Dr. Ferdinand Porsche had been a major influence in the development of the German motor industry since Edwardian times and yet the only car design to perpetuate his name was not, in fact, his own work, but that of his son Ferry. The basic design of this new car utilized the mechanical components of the Volkswagen Beetle, and the first fifty examples were hand-built in Austria with alloy bodywork and a split-vee screen.
The new Porsche Type 356 was launched at the 1949 Geneva Salon, the type number being the 356th project undertaken by the Stuttgart based Porsche design office since its formation in 1930. The new cars found immediate success in all forms of motor sport which reflected in sales, and when the Porsche family returned to their Zuffenhausen factory in 1950, all-steel bodywork was introduced. The original 1,131cc engine was enlarged to 1286cc and 1,488cc during 1951 and in its final form of 1,582cc in 1955, which was then standardized for the remainder of its production run up to 1965.
The first major style innovation since 1950 was the introduction of the “Speedster” in 1954 primarily aimed at the Californian market, where in its 1500S form it became a popular race car. 1955 saw a major change in engine specifications with the 1500 being replaced by the 1600, providing Porsche with their first genuine 100 mph production car and detail changes to the bodywork introduced as the 356A.
The two-seater Speedster with its very low screen and side windows was aesthetically an immediate success and soon became a “cult car” amongst the Porsche devotees, as well as a favorite with film stars such as James Dean. As with all Porsche designs, their intrinsic beauty is their functional simplicity coupled to superb engineering, and the Speedster is just such an example. It is devoid of unnecessary embellishment and has a rather stark interior with three circular dashboard instruments containing tachometer, speedometer, and a combined fuel and oil temperature gauge and two bucket-style seats.
The gleaming red Speedster pictured here is a very special example, in that it has the rare and desirable Rudge knock-on wheels and a “Glasspar” detachable hard top. The car was exported new to America in mid-1955, its first owner being the then Governor of Massachusetts who only used it occasionally; it was then laid-up in dry storage from 1959 to 1987. The current owner has since had the car completely restored, both mechanically and cosmetically, and a new 90 bhp Super 90 Series engine installed, providing the ultimate performance specification for a Speedster with a maximum speed approaching 120 mph.
The Speedster is generally regarded as being the most desired of all 356 Series Porsches and to find one with the rare factory options makes this particular car an attractive investment providing exhilarating competition race bred performance, and the ultimate in charismatic appeal.