The Private Life of 356-001

The very first Porsche’s remarkable history

May 11, 2015
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Though planned in principle in mid-1947—chief Porsche designer Karl Rabe was working on a one-fifth-scale drawing at Gmünd, Austria on July 24—the mid-engined Type 356 roadster was only progressed as and when the necessary skills were available. In July and November of that year, meetings took place with the British occupation officials in Klagenfurt who would have to bless Porsche’s creation of an automobile, lest it be a new secret weapon. Inspection of the 356’s completed tubular space frame took place on January 18, 1948.

After the frame was ready, final assembly proceeded quickly. On the 5th of February the bare chassis was ready for the road. Naturally Ferry Porsche, one of the most experienced evaluators of automobiles in Europe, was first to try it out. On several of his outings with the bodyless car Ferry was accompanied by Robert Eberan von Eberhorst, then still a consultant on the Cisitalia Grand Prix project. At first silent, shaking his head, Eberan then said, admiringly, “That’s really something. And all that from Volkswagen parts!”

Next an aluminum body was needed. Erwin Komenda drew it, thereby establishing the basic look of the 356 coupes and cabriolets to come. Star craftsman Friedrich Weber hammered out the body. Though Ferry Porsche later wrote that Weber needed “a bit over two months to build that first body—not exactly a record time for a skilled artisan,” the actual timing indicates that he built it in a day or two more than three weeks.

Soon after the roadster’s completion, on the 28th of April, Ferry invited his father to join him for a run south toward Spittal, Austria, during which the 356 suffered a frame breakage. After repairs, works manager Otto Husslein took it for a shakedown run on May 1st. That he had something to learn about sports car driving was shown by the dents in its tail that had to be repaired after his return.

On the 13th of May the roadster was undercoated in yellow, weighed and turned over to Ferry for further evaluation. A week later, Ferdinand Porsche and chauffeur Josef Goldinger commandeered the car for an afternoon drive.

Finish-coated in silver-grey, the 356 was presented to the authorities in Spittal, Austria on June 8th for road registration. They recorded Porsche as the producer and the model as “Sport 356/1.” The serial number was 356-001 and the engine number was 356-2-034969. A picture appended to the application is the only known image of the roadster with its crude canvas top erect. Individual type approval was granted on June 15 with the awarding of registration number K 45 286.

Now branded as a “Porsche,” no longer thought of as a possible sports Volkswagen as it had been when the project began, the 356 roadster was driven to Switzerland late in June so it could be tested by journalists who were on hand for the Swiss Grand Prix on July 4th. Then it was driven back to Austria, where it was demonstrated before an appreciative crowd on July 11, 1948 at Innsbruck between races of the Rund um den Hofgarten meeting. Accompanying it was a 1939 Volkswagen Berlin-Rome coupe.

Also from Issue 229

  • First drive of the Cayman GT4
  • A 356 Speedster that scored honors at Parade
  • Market Update: 996 & 997
  • The radical, factory-built 935 Street
  • Autocross legend Dwight Mitchell
  • The design and development story of the 986
  • Porsche’s first overall win at Le Mans
  • A look at how Porsche’s hybrids work
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