A lot of cars can be called classics or even highly-desirable, but few have had a cult following so wild that they can be called a legend. That’s exactly what the Porsche Speedster is, and the 356a Speedster is still so desirable that it has become the object of affection for various replica companies in recent years. To understand the 356a Speedster, it’s important to understand the original Porsche 356. Built from 1950 to 1955, the original 356 was the first production vehicle to carry the Porsche badge. It was built specifically with speed in mind and was a two-seater with a completely new chassis, making it lighter and more agile. In 1956 Porsche debuted a revised version dubbed the 356a, and while it looked reasonably similar to the original 356, there was a lot of revisions made. The downside to the 356a, however, is that it was expensive.

American Porsche dealer, Max Hoffman, realized that the 356a would sell better here in the States if it could be inexpensive enough to compete with the Triumphs and Mgs at the time, so he requested a cheaper model from Porsche. Porsche’s answer was the 356a Speedster – a model that had only the bare necessities. As the story goes, the 356a Speedster became amazingly popular with enthusiasts and racers at the time and earned itself a place in American sports car culture. Furthermore, it became integrated into Californian culture where its basic configuration and lack of advanced weather equipment was more than appropriate and still is to this day.

That love for the car in the California market is surely part of the reason that the car has maintained such a cult-like following over the years. To this day, there are various replica companies that will happily build you one, and originals still pop up in auction houses here and there. The funniest part about the whole situation is that the 356a Speedster, despite its lack of amenities, has been found to be worth significantly more than the better-equipped 356a. With that said, let’s take a closer look at the 356a and talk a little more about it.

Keep reading for our full review of the 356a Speedster

  • 1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
  • Year:
    1955- 1958
  • Make:
  • Model:
  • Transmission:
    4-Speed Manual
  • Horsepower @ RPM:
    60@4500
  • Torque @ RPM:
    3200
  • Displacement:
    1582 L
  • 0-60 time:
    15.3 sec.
  • Top Speed:
    99 mph
  • body style:

What Made the Speedster Different

1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
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The Speedster was designed to be more affordable that the standard 356a, and as such, the car featured very few amenities. The most notable features include a low-cut and rounded front windscreen, a lightened body, and special gearing – undoubtedly the primary reasons as to why the Speedster was widely loved by racers. Other unique features included bucket seats, minimal weather equipment, and a very simplified dashboard that was inspired by Porsche Spyder race cars that were available at the time.

Interior

1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
- image 18252
1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
- image 643605
1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
- image 643606

Looking at the inside, you can see that the entire interior was about as simplistic as it could get. There was a large, two-spoke steering wheel, three round gauges in the dash, and just a handful of buttons in the entire cabin. The shifter was mounted atop the center tunnel, and the floor had simple black carpeting. Leather adorned the door panels and the upper dash, however, there was no special stitching and – based on the bland layout of the door skins – the interior trim was of the minimalist nature. The only other leather in the interior was the leather that was wrapped around the fiberglass bucket seats that look rather uncomfortable compared to the seats we have today – they really are the true definition of “bucket seats.”

Under the Hood

1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
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The 356a Speedster was powered by a 1.6-liter flat-four that featured a center-mounted camshaft and overhead valves. The engine had a bore and stroke of 82.5 mm by 74 mm and produced a maximum of just 60 horsepower. Based on the size of the engine, that computes to 37.93 horsepower per liter. Power was sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual transmission. Even though 60 horsepower is nothing compared to sports cars today, the 356a Speedster was rather light at just 1750 pounds, and that power was enough to propel the car to 60 mph in about 13.9 seconds. A quarter mile took just over 19 seconds, while the car topped out at just 99.4 mph.

The car rolled on 15 by 4.5-inch wheels and had a Volkswagen Worm and Nut steering system. Its overall length was 155.5 inches, and it had a wheelbase of 82.7 inches. The front track measured 51.4 inches while the rear clocked in at 50.1 inches. The supporting suspension system included Volkswagen trailing arms up front to go with Boge telescopic dampers and a 15 mm anti-roll bar. In the rear, you’ll find Volkswagen leading arms with torsion bars and hydraulic lever-arm shock absorbers.

Pricing Information

1955 - 1958 Porsche 356a Speedster
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Originally priced at just under $3,000 before options, taxes, and delivery, prime examples of the 356a Speedster have gone for significantly more. Back in 2015, a 1957 356a 1600 Speedster with a full restoration and a single owner sold for $440,000 in Monterey. Another restored example with coupe seats, sealed-beam headlamps, and U.S. instrumentation sold for $330,000 at the same auction. Then at Pebble Beach in 2015 an example from 1958 that featured original paint, matching numbers, and had been parked for 20 years sold for $583,000. For the record, the car had never been restored, exhibited, or offered for public sale before the auction it was sold in.

As you can see, I wasn’t kidding when I said the 356a had a cult-like following. At the time of this writing, the average sale price at auction seems to fluctuate anywhere between $250,000 and $450,000. Thinking about those prices, it’s important to remember that there was a total of 3,677 examples produced between 1955 and 1959, only 22 of which were right-hand drive. A right-hand drive model it excellent condition could certainly pull a pretty hefty sum at the right auction.

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