DRIV­ING THE ONE

THE MOST REVO­LU­TION­ARY PORSCHE WAS THE FIRST, THE IM­MOR­TAL 356 NO. 1 ROADSTER. WE DRIVE THIS AU­TO­MO­TIVE MILE­STONE

Motor (Australia) - - CONTENTS -

Be­hind the wheel of the most im­por­tant Porsche of all – the first

PORSCHE’S START IN the sports car in­dus­try was very mod­est com­pared to the world fa­mous man­u­fac­turer it would be­come. En­gi­neer Fer­di­nand ‘Ferry' Porsche – son of Volk­swa­gen and Porsche founder, Fer­di­nand Sr – al­ready had an idea for a sports car us­ing Volk­swa­gen parts be­fore World War II, and de­vel­oped the Type 64 model for a prom­i­nent new race from Berlin to Rome. The Type 64 had many de­tails from Volk­swa­gen's Bee­tle, but also fea­tures that would end up on the first Porsche, the 356 No. 1 Roadster, and early pro­duc­tion 356 mod­els. The race was to take place in 1939, with the first 603km on newly built au­to­bahns, but it was can­celled at the out­break of war. Ferry's Type 64 was not for­got­ten and at the end of the 1940s, Porsche re­ally got go­ing.

“There is still real Bee­tle tech­nol­ogy in this Gmünd (the Aus­trian town where Porsches were first built) car”, ex­plained Klaus Bishop, the for­mer head of his­tor­i­cal archives and for­mer su­per­vi­sor of the his­toric ve­hi­cle col­lec­tion at Porsche, when we had the priv­i­lege of driv­ing Porsche No. 1.

How­ever, this very first Porsche has a lot in com­mon with its suc­ces­sor, the Porsche 356/2 Gmünd Coupe and Cabri­o­let. It is one of the first mid-en­gined road cars be­cause its four­cylin­der boxer en­gine sits in front of the rear axle. Un­like the Volk­swa­gen, though, it does not have a cen­tral tubu­lar chas­sis. Its light­weight alu­minium body is bolted to a tubu­lar frame, which in turn ac­com­mo­dates the driv­e­train and the sus­pen­sion orig­i­nat­ing from the Volk­swa­gen.

Ferry Porsche, chief de­signer Karl Rabe and Er­win Komenda, head of the body de­part­ment, ac­knowl­edged that the power of the VW-sourced en­gine was very mod­est so the chas­sis had to be as light as pos­si­ble and the car weighs just 585kg. Its 26kW, 1131cc four was only slightly mod­i­fied from Volk­swa­gen's de­sign and, com­pared to mod­ern Porsches, the small roadster's per­for­mance is eas­ily man­age­able.

It ac­cel­er­ates more gen­tly than quickly, tak­ing 23 sec­onds to hit 100km/h, and has a top speed of 135km/h – 140km/h with the ton­neau cov­er­ing the pas­sen­ger seat. That per­for­mance was praise­wor­thy in 1948 and the first Porsche was a lot faster than an 18kW Volk­swa­gen.

Al­though the steer­ing, front sus­pen­sion and brakes also came from the Bee­tle, Ferry Porsche was con­vinced of the suc­cess of his con­cept af­ter test drives on the Katschberg Pass. He signed off his first sports car on June 8, 1948, and on June 15 it was reg­is­tered with the num­ber plate K45286. A few weeks later, on July 11, Ferry's cousin, Her­bert Kaes, drove the sports car to a class vic­tory at the city race in Inns­bruck, Aus­tria.

In­ter­est in the roadster rose sharply af­ter this high-pro­file rac­ing suc­cess and Porsche sports car pro­duc­tion was as­sured. The orig­i­nal 356 Roadster was soon sold for 7500 Swiss Francs by car dealer Rup­precht von Senger. How­ever, Porsche reac­quired the No. 1 in 1953 and it has re­mained in the fac­tory's his­toric col­lec­tion ever since.

FERRY PORSCHE AL­READY HAD AN IDEA FOR A SPORTS CAR US­ING VOLK­SWA­GEN PARTS BE­FORE WORLD WAR II

OP­PO­SITE Now price­less, the very first Porsche was sold for 7500 Swiss Francs soon af­ter it was built. Re­al­is­ing its sig­nif­i­cance, Porsche reac­quired it in 1953

ABOVE With only 26kW from its 1131cc four, sav­ing weight on the chas­sis was para­mount for per­for­mance, and there are few crea­ture com­forts in the cabin

BE­LOW The late Ferry Porsche, son of Fer­di­nand, is seen be­hind the wheel of his cre­ation, 356 “No. 1”, in this archival shot. Ferry died in 1998

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