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Porsche is a classic car marque that exudes racing excellence. Classic Porsches exist in great numbers worldwide, lovingly preserved by devoted car collectors. How did this iconic brand get its start? We take a quick look.
The first Porsche ever to roll off the production line was the 356. There has been some debate over this fact stemming from 3 Porsche designed cars that were built in 1939 for long distance endurance competition. The cars were built under the designation Type 64 and were also referred to as the 'Berlin-Rom-Wagen',for the Berlin to Rome endurance race they were built to compete in. The Type 64 never went into production, however, they are considered the forefathers of all Porsche sports cars.
In June of 1948 the first sports car to ever bear the Porsche name, the Porsche 356, was road certified. Production of the 356, a four-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive car, began in a factory in Austria in 1948. It took two years to build the 50 cars that were produced at that factory, all of which were built with hand-crafted aluminum bodies and very few "Porsche" mechanicals - most of the engine, chassis and suspension parts were Volkswagen. The first 356's sold primarily in Austria and Germany.
In 1950, the factory was relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany where production continued for the next 15 years. It didn't take long for Porsche to begin refining the 356 with focus on increasing performance. All models produced in Germany were built with steel bodies, and by the late 50's most of the Volkswagen parts had been replaced by genuine Porsche parts. It didn't take long for enthusiasts to notice the 356 and it soon gained recognition in the States as well for it's excellent build quality and handling. It became quite common for Porsche owners to race their cars as well as drive them on the street which is what helped drive sales of the 356 up over 10,000 units in 1964.
The general design of the 356 remained the same throughout it's production lifetime. Rather than incorporating aesthetic changes, Porsche focused mainly on functionality and performance improvements. While remaining true to their performance enhancement goals, they still managed to produce a variety of models in both coupe and convertible forms.
The revisions of the 356 are generally classified into a few major groups. All coupes and convertibles built from 1948 through 1954 had either split windshields, on the 48-52 models, or bent windshields for the 1953 and 1954 models. 7,627 Porsche 356 cars rolled of the production line between 1948 and 1955, when the 356A was introduced boasting several small but very significant changes. The 365A had an in-factory designation of 'Type 1', so it only makes sense that the second revision of the 356A, produced in 1957, was known as the 'Type 2'. There were 21,045 356A's built from 1955 through 1959.
The 356B was rolled off the production line in 1959 with a T5 body and boasted more significant styling and technical refinements. It remained in production until 1963 with a model change in 1962 which incorporated an upgrade to the T6 body type. Two very unique models were also produced in 1961 and 1962 which were variants known as the 'Karmann Notchback'. Over 30,000 356B models were sold during it's lifespan, a clear testiment to the growing demand of Porsche cars.
The last revision of the 356 was the 356C which was introduced for the 1964 model year. It featured disc brakes all the way around and could be purchased with an optional 95 hp "SC" engine, which was the most powerful engine Porsche had produced thus far. The 356C remained in production until 1965 even though it's successor, the 911, had already been introduced to the market in late 1963 as a 1964 model. There was still a demand for the 356 in the United States as the new, heavier, more 'civilized' 911 had not yet won the hearts of American Porsche enthusiasts. A total of 16,678 356C's were ultimately produced.
Throughout it's production lifespan, including it's three variants, 76,313 Porsche 356 cars were built. The numbers alone attest to it's popularity, and the estimate that as many as half of those produced still survive today is proof of legendary Porsche quality.
The Porsche Model 356 - the opening chapter in Porsche's history - quickly became a classic. Values on all variations of the model are high, commonly exceeding $100,000... with the rarest of the rare being double that or more. Proper classic insurance is critical to protect owners' investments in these remarkable works of rolling art.