So, Who Was This Porsche Guy?
Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, an Austrian, worked for Mercedes-Benz in the 1930s and was responsible for design and development of the KdF car for Nazi Germany's quite-mad rulers. The KdF (Kraft durch Freude, or Strength through Joy) car eventually became the Volkswagen and we all know where that led.
1959 Porsche 356
Porsche was a talented man, especially in the technical sense. He always labored to find a simple solution to a problem rather than a more complicated one. He also possessed the ability to manage his engineers while maintaining enthusiasm for the work.
The dream that Porsche had was to build a very high-quality, fast, excellent handling sports car. It would be based upon the VW air cooled engine design on which he had worked so hard. By the 1950s he was producing some of these cars and they were doing quite well in racing events.
Triumph Of Development Over Design
In point of fact, early Porsche cars were — at best — very tricky automobiles to drive at high speed. They had peculiar handling quirks which could get all but the best of drivers into serious trouble. The engines were underpowered, noisy, used oil and would overheat. The cars had to be driven hard but when done so rewarded the owner with sensations available in no other cars.
1959 Porsche 356
Although the Porsche cars were of high build quality, they suffered from serious rust after a few years. Parts and service centers were few and many mechanics shied away from attempting to fix them. Still, the owners of the cars loved them, and an enthusiastic following soon developed in the U.S.
Dr. Porsche died in 1951 and his son, Ferry, took over the factory and engineering efforts. He believed strongly in his father's design philosophy and continued development of on- and off-road cars of high quality and performance. The factory was permanently located in Stuttgart and its products were sold worldwide to enthusiasts and collectors. Development had, in fact, triumphed over design.
The Porsche 356
Although the first 356-type Porsche was manufactured in 1948, the line didn't
really come into its own until the late 1950s. Called the 356A, these cars came in coupe, convertible and speedster body types. All were available with the 1300cc or 1600cc engines, each size available in two states of tune. All engines were flat four cylinders, air-cooled. The suffix "S" denotes a specially tuned engine. The Carrera-type coupe was fitted with a GS competition engine with 4 overhead camshafts. It produced 100
hp at 6200 rpm and gave a top speed of around 125 mph.
The standard 356 cars were equipped with pushrod-operated overhead valves and produced 75 hp at 5000 rpm. This doesn't sound like much today, but bear in mind that the cars themselves only weighed 2000 pounds. They were small, with a wheelbase of 85 inches and overall length of around 11 feet.
Were They Really That Good?
It depends upon your point of view as to whether the 356's were good, great or somewhere in between. They were expensive, especially considering the Spartan accommodations. Back in 1960 you could buy a fully-loaded T-Bird or Corvette for less than a Porsche. On the other hand, short of a Ferrari you couldn't find a better all-around car capable of such high levels of road-holding.
The Porsches were also very tight and solid in an era of rattles and shakes. Their acceleration was leisurely at best. In winter the Porsche was a car best left at home. Like its VW cousins, heat was either inadequate or tortuous and the concept of an un-fogged windshield was non-existent. Rust problems were worse than those found in British sports cars of the time, making eventual restoration expensive and difficult.
They were fun, though, at least in the minds of their owners, but how great a performance level did they have? In point of fact, any early-70s Karmann-Ghia would outperform the best of the 356's, so go figure...