I passed my driving test for one reason; so I could own a Beetle. It fitted in with the surf culture & style I liked, and it was affordable, unlike the Porsche 356. But trying to explain to people why you like a car is like trying to describe a colour – you can see and feel the emotion, but words just aren't quite enough. But it's always there somewhere in your mind. So as I strolled in the sunshine to V Festival last year, I wasn't expecting to see or be thinking about cars.
The journey takes me 15 minutes of pleasant walking, and halfway there, this classic from an era when automobiles were designed by passion and aesthetics rather than a wind tunnel was just parked up, the dappled sunlight complimenting it's perfect vintage shape.
The 356 was Porsche's first production model, starting way back in 1948, and I guess you could say they got it right first time. Rear engined, rear wheel driven, it set a benchmark that others still strive to reach. While the car is credited to Ferdinand Porsche's son, it is well worth noting that the flowing lines of the car body was designed by Erwin Komenda.
The “squashed Beetle” look was no coincidence, as the vehicle originally shared many a part with the vintage Volkswagen Beetle itself. A slow burner, it's estimated around 76,000 of the vehicles were produced by the end of it's lifetime in 1965.
Surprisingly few changes were made to the car in it's run, and classic car insurance is fairly straightforward too, as very few people seem to have seen a need to modify this near perfect car.
The most notable addition was the production of a soft-top convertible for the American market, the classic 356 Speedster.
The Speedster was sparse, and even had a removable windscreen for those that wanted to race the vehicle. Though anyone that's had a bumble bee fly into their face riding a bike at a leisurely pace will wonder at the 1950's period logic at this point. The Speedster’s place in history though, has been cemented by icons such as Steve McQueen and James Dean owning - and racing in Dean's case - these American cabrio' classics.
Just before it's demise in 1964, the 356 was given disc brakes (front and rear), and a powerful 95hp 4-cylinder engine. This was the engine that was later given to the Porsche 912 (search this blog site for more).
As I stopped to take some pictures of that white, gleaming 356 on my way to V, I remember trying to put into some sort of sense why this vintage motor was my perfect car. Was it the flowing lines which were decades ahead of their time, the unique rear end, with the shining chrome deck lid grille, or the long, flowing bonnet. Of course, words are never enough. What I do remember is that this classic old Porsche, born decades before most of the people walking past, was one of the highlights of that particular V Festival.