As the first serial production car to wear the Porsche name, the 356 was the car that set the company firmly in the direction of building high quality, cleverly engineered sports cars that could punch well above their weight both on the road and at the circuit, a philosophy that has changed little today. The 356 was a relatively simple car that shared its basic layout with the Volkswagen Beetle and utilized a monocoque chassis design and a highly reworked version of the VW’s flat-four cylinder engine slung out behind the rear axle. For his own car, Dr. Porsche dramatically improved the VW engine with new heads, new cam, new crankshaft and other internals, as well as a dual carburetor intake. The result was an engine that revved freely and produced double the horsepower of the Beetle from whence it came.
True to the Porsche ethos, the 356 was continuously being refined and revised over its 17-year production run without ever really being fully redesigned, and by the end of the run in 1965, horsepower had nearly doubled again from the first 356s. Along with its continual mechanical refinement, the 356 was offered in many different body configurations sourced through a variety of German coachbuilders. Standard cars included the Coupé, Cabriolet, and Speedster. There were also Notchback, Roadster and Convertible ‘D’ variants, most featuring subtle differences in the shape of the body. Perhaps the purest expression of the 356 as a driver-focused sports car was the Speedster. It first appeared in 1955 at the suggestion of the influential American importer, Max Hoffman who believed that a stripped-down, lower-cost 356 would sell well in America, particularly in sunny California where sports car racing was all the rage. He believed that a lightweight car with simple equipment could be readily set up for track duty and driven home at the end of the day. Hoffman proved right and the Speedster was an instant hit. Instantly recognisable by virtue of its low, wraparound – as opposed to V-shaped – windscreen, smaller and entirely retractable hood, lower door waistline, horizontal trim strip at the level of the door handles, and twin bucket seats, all of which served to emphasise its sporting image. Powered initially by the 1.5-litre version of Porsche’s horizontally opposed four, upgraded to the new 1.6-litre, 60bhp engine with the introduction of the improved 356A in 1955. Priced at $2,995, the Speedster was the lightest of the 356s, enjoying a commensurate performance boost that meant over 100mph was possible. Allied to its already renowned handling characteristics, this meant that these elegant little cars were an instant success in the burgeoning American sports car racing scene. Production was relatively short, however, running from 1955 through 1958, when it was replaced by the heavier, more luxurious Convertible ‘D’. Today, the Speedster remains one of the most highly sought-after and collectible variations on the 356 theme.
This beautiful 356 ‘A’ Speedster was first registered to the United States in September 1956, and was loved and enjoyed by just one owner until 2004, a total of 48 years.
Our current Belgian owner has enjoyed the car for over a decade, during which time the Speedster benefited from sympathetic restoration and refurbishment, and in particular much mechanical work over the past 2 years.
Presented in Ivory with a black interior and convertible roof, and supplied with a thick history file containing older correspondence, period photographs and current Belgian registration papers, this is a fine example of one of the most desirable of post-war sportscars.