Porsche 356 Speedster
Porsche 356 Speedster was one of the most successful editions of the renowned Porsche 356 Series.
Max Hoffman, a US based automobile importer is credited with the idea for the 356 Speedster. He suggested creating an inexpensive model of the 356 which could work for regular use as well as racing. In response to this, Porsche took one of their existing models, the 356 Cabriolet, and scaled down its luxury features to make a 356 model suited for the American market at the time. The 356 Cabriolet, based on which the 356 Speedster was developed, was part of a rich history in itself - the legacy of the Porsche 356. And to understand the popularity of the 356 Speedster, it is necessary to know a little about the Porsche 356.
The original Porsche 356 was the car responsible for the success of Porsche as a car manufacturer. It was designed by Ferdinand ‘Ferry’ Porsche, the son of Porsche founder Ferdinand Porsche Sr. During a difficult time in the company's history, the model 356 careened the Porsche brand towards total domination of the automotive industry.
In 1945, the Porsche production unit had moved to Gmund in Austria due to World War II. In the face of the company’s uncertainty and while working out of a remote corner of Austria, Ferry came up with the idea to build a lightweight sports car.
Ferry’s design for the 356 made use of Volkswagen Beetle components, with a higher HP and a redesigned chassis and body. As the company was involved in Volkswagen production at the time, these parts were easy to come by. The 356 design kept the air cooled, four cylinder engine of the Volkswagen Beetle while modifying its size to 1131cc. Meanwhile, a monocoque aluminium body kept the design for the two-seater car sleek. This resulted in a significantly lighter car with increased power, which was revolutionary for its time.
Designed with the help of automobile designer Erwin Komenda of Porsche and Volkswagen, the car came together in 1948. At this point, the car entered and won a race in Innsbruck, Austria. The victory gave momentum to Porsche, as 356 was the first car to be produced under the brand’s own name.
From then on, the Porsche team developed multiple models of the 356, each remarkable for its features. However, Porsche's success was still limited to the European subcontinent. The 356 Speedster changed all that in 1954. Understanding the demand for a cheaper sports car, Porsche created the 356 Speedster with a steel body, stripped down interiors, a steeply raked windscreen and a lightweight top. The design also featured bumpers separated from the body, along with a bumper guard, which were marked changes from the other 356 models. As the model came with no luxuries, it cost less than $3000, making it an instant hit in the American market.
The 356 Speedster produced in 1954 was a 1500 cc model with bucket seats and a folding top. Following the popularity of the car, Porsche released the 356A Speedster in 1956 with a 1600 cc engine and modern tire technology. The 356A was available in cabriolet, coupe and speedster models to choose from. Porsche also released a 356A Carrera Speedster during this time, with a dual-cam engine aimed at better performance and power. Porsche continued with the production of the 356 Speedster variants, until the end of its production in 1958. The 356 was succeeded by Porsche 911, and the 356 Speedster got its modern counterpart with the launch of the 911 Speedster in 1989.