The car pictured here is known as “No. 1”, and it was a hand-built prototype of the first production 356 sports car, developed using modified Volkswagen components and featuring a lightweight, hand-beaten aluminum body over a tubular steel chassis.
Its initial design was deemed unfit for series production, meriting a more robust yet complex unibody redesign undertaken in 1948. Against all odds however, the fledgling automaker crafted 52 of these rarified sports cars over the course of a year in a small garage in Gmund, Austria, before relocating to Stuttgart, Germany. By 1958, Porsche had built 10,000 of them.
So why was the Porsche 356 born? At the time, Ferry Porsche was unable to find the car of his dreams, and after successfully keeping his father’s design company afloat following World War II, he and the elder Porsche decided it was time to create one such car.
Interestingly enough, while the production 356 sports cars featured a rear-engine design, this prototype is actually mid-engine, mounting its small Volkswagen 1.3-liter four-cylinder ahead of its transaxle. The 25 horsepower air-cooled engine needed some massaging to grant sports car performance, and Porsche happily obliged, increasing its cylinder bore, raising its compression, and adding twin carburetors to generate an impressive 40 horsepower.
With a weight of just 1,290 pounds, contemporary accounts suggest the prototype’s top speed lay somewhere between 84 and 87 mph.
All told, Porsche would go on to build over 77,000 356 cars before transitioning to the iconic 911 sports car in 1964. It goes without saying, today the Porsche marque has become one of the most prestigious car brands the world over…and it all started with this car.