Pure Joy: 356/2-045

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Between the Porsches, Komenda, and a few others, the ideas and designs were all in place, but securing the necessary materials and components…it was like creating a knife out of sand. Wood body bucks had been formed in the sawmill by master craftsman Frederick Weber, but no aluminum stock was available anywhere in Austria or Germany for hammering out the new body panels. The only apparent solution was to smuggle sheet aluminum stock in from Switzerland, and it was poor-quality aluminum at that. With no alternative, smuggle they did.

Even drivetrains were extremely difficult to arrange. The old KdF works, which existed thanks to Professor Porsche’s design genius, was now cranking out VWs as fast as possible and could afford to sell few drivetrains separately. On the plus side, Ger­many had an abundance of disused military Kübelwagens. In the end, Por­sche KG would use at least four different engines in its aluminum 356s, sourcing them from KdF Beetles, Kübel­wagens, Schwimm­wagens, and industrial applications.

Porsche would buy one here and one there. It pulled the 1100-cc flat fours with various mileages and then modified and recommissioned them with Solex VFJ 26 carburetors furnished without accelerator pumps. The resulting “Por­sche” four’s out- put was elevated from the original, tepid 25 bhp to a rorty 40. It was a slaphappy way of doing business, but just five years after total surrender, it would have to do.

Other fiddley hardware and fixtures proved just as great a headache. These included the designed-in KdF “Traffi­cator” semaphore turn signals, little illuminated arms that popped out either side of the body to indicate a right or left turn, and countless other front and rear light fixtures. These were obtained in dribs and drabs, strictly as they became available from various suppliers.

Supply was intermittent and wholly unpredictable. As a result, among the 52 Gmünd 356s built, a huge variety of furnishings was applied, and in the Gmünd restoration lexicon, the word “correct” is only occasionally correct. The builders at Porsche installed whatever was available. Such pragmatism gives Gmünd Porsches a refreshing, valiant spontaneity vastly different from the lockstep, get-it-right ortho­doxy in most car restoration.

By virtue of being 45th of 52 Gmünd 356/2s (eleven additional Gmünd bodies were built later for competition), our exquisite featured car is, dare we say it, a “late-model” Gmünd. A word of caution: The popular name for these little Porsches can be deceiving. As a member of the last series of street Gmünds built, 045’s assembly took place at the Tatra coachbuilding facility in Vienna. This was nothing un­usual, as more than half of these aluminum cars would be finished outside Gmünd.

This too was born of necessity. Accord­ing to Porsche historian Phil Carney, only three people in Gmünd had the necessary talent to build the aluminum bodies at the time: Master craftsman Fredrick Weber and two assistants, Meister Automaten See­bacher and Max Schlosser. With too many orders to complete in a timely fashion, the third 356 was quickly subcontracted to Beutler in Switzerland to be made into a cabriolet. Por­sche consigned Vienna firms Keibl, Tatra, and Kastenhofer to build aluminum 356s, as well. Porsche Salzburg, the VW distributor for Austria, handled final assembly for many of these subcontracted aluminum cars, installing interiors, transmissions, and engines.

Like 16 other Gmünds, 045 was delivered to Scania Vabis, the Swedish truck division of Saab in Sodertalje, which was a distributor for both VW and Porsche. The date of delivery was July 18, 1950. Its vital statistics were and remain chassis 045, engine 043, and body 035.

The car vanished into the Scandinavian and Northern European commercial stream, rewarding a succession of owners with “pure joy all the time.” It was not to be heard from again for decades.

Thrill of the chase
As calendar pages scroll, the Porsche name evolves from exotic obscurity to mainstream presence as a world championship-winning legend. In the same passage of time, the company’s early history becomes increasingly obscure and arcane. Growing ranks of marque enthusiasts and speculators, particularly in the U.S., see investment-grade treasure in Por­sche’s past and begin to collect the earliest cars.

By 1980, one of the first to fully appreciate the attractions of the Gmünd coupes is Californian Jim Barrington, who assembles a collection of three. Then he develops close ties with a German businessman who has shown himself to be singularly adept at sniffing out Gmünds hidden in haystacks and under toadstools in Austria, Switzerland, and Scandinavia.

Now came word of the existence of 356/2-045, and shortly later, discovered in Norway, 356/2-032. 045 was promising: Its chassis was a little rough, but it had a good, running engine. 032 was fairly clean but had no doors. Both had their original upholstery, which was a major plus. Bar­rington would give each new paint, and try to find new doors for 032. The cars could be reconditioned relatively easily.

Barrington bought both, bringing his collection to five, the most Gmünds anywhere in the world. He was far ahead of other Porsche investors in recognizing the future worth — and sheer clout — of the Gmünd coupes. Their rarity is beyond debate. Estimates suggest that just 23 of the original 52 cars have survived. Of the known cars, eight are in the U.S. while the rest reside in Europe. Chassis 356/2-003 is the oldest cabriolet and 356/2-004 is the oldest coupe in existence. Most have been heavily cannibalized or severely victimized by electrolysis between the steel frame and aluminum body. Many of the 23 known survivors exist only in remnants.

Also from Issue 203

  • 2006 Carrera S vs. 2006 Cayman S
  • 2014 918 Spyder
  • 1976 911 Turbo Carrera
  • 2011 911 GT3R
  • 1967 911S
  • 1982 924 Carrera GTR
  • 1988 911 Club Sport
  • Smart Buy: 1975-76 914 2.0
  • Interview: Al Unser Jr.
  • Interview: Alan Johnson
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