Although Ferdinand Porsche did not commence building cars until 1948, his engineering pedigree was well established, with designs ranging from the awesome Auto Union V16 Grand Prix car to the Tiger tank. After World War II, however, and fresh from serving a two year prison sentence as a result, Porsche decided in 1947 to build his own sports car. Given project number 356, by August 1948 the first production model had been completed. With aluminum fastback coachwork, pressed steel chassis and the engine behind the rear axle, manufacture began late in 1948 and the 356 debuted at the 1949 Geneva Show.
Power came from a 40 bhp, 1,086 cc engine mated to a four-speed gearbox, with independent torsion bar/trailing arm suspension and drum brakes all round. Allied to 87mph and 0-60 in 17 seconds was excellent fuel economy due to good aerodynamics and low weight.
By 1954, however, Porsche sales in the USA were suffering from the onslaught of MG, Austin Healey and Triumph, whose car provided as much exhilaration for a lot less money. It was thus that coachbuilder Reutter penned a minimal shell based on the convertible 356, with low wrap-around windscreen, reduced frontal area and height, removable sidescreens, a lightweight hood and more basic interior. Selling at a competitive $2,995, and available with a 55/70 bhp 1,488 cc engine, the 100/110 mph Speedster proved popular on the road and track – weighing 150 lb less than a standard 356, it was also quicker, and in 1955 a Speedster won the SCCA’s 1,400 cc class; indeed, actor James Dean raced one. The same year saw the introduction of the 356A with 1,290 cc or 1,582 cc engines, the latter producing 60 bhp/75 bhp.
The example pictured here has spent much of its life in Italy where it resided for many years in the collection of Pietro Brigato, the well-known Ferrari enthusiast. He sold it to the current owner, also a Ferrari collector, in 1991, and the latter has used it frequently during the summer months. Restored to a very high standard and attractively finished in black with beige upholstery and hood, the car looks superb and is ready to be enjoyed.