Acknowledged as Porsche’s first production car, the 356 was first built between 1948 and 1950 by Austrian company Porsche Konstruktionen GesmbH, known for earlier designs such as the Cistalia and Auto Union Grand Prix cars, before production moved to German company Dr. Ing. H.c.F. Porsche GmbH, until 1965.
Created by Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, the 356 used a 4-cylinder, air-cooled, rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout but with all-new chassis and body designs, the latter by renowned Porsche engineer, Erwin Komenda.
Lightweight and nimble, the 356 is regularly listed amongst the best sportscars of the 1950s and 60s, having enjoyed great success both on the road and track in period and remaining one of the most popular models amongst enthusiasts today. We offer this 356B Super 90 Roadster as an attractive example from the mid-point in the evolution of Porsche’s first production road car.
Chassis number: 88373
Engine: 1.6-litre OHV flat 4-cylinder
Gearbox: 4-speed manual
Colour: Heron Grey
The concept for the 356 came from ‘Ferry’ Porsche’s taste for fast cars, more specifically small cars with power, which, as he stated in an interview with Panoramamagazine, were “nicer to drive than if you have a big car which is also overpowered…” And so the lightweight, two-seater 356 was born; it would maintain much the same basic design for its lifetime, with practical modifications very much characterising its evolution rather than any radical aesthetic changes.
Borrowing several components from Volkswagen, cars were initially aluminium-bodied during the period of Austrian construction, with the first 356 road-registered in Austria on 8thJune 1948, going on to win its class in its first race at Innsbruck, setting the perfect starting point for development. Increasingly separating itself from VW, Porsche turned to Reutter to produce steel bodywork for subsequent 356 models upon relocation of production to Germany in 1950.
Although early sales were almost exclusively confined to Austria and Germany, interest in the 356 soon grew and by the early 1950s, it had a strong reputation across Europe and North America for both appearance and drive, buoyed undoubtedly by an impressive class victory at Le Mans in 1951 and the introduction of the sportier Speedster in 1954. Production was booming off the back of this road and track success, rising to more than 10,000 units by 1964 and more than 76,000 cars built in total by the end of 356 production the following year.
The evolution of the 356 is identified by its four variants, sub-divided into body ‘types’: - the original Pre-A, the 356A, 356B and the 356C. Increased engine capacities, which would ultimately result in the 1600cc unit as standard for the later models, and re-designed windscreens marked the development of the Pre-A cars, before the A Series was introduced in late 1955, the first of the road 356 models to offer the four-cam Carrera engine – until then only found in the Spyder racing cars. By 1958, production of the stripped-down, racier Speedster model aimed primarily at the US market also ended, to be replaced by the more tourer-friendly Convertible D, which would eventually become the Roadster.
The 356B arrived in late 1959, initially sporting the latest T5 body before adopting the noticeably revised Type 6 three years later, which featured several new additions, including twin engine lid grilles, external fuel filler and larger rear window for the coupé variant. The B Series was characterized by the disparity of the two body types, with the early T5 models primarily a cabriolet with optional welded hardtop whilst the T6 boasting an all-new part-cabriolet, part-coupé design with a bespoke hardtop, known as the “Karmann” hardtop or notchback. Additionally, improvements were made to engine performance, transmission and chassis design.
With the introduction of disc brakes all around and new option of Porsche’s most powerful pushrod engine to date, the 356C was introduced in 1964, the highest production year for the 356. However, that same year saw the arrival of the new 911 and, whilst supply of the 356C continued, particularly in USA where it still proved to be a popular choice, production would end two years later.
Our LHD 356B T5 Roadster chassis ‘88373’ hails from the USA (original state license plate ‘356 S90’) and is believed to have a genuine Californian history from new, with three previous owners from the same San Jose area before being imported to the UK by the current owner in 2014. The Porsche Certificate of Authenticity for the car incorrectly lists the original colour as Slate Grey with red leatherette interior (the Kardex states Heron Grey) but during a prolonged and detailed restoration, a West Coast-styled tan interior has been installed.
Badged as a ‘Super 90’ in reference to the tuned 90hp output from the ubiquitous 1600cc, the engine appears to have all the hallmarks of this particular unit although there are no positive identifying markings on the various casings, suggesting perhaps these may have been replaced during a previous rebuild, not uncommon for the S90.
It would appear, however, that many of components installed during the last rebuild are recognizable by VIN number as S90 parts, including correct heads, carburetors, fan-shroud colour and tachometer, implying a dedicated and considered restoration. Although this 356B S90 cannot be proved a ‘matching numbers’ example, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the car offered is, on the whole, correct to the specification.
Registered as ‘939 UYH’ on the 25thSeptember 2014, the car has seen only light use since import to the UK, with current mileage believed genuine at just over 70,000 miles, receiving regular maintenance by Tuthill Porsche and the owner’s local garage. Whilst in good, useable condition, with some additional care and attention, the car is ready to be returned to its original form, including perhaps the original red leather interior to create a very comfortable and genuine Roadster that drives and handles elegantly and with ease.
With only 2,649 S90 Roadsters ever produced, this 356B Roadster offers great potential. Although the Speedster has always proved a popular choice with its sportier appeal (despite greater production numbers), the more refined, comfortable Roadster cannot but be admired, with its the low production numbers positioning it as a rarer and more exclusive addition to a collection at a far more affordable cost.
This particular 356 has enjoyed its time in the UK in the ownership of a well-known successful luxury good entrepreneur. It’s access to cool events is evidenced by the subtle TKC sticker in the windscreen.
The car drives very nicely and would be ideal for a happy drive to the coast or indeed a more spirited run to the pub. The Roadster roof and winding side windows give much greater flexibility for use in the UK (vs a Speedster) while the classic lines are barely changed.
A car to be used and enjoyed right now, as is but with the option of investing in the original tone interior in due course.