The chart below shows the various 356 models from 1950 to 1966 and the years they were produced. Coupes and cabriolets were produced in every year. Note that there is no "Pre-A" model, that is slang terminology sometimes used to label the cars before the 356A, but cars built before the 1956 model year were simply called a "356". The Speedster was introduced in late 1954, evolving into the 1959 Convertible D and then the B Roadster in 1960. The Carrera model is not shown on the chart, but that optional high-performance engine was available in almost all models from the 1956 model year up to the end of 356 production. See the Spotters Guide for details on how to differentiate between the various years and models.
Production Year vs. Model Year
Like most manufacturers, Porsche generally began building next years models after the August vacation break. So for example, cars built in September 1959 were considered to be 1960 model year cars. This means that the year the car was built did not always correspond with the model year of the car. "Production year" is not always the same as "Model year", and this distinction remains up to modern times.
But Porsche did not always start the new model year in September. For example, production of the 1964 and 1963 models began in July of the year before. In the earliest years the company records are not clear on when the new model year began, as the company operated in a less structured fashion. And the final model year of 356 production, 1965, began unusually early on July 1, 1964, according factory documentation. [VINs that began the 1965 356C model year were: Reutter coupe body 130512, Karmann coupe body 219070, Reutter cabriolet body 160751]
While Porsche marketing materials sometimes referred to model years, product changes were often implemented mid-way through production. For example, some T2 changes (teardrop taillights, shineup license plate light) were introduced in the spring of 1957, well before the 1958 model year production commenced in September. Those changes were part of the change to the T2 style which was officially introduced with the 1958 model year.
An additional complication in determining the model year of a 356 was that if the car sat on the dealers lot for several months (not unusual with an expensive car like the 356) dealers would sometimes register the car as a year later than it actually was. For example, a 356B built in June 1962 arrives at the dealers in Chicago in late July and is still on the lot in September. The dealer might re-title the car as a 1963 model in an attempt to make it seem more "up to date". Since there were few changes to the 356B between the 1962 and 1963 model years, potential buyers might not notice that the car they were being offered as a "1963 model" was in fact last year's model. Subsequent owners, decades later, would assume their 356B was a 1963 model year car unless they had access to books like Johnson's "The 356 Porsche: A Restorer's Guide to Authenticity" which shows VIN charts by year.
NOTE: in the 1950's, many US states (including California up until 1958) registered cars by engine number, not by model number. So if the engine was changed out at some point, the number on the title may not exist anywhere on the car!
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