By Eric Cherneff, Bruce Coen and Barry Lee Brisco
Many 356 enthusiasts are aware that European-spec cars were imported into the United States when new. Fewer enthusiasts have heard of the 356A "European" badged cars, which are an often misunderstood rarity. The "European" badge did not signify European delivery — in fact, it couldn't be further from the truth!
The 356A model was introduced in the fall of 1955, and some had a side script that proudly identified the car as a "European". This name was instigated by Max Hoffman, the exclusive importer of Porsches into the USA who felt that Americans didn't relate to cars that only had model numbers. Previous Porsches had simply been called the "356", which was the Porsche internal design number.
First, the "Continental"
Hoffman was convinced that Americans wanted to buy cars with names like "BelAir" or "Fairlane". So, in the spirit of American marketing, Porsche began putting a "Continental" script on the fenders of 1955 model year coupes and cabriolets that were sent to the United States. Unfortunately for Porsche, Ford Motor Company claimed the rights to the "Continental" name and threatened legal action, so Porsche changed the name to "European" for the 1956 model year (production of which began in the fall of 1955). Cars delivered in Europe did not have the script (Eric Cherneff owns coupe 55106 which had no holes for the script, and it was delivered in France). But never say never with the 356: Denis Jenkinson (an Englishman) owned a 55 coupe that had the "Continental" script which he drove all over Europe. He discusses the car at great length in his 1980 book Porsche 356: Coupe, Cbriolet, Roadster, Speedster & Carrera and numerous photos clearly show the script. The book Jenks by Jesse Alexander states that in 1955 Jenkinson "....spied my new Porsche and it turned out that we both had just recently taken delivery of Porsche 356 automobiles at the factory, his a Continental coupe, mine a Cabriolet..." (pg. 219, thanks to Tom Coughlin for spotting that).
The end of the "European"
For reasons that are now obscure, Porsche appears to have ceased using the "European" script sometime in January, 1956, well before the end of that production year. Brett Johnson's data has the latest cars with that script as coupe 55154 and cab 61064. The earliest "European" coupe in the 356 Registry database is 55068, the latest is 55374. Bruce Coen owns cab 61066 and has found evidence that it had the script. His car has "Type European" under "Optional Equipment" on the Certificate of Authenticity from Porsche. However, Eric Cherneff has observed that Kardex records were not always consistent in noting this.
Eric Cherneff poses an interesting question. 55108 was a Carrera, and the Kardex indicates it was "European" badged. Did it have both badges, like a Carrera Speedster with the big "European" (instead of "Speedster") above, and a small "Carrera" below, or was it only badged "European"? Other than the Kardex, no record for this car exists in the Registry database and the whereabouts of the car are unknown, so this question may never be answered.
Other than the badge, the "Continental" and "European" cars were standard-specification cars for the United States market, meaning speedometer marking were in miles and the headlights were the sealed beam type. After January, 1956, except for the Speedster and Carrera models no further 356 models were badged with names, only letters were used as model designations. The "European" script does not appear to have been reproduced, so while relatively few 356s require it, they are very hard to find and you can expect to pay dearly for one! The "Continental" script has been reproduced in the past, but may not be currently available.