Porsche 356 – The Original Legacy

“I can readily admit that the initiative came through Cisitalia”, said Ferry Porsche on the occasion of his 75th birthday when describing the early days of the Porsche 356. “Back then Cisitalia was building a small sports car with a Fiat engine. So I said to myself: why shouldn’t we do the same thing with VW parts? After all, that is already what we did before the war with the Berlin-Rome car.”

Looking back today, the business risk involved in an enterprise of this kind was almost mind-boggling: The whole of Europe was struggling after a terrible war and demand in the market was primarily for practical and inexpensive cars. And precisely in this situation Ferry Porsche decided to fulfil his dream of building his own sports car – only to find that other aficionados of the automobile shared precisely the same dream.

In spring 1947 Ferry Porsche first expressed his idea to build a sports car using Volkswagen components which, initially code-named the “VW-Sports”, received the construction number 356. The vision of the Porsche Junior Director was to “build the kind of sports car I liked myself”. Ferry Porsche’s engineers, at any rate, were fascinated by the idea of building such a sports car, completing a road-going chassis in February 1948 destined to take up a roadster body made of aluminium. The flat-four power unit, together with the gearbox, suspension, springs and steering, all came from Volkswagen. Weighing just 585 kg or 1,290 lb, this 35-bhp mid-engined roadster had a top speed of 135 km/h or 84 mph. On 8 June 1948 this very first Porsche mid-engine sports car proudly bearing the chassis number 356-001 received official homologation from the authorities through an individual permit granted by the State Government of Carinthia.

Production of the first “regular” Type 356/2 coupés and cabriolets started in Gmünd in the second half of 1948 – and like Porsche 356 No 1, Type 356/2 also featured an aluminium body designed and constructed by Erwin Komenda, the Director of Body Development at Porsche. But unlike the No 1 mid-engine prototype, the horizontally-opposed power unit in Type 356/2 was fitted at the back in order to provide luggage space behind the front seats. When an investor in Zurich, Rupprecht von Senger, advanced money for a small production series and received a contract as the importer for Switzerland in return, Porsche once again had access to the VW parts and body panels the company needed so urgently.

The contract Ferry Porsche concluded with the Managing Director of Volkswagenwerk on 17 September 1948 on the supply of VW parts and the use of VW’s distribution network clearly shows that Ferry Porsche was not only an outstanding engineer, but also a far-sighted businessman and entrepreneur: Ferry Porsche and Nordhoff agreed that VW was to pay a licence fee to Porsche for every Beetle built, since, after all, the car had been developed by Porsche before the war. The second important decision was the foundation of Porsche-Salzburg Ges.m.b.H. as a central office for the management of Volkswagen imports, sales and customer service in Austria. These agreements with Volkswagenwerk, already a major manufacturer at the time, gave Porsche the security the young company needed, particularly in financial terms. And it set the foundation for the ongoing development of Porsche KG as a manufacturer of sports cars.

Tagged . Bookmark the permalink.