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HomeAbout the Cars - 356 Models

356 Models - A Brief Overview

Content by Brett Johnson, from The Porsche 356, A Restorer’s Guide to Authenticity IV, used with permission. More about Brett here.


The vehicles described below are those models that were standard production cars. These were steel-bodied vehicles with an integral steel chassis. They were produced from model year 1950 through 1965 (ten cabriolets were built in 1966). Special production models and aluminum-bodied vehicles are not described. The major divisions were as follows:

 

   Model
356
356A
356A T2
356B T5
356B T6
356C T6
   Model Years
1950 - 1955
1956 - 1957
1958 - 1959
1960 - 1961
1962 - 1963
1964 - 1966
 



The 356

The steel-bodied 356 came in two basic body styles: coupe and cabriolet. Both had two doors, rear-mounted air-cooled engines and sixteen- inch wheels.

 

Both styles had a distinct aerodynamic appearance. Their narrow wheels, rear lever shocks, low horsepower engines and non-synchronized gearboxes made them challenging to drive – challenging enough that all these systems received substantial changes within the first three years of production.

 

The low-priced Speedster was introduced slightly prior to the 1955 model year, which commenced in November 1954. It was produced for the American market and featured a low removable windshield, lightweight removable soft top and side curtains.

 

The 356A

Models destined for the American market were given side scripts with the name Continental, no longer being bargain offerings. Coupe, cabriolet and Speedster models were continued from the 356.  This body style was referred to internally at Porsche as the T1, which stood for Technical Program 1. External changes were subtle, but significant. A curved windshield for the coupe and cabriolet replaced the bent version used on the 356. 4.5" x 15" wheels replaced the 3.25" x 16". Other major changes included a more modern looking dashboard with a padded vinyl top and a larger displacement (1600cc) engine.

 

The T2 body change phased in starting in late September 1957. During the 1958 model year the Speedster was replaced by the Convertible D. The D stood for Drauz, the German coachbuilder. The Convertible D had a taller windshield with chrome-plated frame and roll-up side windows replaced the side curtains of the Speedster. In 1959 a handful of Speedsters were produced for competition. Coupe and cabriolet body styles remained and the Convertible D was replaced by the Roadster in 1960.

 

The 356B

The 356B T5 body was totally new (note: the T3 and T4 models did not make it beyond the design phase). While it closely resembled its predecessor, front and rear end sheet metal was totally redesigned. One visible change was larger, higher bumpers. The headlights were also raised and a larger chrome-plated hood handle was present. Coupes got front vent windows and interiors received a facelift with a new steering wheel and column. The rear seating area was also modified. Mechanically, there were many changes, including new finned brake drums and upgraded gearbox. In 1961 another model was introduced: the Karmann Hardtop. It resembled a cabriolet body with a hardtop welded in place. It was built by Karmann, another German coachbuilder. Roadster production was moved from Drauz to D’Ieteren in Belgium.

 

The 1962 model year brought with it the final body change, the T6. The front lid was squared off at the front and the fuel filler moved to the top of the right front fender on left hand drive models. Windshield and back glass were enlarged on the coupe. From the rear, an obvious difference was the addition of the second vent grille on the rear lid. The Roadster and Karmann Hardtop were discontinued during 1962. Karmann began producing standard coupes in January 1962, sharing this task with Reutter. Coupe and cabriolet models were the only body styles available.

 

The 356C

The only visible change externally, aside from the model designation on the rear, was the slightly different wheel and hubcap necessitated by the new four-wheel disc brakes. The interior featured a slightly redesigned dashboard, but was otherwise similar to earlier models. The most significant mechanical advance was the disc brakes; other improvements were made, including the most powerful pushrod Porsche engine produced to that point: the SC with 95 hp.


Click on the images below to jump to specific model details:

The 356

356

Additional Resource: Spotter's Guide to the 356

September 23, 2010

by Bertrand Picard - Illustrations by Peter Alves/Paul Greene


Speedster, T-5, pre-A, Convertible D, Carrera 2, SC, Roadster, 356 B, T-6, S-90, cabriolet, GT coupe, Continental.


All of the above are meaningful descriptions of various types of the Porsche 356 automobile. For the uninitiated however, they usually make no sense at all. To the untrained eye, all 356s look the same and determining whether one is looking at, say, a 1954 or a 1964 model is generally the result of a lucky guess rather than a logical conclusion following the observation of specific characteristics.


This article is meant as a "spotter's guide", i.e. it will hopefully enable you to pick up a number of major evolution reference points so that once you're on your own at a car show or at a 356 meet, you will be able to know what kind of 356 you're looking at and what model year it is. Please note that this article deals only with the street cars, and that any reference to a specific year means the model year, which does not necessarily correspond to the year of manufacture.


Spotter's Guide to the 356 Models by Bertrand Picard

356 Models - Details

The 356

The steel-bodied 356 came in two basic body styles: coupe and cabriolet. Both had two doors, rear-mounted air-cooled engines and sixteen- inch wheels. The painted steel dashboard was reminiscent of many American cars of the forties and fifties. Bodies were built by Reutter, a Stuttgart coachbuilder, which was absorbed by the Porsche factory in December 1963. Some early cabriolet bodies were built by the coachbuilder, Gläser, located north of Munich.

 

Both styles had a distinct aerodynamic appearance. Their narrow wheels, rear lever shocks, low horsepower engines and non-synchronized gearboxes made them challenging to drive – challenging enough that all these systems received substantial changes within the first three years of production.

 

Major changes occurred primarily with the introduction of a new model. The first few years are a bit confusing, but they are as follows:

 

1950: These coupes and cabriolets correspond to the first order of bodies from Porsche to Reutter and Gläser. Their chassis numbers have four digits starting with the number 5. Production ceased mid-March 1951.

 

Model 51: For the second order of bodies, Porsche decided to assign a different series of five-digit numbers for coupes and cabriolets. Glaser cabriolets began with 103 or 104 and Reutter cabriolets 100 or 101. Reutter coupes started at 105 and went up from there. No significant changes occurred at the introduction of this model, which was constructed from mid-March 1951 through February 1952.

 

Model 52: The Model 52 was distinguished from earlier cars with its one-piece bent windshield (knickscheibe). They also had slightly larger hood handles with a hole and deep faced gauges with green and red graphics. They were produced only from March through September 1952. The final Gläser cabriolets were Model 52s.

 

1953: The 1953 model was produced from October 1952 through March 1954. Externally the bumpers were modified to the versions used through the end of 356A production. Side-by-side beehive taillights replaced the vertical arrangement used previously. Front signal lights were directly below the headlights. A Porsche crest adorned the horn button of the new steering wheel. The 519 gearbox with Porsche synchromesh on all forward gears and 11" aluminum brake drums were major advances. In 1953 the less expensive, more basic, America-series coupe and cabriolet models, inspired by importer Max Hoffman, debuted in the US.

 

1954: April through October 1954 was the abbreviated 1954 model year. The main visual differences were the horn grilles up front, the first standard fuel gauges and the dashboard knobs, which were no longer of VW origin. America-series cars continued to be offered in the US until the introduction of the Speedster.

 

1955: The new front hood handle was much larger and featured an enameled Porsche crest. The three-piece case Porsche engine replaced the two-piece modified VW unit used previously. The low-priced Speedster was introduced slightly prior to the 1955 model year, which commenced in November 1954. It was produced for the American market and featured a low removable windshield, lightweight removable soft top and side curtains.

Aluminum bodied Gmünd cars predated the steel bodied production 356s

The first steel cars looked similar, but were lower than Gmünds. Lack of glitzy trim made them distinctive

This late Model 51 coupe has slotted wheels hinged rear quarter windows and flat bumper trim

1950 Glaser cabriolet with distinctly higher placement of front hood handle and no front aluminum tack strip on the convertible top

Model 52 Reutter cabriolet with export bumpers. Note also the aluminum-trimmed one-piece windshield, front tack strip and painted leading edge of the convertible top

Late Model 52 Reutter cabriolet with US-style export bumpers and early tail light configuation. The brake light is in the center of the license light

The aluminum-bodied America Roadster was coachbuilt by Gläser with the US competition market in mind

1953 models incorporated many updates including new bumpers, beehive tail light arrangement and fully synchronized gearboxes

1954 models had horn grilles and the turnsignals were positioned under the headlights. The hood handle with the hole was introduced with the Model 52

Speedsters were introduced in 1954, as a 1955 model. Intended to be the entry level Porsche, they soon became popular with club racers

1955 was the last year of the original 356 design. US importer Max Hoffman, thought cars with names would sell better, so in 1955 US spec. coupes and cabriolets had gold-plated Continental scripts on the front fenders



The 356A

Models destined for the American market were given side scripts with the name Continental, no longer being bargain offerings. Coupe, cabriolet and Speedster models were continued from the 356. This body style was referred to internally at Porsche as the Tl, which stood for Technical Program 1. External changes were subtle, but significant. A curved windshield for the coupe and cabriolet replaced the bent version used on the 356. 4.5" x 15" wheels replaced the 3.25" x 16". Other major changes included a more modern looking dashboard with a padded vinyl top and a larger displacement (1600cc) engine. The T2 body change phased in starting in late September 1957. The main visible changes were in the doors. All three models featured a lower positioned striker plate mounted by three screws (earlier cars had five). Cabriolets also featured a modified rear cowling, which allowed a new optional hardtop to be fitted. Front vent windows were also used for the first time on cabriolets. Prior to the T2 change, two other outward modifications occurred: teardrop-shaped taillights replaced beehive units and US-market cars had chrome-plated tubular overrider bars on the bumpers. During the 1958 model year the Speedster was replaced by the Convertible D. The D stood for Drauz, the German coachbuilder. The Convertible D had a taller windshield with chrome-plated frame and roll-up side windows replaced the side curtains of the Speedster. In 1959 a handful of Speedsters were produced for competition. Coupe and cabriolet body styles remained and the Convertible D was replaced by the Roadster.

 

T1 356A coupe with early single-tube US rear bumper. Note optional chrome-plated wheels, luggage rack and vent windows

The first US spec. 356A coupes and cabriolets had European side scripts. Flat rocker panels and curved windshields differentiated the 356A from earlier models

All 356A models had larger displacement engines, wider wheels and better rear suspension geometry. The T1 Speedster also had a few additional creature comforts available

The T2 356A was a culmination of new updates and incremental changes to the T1. The new ZF steering box was a major improvement

Exhaust through the bumper guards, lower mounted license light and cabriolet vent windows were all T2 features

The Convertible D had a similar profile to the earlier Speedster, but had a taller windshield, roll-up windows and superior weather equipment

The GS specification Carrera was a luxury grand touring machine with the new complex four cam engine. This RHD example has optional Rudge chrome-plated knock off wheels

GT specification coupes and Speedsters received aluminum doors and lids during 1958. Trim was minimized and wheels had aluminum rims in an effort to reduce weight


The 356B

Roll-up side windows replaced the side curtains of the Speedster. In 1959 a handful of Speedsters were produced for competition. Coupe and cabriolet body styles remained and the Convertible D was replaced by the Roadster. The 356B T 5 body was totally new (note: the T 3 and T 4 models did not make it beyond the design phase). While it closely resembled its predecessor, front and rear end sheet metal was totally redesigned. One visible change was larger, higher bumpers. The headlights were also raised and a larger chrome-plated hood handle was present. Coupes got front vent windows and interiors received a facelift with a new steering wheel and column. The rear seating area was also modified. Mechanically, there were many changes, including new finned brake drums and upgraded gearbox. In 1961 another model was introduced: the Karmann Hardtop. It resembled a cabriolet body with a hardtop welded in place. It was built by Karmann, another German coachbuilder. Roadster production was moved from Drauz to D’Ieteren in Belgium.

 

 

The 1962 model year brought with it the final body change, the T 6. The front lid was squared off at the front and the fuel filler moved to the top of the right front fender on left hand drive models. Windshield and back glass were enlarged on the coupe. From the rear, an obvious difference was the addition of the second vent grille on the rear lid. The Roadster and Karmann Hardtop were discontinued during 1962. Karmann began producing standard coupes in January 1962, sharing this task with Reutter.

The T 5 coupe had larger bumpers, higher headlights and vent windows

License lights were moved to the rear bumper and reflectors could be above or below. The single rear lid vent continued to be used on the T 5

The Roadster was a natural progression from the Converible D. Manufacturing moved from Drauz in Germany to D’Ieteren in Belgium in April, 1961

Karmann’s first Porsche adventure was the Karmann Hardtop, which had the profile of a cabriolet with hardtop fitted, but without the open top option

Coachbuilder Beutler in Switzerland tried their hand at the four seater 356 concept for a second time in 1962. Around 20 total examples were produced

Only some America Roadsters and GS Carreras had dual vent rear lids until the introduction of the T 6. Coupe rear lids and glass were much larger, as well

The external fuel filler was new to the T 6, but owners of RHD 356s like this hardtop/ cabriolet would have to wait until 1964 for this convenience

T 6 Karmann Hardtops were discontinued shortly into 1962 with less than 700 produced. They featured the higher T 6 coupe windshield

Less than 250 T 6 Roadsters were produced by D’Ieteren. Unlike other T 6 body styles, they did not have fresh air vents in the cowl below the windshield. Production ceased in March 1962

The ultimate 356 was the Carrera 2. The 2 represented the two-liter engine size. Later T 6 versions featured the unique Porsche designed annular disc brakes

Dual front mounted oil coolers necessitated removal of the upper grilles and relocation of the horns. Mesh headlight grilles were an extra cost option



The 356C

Coupe and cabriolet models were the only body styles available. The only visible change externally, aside from the model designation on the rear, was the slightly different wheel and hubcap necessitated by the new four-wheel disc brakes. The interior featured a slightly redesigned dashboard, but was otherwise similar to earlier models. The most significant mechanical advance was the disc brakes; other improvements were made, including the most powerful pushrod Porsche engine produced

to that point: the SC with 95 hp.

 

Karmann began producing standard coupes in January 1962, sharing this task with Reutter. Coupe and cabriolet models were the only body

styles available. The only visible change externally, aside from the model designation on the rear, was the slightly different wheel and hubcap necessitated by the new four-wheel disc brakes.

 

The interior featured a slightly redesigned dashboard, but was otherwise similar to earlier models. The most significant mechanical advance was the disc brakes; other improvements were made, including the most powerful pushrod Porsche engine produced to that point: the SC with 95 hp.


The 356C cabriolet had only subtle modifications from the previous model. The modified wheels and hub caps for disc brakes were the most obvious

The 356C version of the Carrera 2 had the same disc brakes that were found on all other 356Cs

Also new on the 356C was the Durant style side mirror and twin washer jets with dual nozzles

Though rarely seen, belt-line moldings, first used on the Speedster remained optional on all models through the last 356C





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