The older a car, the less often you see it on the road. No surprises here. After all, classic cars are rarely used as a means of transportation. Their significance in a historical context is too great, their financial and often idealistic value too high. Cars like the Porsche 356 are therefore often regarded as works of art on wheels. After all, the design language of this models is irretrievable due to legal constraints alone. With a slight time lag to the Porsche 911, it has become one of the most attractive classics on the market in the last decade. And even overtook its faster successors in the process…
The silhouette of a Porsche 356 is more than just a shape. It is a timeless statement of elegance. Even more than 75 years since its introduction in 1948, the 356 still attracts attention. It took the hearts of automobile enthusiasts around the world by storm. Its smooth curves, clean lines and perfect balance between style and performance make the 356 an aesthetic masterpiece. Add to that the beautiful dashboard painted in body color – a sight to behold!
With its compact dimensions, the Porsche 356 saw itself as a counter-design to ever larger vehicles, especially those from North America. It shone with light-footedness and agile handling instead of relying on sheer power. Despite its modest engine output, the Porsche 356’s low weight meant that it could punch way above its weight, competeing with bigger V8- or even V12-engined sports cars.
Despite its modest engine output, the Porsche 356’s low weight meant that it could punch way above its weight, competeing with bigger V8- or even V12-engined sports cars.
At Zuffenhausen, they were happy in this role of underdog, or even “giant killer”. After all, the reliable, small and lightweight sports cars had little to lose, as they were always entered in lower racing classes. Successes against established brands such as Maserati, Alfa Romeo, Mercedes and Ferrari tasted all the sweeter the more nominally superior they were in comparison. As a result, Porsche’s first model directly laid the foundations for the reputation of the – typically Swabian – reliable and unobtrusive sports cars.
The Porsche 356 played this underdog role not only on the roads and racetracks of the world, but also within the brand itself. Most interest in the Zuffenhausen sports car was and still is directed at the Porsche 911, although the 356 was Porsche’s very first car and therefore of at least equal historical significance. Last but not least, with 76,302 vehicles built, it formed the economic foundation of the brand.
However, 911 fans were not always fans of the Porsche 356. For some, it was technically too ordinary due to its initially close relationship to the Volkswagen Beetle. After all, Porsche used the same rear-engined layout and some VW components in the first models. But to reduce it to that has always done the 356 an injustice. The driving experience and sheer elegance of the design had very little in common with the Beetle.
The beautiful Porsche 356 pre-A Speedster embodies the elegance and simplicity of the first production Porsche like no other model. ©Traditional Motors Company
There have often been reports of remarkable price increases for air-cooled Porsche 911s, i.e. the F-Model, G-Model, 964 and 993. For a long time, however, these developments overshadowed the remarkable progress of the Porsche 356 in the public perception, as it became a coveted asset in the slipstream of its successor. It is now even more expensive on average than many air-cooled 911 models.
Yes, there are still a few Porsche 356s available for five-figure sums. In the vast majority of cases, however, these vehicles need work – sometimes more, sometimes less. Really good cars for under 100,000 euros are no longer the rule. Admittedly, the comparison is not 100 percent fair, but the selection of decent 911 G-Models and even 993 or F-Model 911s for less than 100,000 euros is significantly larger than for the 356.
This shows vividly which place the 356 has taken in 2024. Even the more affordable Typ 356 C and SC models’ average asking prices have been north of 115,000 euros in 2023. Compared to the particularly high-priced early Porsche 356 A or even pre-A models that’s still almost affordable. Those have average asking prices two or even three times that.
Early Porsche 356 models – such as this 356 A – fetch two to three times the prices of the later 356 C. © Lammertink
Generally, the rule of thumb for 356 prices is: the older, the more expensive. The collector’s value of the old vehicles clearly outweighs the driving qualities of the younger models. Yet the last Porsche 356 Cs in particular are not only beguilingly beautiful, but also a real stunner to drive. For US comedian and Porsche collector Jerry Seinfeld, it is even one of the cars that you should definitely have driven in order to understand the myth of the Porsche brand.
Few cars from the 20th century are as strongly associated with a certain lifestyle as the Porsche 356. It’s a bit like the Mercedes SL of the 1960s, known as the Pagoda. Many people associate the 356’s open-top models with the Californian sun and the associated lifestyle of the US West Coast.
Films such as Top Gun, in which Kelly McGillis drives a Porsche 356 Speedster as lecturer Charlie Blackwood, leave images that are hard to get out of your head. They create moments of longing that we want to emulate. Driving along the Pacific Coast Highway in a Porsche 356 Speedster sounds like the stuff dreams are made of.
Last but not least, a lively modification and outlaw scene has developed around the 356 in the USA. Wild conversions with auxiliary headlights, lots of patina, perforated sheet metal or racing-inspired – anything goes. If you give fiddle a bit with the four-cylinder boxer engine and its exhaust, you get a soundtrack that fits perfectly with its raspy character.
While supposed icons of days gone by are now only niche topics, Porsche’s first model has proudly endured the decades. Zuffenhausen’s useable and economical sports car continues to impress more than 75 years after its conception. Its history is not just that of any old car, but an ode to the passion for design, the highest art of engineering and the guiding principles of the Porsche brand that still prevail today.
The Porsche 356 is more than just a car. Many see it as something of a declaration of love to the past. Its aesthetics and historical significance have made it a timeless classic. Even a self-confessed anti-car fan can see nothing wrong with its friendly, soft lines. On the contrary, even they see the Porsche 356 as a beautiful old car.
Ages like a fine wine – the Porsche 356. © Porsche AG
Like most Porsche designs, it therefore ages gracefully. It does not have too many lines, it is not overdrawn. That is why it is timelessly elegant and becomes ever more beautiful and tasteful over the years. Just like a fine wine. That’s why we shouldn’t talk too much about comparisons with other models, but appreciate it for what it is in its own right: Porsche’s first production car, an absolute design icon, still a thoroughly likeable classic.
© title image: Porsche AG