 L B4, 55-70 HP
1.5 L DOHC-B4, 100-110 HP
1.6 L B4, 60-95 HP
1.6 L DOHC-B4, 105-115 HP
2.0 L DOHC-B4, 130 HP
Dimensions and weight
Weight1,700–2,296 lbs
Porsche 356 years of production
All Models1948 – 1965
3561948 – 1955
356A1955 – 1959
356B1959 – 1963
356C1963 – 1965
Porsche 356 production numbers
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History & Development

1956 Porsche 356A Reutter Coupe

The first Porsche 356 was made in 1948 in a town called Gmund in Austria, since this was where the headquarters of the company was at the time.

The company moved to Stuttgart, Germany in 1950 and the production continued there all the way up to 1965 when the 356 was discontinued and replaced by the 911. However, “replaced” might not be the best expression since the 356 was being produced along with the 911 for almost three years – such was its popularity.

A total of 49 Porsches 356’s were made in Austria and they are very highly regarded among the collectors (with the very first one winning the Innsbruck race), but the move to Germany also brought about numerous improvements in terms of build quality and mechanics.

First of all, models from 1950 had steel body and in 1951 the first convertible rolled out of the factory.

The car’s popularity grew due to its handling characteristics and reliability as much as due to great success in racing, with the 1951 model winning Le Mans.

Another design change took place in the April of 1952 when split windscreen was replaced by a single-piece one.

The Speedster appeared in 1954 and it became the most recognizable production 356 ever. It was a weekend-racing version of the convertible 356.

Curiously enough, the person behind the idea was an American called Max Hoffman.

Mr. Hoffman was the importer of Porsche cars in the US and he unknowingly became a father to one of the most revered cars in history.

The first generation of the 356 saw three engine sizes – 1.1 l, 1.3 l, and 1.5 l with the last one offering 70 HP which was close to double the power of the original 356. A total of 7,627 units were made from 1948 until 1955.

The first major revamp happened in 1955 and it also brought a slight but significant change in the name – the Porsche 356 became the Porsche 356A.

The exterior was modernized, the interior became plusher and it featured an all-new 1.6 l engine with the power going from 60 HP to 90 HP.

It was also the first car to bear the “T” nickname – T1. The T2 which was made from 1957 was also under the 356A badge.

The 356A was the first Porsche which offered a four-cam Carrera engine for a road-going vehicle – an option previously reserved for racing cars alone.

It had the displacement of 1.5 l but the power was increased to about 110 HP. With the weight of just 1870 lbs it reached the top speed of 120 mph. A total of 21,045 were made.

The 356B came in 1959 and it brought more refinement and advanced technological solutions.

The restyling version of the 356B, dubbed the T6 brought numeral styling changes, the most notable one being the doubled grille on the engine cover.

The most powerful road-going 356 was made during the 356B era and it had the 2 l Carrera engine with 130 HP and the top speed of 125 MPH. Only 126 of these were made. The total number of 356Bs comes to 30,963.

As noted before, the 356C was basically the T6 model with disc brakes – an improvement so significant at the time that Porsche considered it worthy of a new name.

The only other change was the optionally available pushrod SC engine with the power rating of 95 HP which is the most powerful pushrod engine in any Porsche.

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Driving & Performance

1965 Porsche 356c Coupe

The first versions of the 356 had mid-engine layout, but the most famous ones are the models with the engine placed in the rear.

The first engines stemmed from the VW Beetle, but they underwent considerable changes including different intake and exhaust, all-new cylinder heads and camshaft and crankshaft.

The biggest change was probably the use of dual carburetors which clearly separated the Porsche 356 from the Beetle in terms of performance.

However, regardless of the variant, all of the engines were flat-four ones.

This setup provides incredible smoothness and balance, which makes driving a real pleasure, but it also puts one of the heaviest car parts very close to the ground ensuring incredibly low center of gravity. This allows for incredible handling characteristics that Porsche cars are known for. Mind you, Porsche still uses flat engines today.

After all this semi-tech talk, let’s see what this means in practice.

The standard variants of the 356 in any generations rarely produced more than 100 HP. This usually meant that it was not extremely fast (Porsche was a sports car for years after the 356, until the introduction of a turbocharger in the 930 model which moved the 911 from sports to supercar tier), but handling made it incredibly interesting to drive.

On twisting roads many more powerful cars of the era could not match the 356.

This was especially the case with more powerful engines in the later models and with the mentioned disc brakes in the 356C. Oversteer was present, but it was fun and controllable, rather than intrusive and dangerous.

Once again, this was a nice little sports car and it was meant to provide a relaxing ride, rather than hyped one and it did that perfectly. Driving a 356 is bound to put a smile on anyone’s face.

When it comes to transmission, even though there were several changes during the years, all of the engines were paired up with four-speed gearboxes.

The gear changes can not be called quick, but they are precise and they inspire confidence. Moreover, the stunning Porsche build quality made sure that the gearboxes were almost indestructible.

Having in mind that handling is the greatest advantage of the 356 it is no wonder that proper suspension setup plays a major role.

Even today, there are many specialists out there who can transform the handling of a 356.

The ride in a perfectly set up car is a perfect balance between sporty confidence and a relaxed, comfortable cruise.

The 356 does not float down the road like much heavier US cars, but it provides surprisingly smooth ride and nice comfort.

Moreover, the rear position of the engine means that the car is heavier at the back which in turn means that you will rarely be pushed against the window during sharper turns.

The sound is also a great part of every Porsche. And again the 356 is perfectly balanced.

Enjoy a laid-back ride and you will never feel overwhelmed with the noise, but floor the pedal and the roar will make your blood boil, even though the acceleration might not match the noise.

The Carrera and the pushrod engines alike provide a wonderful soundtrack that perfectly complements your driving style.

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Equipment & Comfort

1964 Porsche 356sc Cabriolet

The Porsche 356 is a light and small car, but its interior was designed so thoughtfully that there is no way that you will lack room in any of the normally periled areas – feet, elbows, head and shoulders have more than enough comfort for a normally sized person. So, the interior is small, but functional, snug and cozy, rather than confined.

All of the instruments are placed on the exterior-colored metal dashboard, together with some features that are still uniquely recognizable for Porsche cars – the rev-counter is in the central position and the ignition is on the left.

All of the knobs are close at hand and easy to operate once you get used to them. However, you will need some time for this, because none of them are labeled.

Rather than being a source of annoyance for me, it made me feel like a pilot flying a small plane in front of the passengers – operating the unmarked knobs makes you give away the air of advanced knowledge.

The seats are just large enough. By today’s standards you wouldn’t call them supportive, but having in mind the speeds, they are more than enough.

As you can probably guess from the previous descriptions, the interior of the Porsche 356 is made of high-quality and very durable materials. There is not much that can go wrong there.

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Running Costs

1960 Porsche 356B Coupe

This is where things tend to become less tempting.

Engine rebuild prices for almost any of them are extremely high, but for the admittedly rare Carrera models, they become downright terrifying.

The flywheel for the 1.6 l 356B costs more than $800 and the crankshaft more than $1,000. However, these parts are usually expensive for almost any car.

The front shock absorber is at about $140, which seems far more reasonable, although not really cheap.

But, there is good news here as well. The 356 is one reliable car.

Even for the company which boasts with almost unbelievable reliability statistics (more than 70% of all Porsche cars ever made are still on the roads), its reputation is just amazing. Buy a good Porsche 356 and it will not drain your bank account in the service.

Another good point is that the Porsche 356 is still extremely popular, so finding parts is relatively easy.

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