So what is a Porsche 356C? It is an old sports car with a sharp-dressing driver and an equally beautiful passenger. A loud engine gives it a raspy voice, a featureless, cold body contrasts warm, homey cloth seats. The engine is small – just 1.6liters with less than 100 horsepower – so in terms of performance the 356 puts its emphasis on its handling, its roadholding, presumably making the driver a more active character in the making of a fast drive.
1965 was the last year they built the 356, the first car to drive into the world’s consciousness with “Porsche” written on the back. As the last of the first Porsches, this 356 is a real cult car, one that sticks tight to the deified brand of teutonic sports cars. They get the bill of being very single-minded in providing exacting direction through an alpine pass. This was the early competition history of the 356, it is its mythos. Within enthusiast circles, the 356 is a titan, unapproachable and vast. They are rare and expensive and pure. The shape of the car helps define its nature. Built using mechanicals based on the low-speed VW Beetle, the 356 had to accomplish a great deal with not a lot of fundamental sportiness. Only able to get so much performance from the small four-cylinder engine, the little Porsche drew itself a low-drag aerodynamic skin and learned to cruise along with much larger engine’d, more powerful cars.
I find myself awestruck by the 356C. I think I have only seen them in the dead of night, orange streetlights glinting off of the flowing, creaseless bodywork. Perhaps this is why they seem so alive to me. Certainly their reputation left an impression on me, and my own idolization of challenging, isolated, engaging drive readily accepted this lightweight model of man/machine interaction. So too did the looks of the car captivate me with a lot of reference to the mysterious aerodynamic experiments of Germany in the 1920s and 1930s.
The two people who drove off in this car were so schick and charmant, it is an automobiliac car, full of nostalgia and style. The cabin welcomed them in from its Fritz Lang exterior and it was an android as the driver revved the engine. Clearly the Porsche roared like an animal, but it had such a mechanical sound and it was so clearly operated by a person’s foot working the gas pedal. I imagine it turned the corner onto Second avenue and merged into an ice-covered mountain pass, where it darted past abominable snowmen, rasping its way high into the clouds and ascending into the heavens, golden wings beating in that boxer-engined thrum. In my dreams it reaches a corner following the side of a mountain, a steep dropoff just a few feet away. The tail of the car breaks traction and the 356 slides, arcing around the long, opening bend that never straightens. The car buzzes in oversteer eternal.
For a description of the Porsche 356 that actually sticks to the facts and makes some sense, go to Ate Up With Motor’s classic article, with my favorite description of driver/car dynamics.
For another perspective on the car, one deeper within the cult of the 356, go to Paul Niedermeyer’s Curbside Classic on an earlier example.
And for a counterpoint to the idolization and obsessive analysis of the Porsche, take a look at Murilee Martin’s old DOTS on a 1973 Chevrolet station wagon and the proposal of the fun-per-dollar index as a means of digesting this Porsche appreciation.