Displaced from their homes in Stuttgart because of the World War II, Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche and a handful of his faithful employees started developing number 356 in their workshops in the hamlet of Gmünd in Kärnten, Austria. Initial design drawings were completed in 1947 and by 1949 the Porsche name graced automobiles for the first time. The 356 was based on the Volkswagen Type 1, designed by his father, also named Ferdinand, and, like his immortal “Beetle,” employed a platform-type chassis with a rear-mounted air-cooled engine and all-independent torsion bar suspension.
Production commenced with a small grouping of aluminum-bodied cars built at Gmünd, eventually replaced by steel-bodied volume examples once Porsche returned to Stuttgart. These early cars are renowned for their slim “body bumpers” and divided “split-window” windshields.
This Pre-A “Split-Window” Coupe, chassis number 10543, is among the earliest split-windows still in existence, being the 13th of the original 749 “Model 51” Reutter coupes produced. Constructed 30 April 1951 and delivered new through Bischoff & Hammel of Hanover, Germany, the car was built just a year after the first German 356s emerged from the Reutter coachbuilding works in Stuttgart. A copy of the original factory Kardex confirms the car was finished much as it is presented today in “Adriablau” blue over “Grau Cord” gray cloth upholstery.
In the early 1990s, the car was found languishing in Tallahassee, Florida among the wrecks of many
other 356s. Collector Myron Vernis would rescue the entire group specifically to acquire this car. Interviewed for a feature story on this car in the 2020 edition of Panorama, the Porsche Club of America’s magazine, Vernis described the car upon its rescue as, “surprisingly solid with the original engine case and body bumpers present, as well as bits and pieces of the original upholstery.”
Vernis would gather parts for an intended restoration before selling the car to enthusiast Mike Tuck in California. Tuck owned several split-window coupes and in the late 1990s would sell the car to fellow enthusiast Peter Zwinakis, who set about acquiring parts in earnest, namely several ultra-rare, new-old-stock interior and exterior trim pieces. In 2006, Zwinakis chose to sell chassis 10543 to Dr. Mac Jones who then commissioned brothers Neil and Lee Schlabaugh of Wellman, Iowa to begin what would become an eight-year, no-expense-spared restoration.
The Schlabaughs traveled extensively, examining original split-window coupes to ensure a correct restoration. Everything from carpet placement to electrical wire layout was studied. Even an original body panel from another Adriablau 1951 coupe was sourced from 356 Pre-A guru Dr. Brett Johnson for an exact paint match. Jones was also able to source a rare, period-correct Loewe radio which, rather than numerical stations, displays the capitals of Europe around its dial. Early 356 expert the late Jim Barrington was then commissioned to build a correct engine using the car’s original number 10108 crank case.
On 4 June 2015 the car was delivered to Jones in the immaculate condition it is presented here. Unfortunately, lifestyle changes would force Jones to sell his prize to the consignor, a fellow early Porsche aficionado, shortly after taking delivery. Following its acquisition, the consignor debuted chassis 10543 at the 2017 Porsche 356 Registry’s East Coast Holiday in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where it won best in show out of 150 other 356s.
The car was also shown at the 2018 Porsche Parade at Lake of the Ozarks where it scored 299 out of 300 points to win the prestigious Gmünd Award, also earning second in class and the overall people’s choice award out of over 250 other entrants. Since its debut, the consignor has driven the car regularly.
Serious marque collectors consider the early 356s a requisite acquisition as they are the purest representation of Ferdinand Porsche’s original design. Painstakingly restored to exacting original standards, this exceptionally early, multiple award-winning 1951 Pre-A “Split-Window” Reutter Coupe presents an opportunity not to be missed.