The first car to carry Ferdinand Porsche's name was the 356. With aluminum fastback coachwork, pressed-steel chassis and the engine behind the rear axle, manufacture began late in 1948 and the 356 made its debut at the 1949 Geneva Show.

Its power came from a 40 bhp, 1086cc engine mated to a four-speed gearbox, with independent torsion bar/trailing-arm suspension and drum brakes all round. Fuel economy due to good aerodynamics and low weight was excellent. In 1951 1290cc and 1488cc engines were introduced. The following year came an all-synchromesh gearbox and one-piece windscreen.

By 1954, however, Porsche sales in the USA were suffering from the onslaught of MG, Austin-Healey and Triumph, whose cars 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 top and more basic interior. Selling at a competitive $2,995 and available with 55 or 70 bhp 1488cc engine, the 100-110 mph Speedster proved popular on road and track. Weighing 150 lb. less than a standard 356, it was also quicker.

The 1957 Speedster pictured here has recently come back to Europe from the United States where it has resided from new, with a well-known Hollywood actor, one of its long-term owners. Finished in white, with a black top and a brown and beige interior, this highly original Speedster has a little less than 80,000 miles indicated on the odometer. The car is fitted with such desirable original items as Rudge knock-off wheels, stone guards over the headlights and a Bendix radio. It is understood that the car has never been subject to extensive restoration work, and as such its original condition can only be described as superb.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1956 Porsche 356 A
Years Produced:1954-1959
Number Produced:4,243
Original List Price:$2,295
SCM Valuation:$40,000-$60,000
Tune Up Cost:$175
Distributor Caps:$12
Chassis Number Location:In front compartment, just aft of tire and in front of fuel tank
Engine Number Location:On rear-most portion of engine block, below generator and above crankshaft pulley
Club Info:356 Registry, 27244 Ryan Rd., Warren, MI 48092
Alternatives:Jaguar XK 120, Alfa Romeo Giulietta Spider, Mercedes-Benz 190 SL roadster, 1958 Corvette roadster

This very original 356A Speedster sold for $66,000 at the Coys of Kensington Auction, 22 November 1999, London, England. This result tells a tale of the value of originality and the rarity and growing demand for Speedsters in Europe.

Not only were Speedsters built especially for the American market, they were a hard sale anywhere else. Who else in the fifties but Americans could afford such expensive toys? And Speedsters, unlike coupe and cabriolet models, were more toys than cars. The top was more sun umbrella than weather protection, the side curtains were hopeless in any kind of rain and the seats beautiful to look at but bereft of padding. Speedsters were great for carefree days in sunny Southern California, but in Europe, owners demanded the sober 356 coupe and cabriolet virtues of comfortable, all weather, sporting transport.

This sale suggests that Europeans may have discovered the Speedster magic, rather than shunning these Spartan toys. Of course, for the most part, today all 356s are sunny day cars (save for those owned by the diminishing group of the truly devoted who drive their 356s in all types of weather). Once you decide to drive only in ideal conditions, what can make a bolder statement than the impossibly low profile of the Speedster? In spite of being made in rather large quantities (4,243 built), this is still the high-dollar body style of the 356 range; an ironic example of form over function.

This particular car was prized both for its unusual options and originality. The Rudge knock-off wheels add about $10,000 and the period flat Nardi steering wheel adds up to $2,000. We’ll overlook the fact that the radio improperly punctures the dash; an under-dash bracket would be both more correct and more sanitary. The celebrity ownership never hurts, though this one is rather vague.

Original cars, well-optioned and with a decent provenance can bring good prices, especially when presented to an appreciative crowd with money in their pockets. This car, bought at a price 10% above the high value given for Speedsters in the SCM Price Guide, despite not being a #1 concours car, reaffirms that when it comes to Speedsters, emotion matters. This car looked right, had the right history, and made a price that doesn’t seem unreasonable at all.-Jim Schrager

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