The Porsche 356 profile
The Porsche 356 is one of the most popular Porsche models of all-time but if you want to fulfil the dream of owning the grandfather of all Porsche, it’s worth doing your homework first.
Over five decades since the end of 356 production, many have been preserved, but their conditions vary greatly.
The Porsche 356 Model range
From 1948 to 1965, four series of Porsche 356 were manufactured. The original models are known as ‘Pre-A’ cars today, and rolled off the assembly line from 1948 to 1955. Model As were manufactured from 1955 to 1959, followed by a facelift whereafter the car was marketed as a B model. The fourth and final series was the Porsche 356 C, which was offered from 1956 to 1963.
The Pre-A and A series are particularly rare, the Carrera and Speedster models even more so. These series differ from each other in small to fairly noticeable details, with visual and technical changes made in the course of production.
If you want to own a Porsche 365, you should primarily look for B and C cars, as they are still available in sufficient numbers and are – in some cases – more affordable. All vehicles are equipped with a four-cylinder engine in the rear, delivering between 39 and 129bhp. The Porsche 356 was offered as a Cabriolet, Roadster, Coupé and Hardtop Coupé by Karmann. The body was designed by the Austrian automotive designer Erwin Komenda, best-known for shaping the VW Beetle.
Porsche 356: The Possibilities
The biggest problem when buying a Porsche 356 is usually not the car itself, but the number of previous owners who may have tried to personalise or repair it. Many Porsche 356s have been restored during their lives to varying degrees of success. Technical issues and rust spots were often only remedied or repaired in a makeshift manner, which can result in a headache for the next owner. Resolving one problem often reveals another, leading to spiralling restoration costs.
One possible solution to rust issues could be to source a car from California. The sunny climate preserved many 356s well (though interiors and seals will be sun-damaged) and so an import could save you a lot of time and money. Be sure to check how original any vehicle is as modifications can be difficult to undo.
Porsche 356 bodywork
The bodywork of any Porsche 356 should be examined very carefully. If it is in bad condition and you’re not capable of welding, you should leave well alone. The costs for welding work can be huge for this Porsche. When looking at the body you should pay attention to the panel gaps, the wheelarches and sills. Check for smooth bodywork and spot-free bumpers.
A typical weakness of Porsche 356 is the front section. Frequently overlooked is the boot lid that should be checked underneath for corrosion. While it is open, make sure that it clicks into place and remains open when you step away.
Inspecting the underbody of the car is essential. Check the condition of the sheets and welds, gently tapping to explore the condition of those extremely fragile double-walled sheets. If you find rust in one spot, you can assume you’ll find it elsewhere.
Interior of the Porsche 356
Compared to some contemporary vehicles, the interior of the Porsche 356 is minimalist. Not overtly detailed, no excessive design elements to distract from the essentials. Check the condition of the leather seats and headliner, as well as how functional the heater and window mechanisms are. A strong indication of poor welding work is if the seats are hard to adjust. It suggests that the seat rails have moved during repairs.
Porsche 356 engine and mechanicals
We would strongly insist on a test drive of any Porsche 356. You can also use this opportunity to check whether oil has been leaking when the car was stationary. Don’t pay too much attention to the red generator indicator light after driving off – this goes out at higher speeds. The steering should have as little play as possible, and gearchanges should also be relatively smooth. The Porsche 356 is actually very reliable with most mechanical repairs relatively simple.
Spare parts for the Porsche 356 are actually quite easy to obtain, with almost all components and panels available. Comparing prices is still worthwhile, especially as the internet offers excellent comparisons between suppliers.
As with all classic cars, the better the car you buy in the first place, the better it will be in the long run. You should only get involved in vehicles in need of restoration if you have the necessary skillset to work on it yourself. Getting others involved soon becomes expensive.
Sadly, cheap entry-level Porsche 356 don’t really exist anymore. Take the time to do detailed research and visit the cars in person. With some luck you may soon own one of the 76,302 Porsche 356s made.
Text Paolo Ollig Photos Porsche AG, ChromeCars, Classic Car Service bvba
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