The Porsche 356 was a Porsche sports car sold from 1948 through 1965, and Porsche’s first production automobile. It was designed by Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche. His father, Ferdinand, Sr., was the designer of the original Beetle, and the 356 was designed utilizing may Beetle parts, including important drivetrain components.
The 356 concept was created by Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche (Ferry being a nickname), styled by Erwin Komenda, and mechanically derived from the Volkswagen Beetle, which Ferdinand Porsche Sr. had designed. It was initially available as a coupé, cabriolet (luxury convertible) and later a roadster (a stripped down convertible) and went through several evolutions before being retired in 1965. 356 "Carrera" (with a special racing engine), "Super 90" and "Speedster" models are among the most desirable versions; 356 Carrera models often sell for well over $150,000$. The original selling price of a late 50’s Porsche was nearly $4,000, the price of a Cadillac!
The 356 "Speedster" was introduced in late 1954 after Max Hoffman, the sole importer of Porsches into the United States, told the company that they needed a lower cost, racier version for the American market. With it’s low, raked windshield (easily removable for weekend racing), bucket seats, and minimal folding top, it was an instant hit. The now much coveted Speedster (which often sell for over $100,000) was later used in a number of films, including - 48 Hrs. and Top Gun. Production of the Speedster peaked at 1,171 cars in 1957, and it was replaced in 1959 by the Convertible D model, which featured a taller, more practical windshield, glass side windows, and more comfortable seats.
While the 356 model changed over time with various mechanical refinements, the basic shape remained the same and was instantly recognizable year to year. Coupe and cabriolet models were produced every year up to 1965, with the last 356B Roadster built in early 1963. The final model, the 356C, featured disc brakes and the most powerful pushrod engine Porsche ever produced: the 95HP "SC". 356 production peaked at 14,151 cars in 1964, the year that the new 911 model went on the market, although the company continued to sell the 356C in North America through the end of 1965 as a lower-cost vehicle (the late Janis Joplin had a 356C cabriolet which was psychedelically painted). The 356’s engine was later re-used to power Porsche’s "entry level" 912 model, produced between 1965 and 1969, after customers complained that the 911, at almost twice the price of the 356, was too expensive.
In 2004, Sports Car International named the 356C number ten on the list of Top Sports Cars of the 1960s. Today the Porsche 356 is a well regarded collector car that has stood the test of time. Worldwide, thousands of 356 owners maintain the tradition, preserving their cars and driving them regularly.