Porsche 356 A 1600 Su­per

Car (South Africa) - - PAST - BY: Wil­helm Lut­je­harms PHO­TOS: Peet Mocke Wil­helm­l_­car­mag Petridish_­mooks

This con­course ex­am­ple of the iconic 356 is the old­est-run­ning match­ingnum­bers Porsche in SA

01 El­e­gant body­work sits atop promis­ing dual ex­haust pipes. 02 Woodrimmed steer­ing wheel is a real plea­sure to op­er­ate. 03 Clas­sic three di­als, later changed to a five-dial lay­out. 04 Tall gear­lever falls com­fort­ably to hand. 05 The en­gine and its bay on this 356 are in pris­tine con­di­tion. 06 Reut­ter plaque be­hind the right front wheel con­firms the coach builder con­structed this 356. 07 The spare wheel is held in place bya leather strap. 08 Three-quar­ter win­dows open by a few cen­time­tres. 09 Porsche Cer­tifi­cate of Au­then­tic­ity and the Type 356 A driver’s man­ual. 10 This plaque proudly shows the 356 took part in the 1963 Baden-baden Rally. 11 Small air in­take next to an in­di­ca­tor.

Given the di­men­sions of a mod­ern 911, it’s easy to for­get just how diminu­tive the Ur-porsche is. Parked in front of me, it looks pos­i­tively dainty, with its nar­row wheels tucked deep in­side the body­work. This model-and-year-cor­rect aqua­ma­rine colour com­ple­ments the car’s sim­ple shape.

Fore of the driver’s door is a plaque stamped “Reut­ter Karosserie NR. 55195”, sig­ni­fy­ing this 356 was built by Reut­ter coach­works. Whereas about 250 000 ve­hi­cles came off Porsche’s pro­duc­tion lines in 2018, in this era only be­tween 14 to 17 cars were be­ing as­sem­bled by Reut­ter each day.

Climb­ing in­side con­firms how com­pact the Porsche 356 is; you in­stinc­tively lower your head when be­hind the wheel and shoul­der room is at a pre­mium, too. How­ever, it’s also invit­ing in a way that only an old sport­scar can be. There’s noth­ing like grip­ping a size­able, thin-rimmed steer­ing wheel and peer­ing through the wind­screen over the cur­va­ceous lines of a bon­net and fend­ers styled in the late-1940s.

This 356 A’s steer­ing wheel is the same Nardi-sourced three-spoke unit used on the 356 Speed­ster and is a clear re­minder of the car’s com­pet­i­tive past, while the man­ual sun­roof (one of the fac­tory op­tions, along with a three-piece lug­gage set) might take up even more of the head­room but ul­ti­mately lends an airy aura to the cabin. The small bucket seats are ba­sic in their shape and pad­ding but com­fort­able and, while the foot ped­als are slightly off­set to the right (in this left-hand-drive car), that’s not much of a bug­bear.

The en­gine turns a few times be­fore fir­ing up to that typ­i­cal flat-four Beetle-es­que sound. With the tall gear­lever moved up into first, fol­lowed by a con­sid­ered amount of throt­tle in­put, we’re off. It takes a cou­ple of gearshifts to ac­quaint your­self with the ac­tion – es­pe­cially find­ing fourth gear – but af­ter a while you learn how to nav­i­gate the trans­mis­sion.

Ini­tially, that fa­mil­iar throb­bing en­gine note re­mains but, as the revs rise, it gets deeper and it be­comes clear this is no nor­mal Volk­swa­gen flat-four. From 2 000 r/min up­wards, the lit­tle 1,6-litre re­ally starts to pull and I leave it in gear all the way to 4 000 r/min be­fore swap­ping cogs. We’re soon up to 120 km/h – it feels like the equiv­a­lent of 180 km/h in a mod­ern car – driv­ing home just how much en­joy­ment these older clas­sic cars can pro­vide at le­gal speeds.

The brakes need fet­tling fol­low­ing a re­cent restora­tion, so I grad­u­ally re­duce speed, while the unas­sisted steer­ing is perfect. It’s ac­cu­rate, and of­fers plenty of feed­back and, given the wheel’s di­am­e­ter, pro­vides enough lever­age to ma­noeu­vre at park­ing speeds.

As you can see, this 356 A is in pris­tine con­di­tion and it’s thanks to the pre­vi­ous own­ers’ ef­forts as well as a year-and-a-half’s restora­tion by Peter Bailey for the cur­rent owner, Djurk Ven­ter. He ac­quired the car in 2014 and, two years later, de­cided to start the restora­tion.

Djurk ex­plains: “The restora­tion process was fairly sim­ple be­cause most Porsche parts are avail­able to­day, al­though they are get­ting scarcer. Some parts came from as far as Aus­tralia. The en­gine and gear­box were in good con­di­tion and didn’t need ex­ten­sive work. The electrics did, though, and the ve­hi­cle was also re­painted.”

Djurk owned a 356 B but sold it in or­der to buy the A. To him, the older model is the pret­tier car and closer to the orig­i­nal 356s Fer­di­nand Porsche de­signed when pro­duc­tion first be­gan in 1948.

There’s an in­ter­est­ing ad­den­dum to this A’s his­tory, too: it has a close con­nec­tion to CAR mag­a­zine. This very car be­longed to ex-ed­i­tor John Bent­ley, who did in-depth re­search when he owned it. It was John who un­earthed its rac­ing pedi­gree men­tioned ear­lier when he dis­cov­ered the car was de­liv­ered to a dealer in Switzer­land called AMAG (in­ci­den­tally, it still im­ports Porsches to Switzer­land) and it took part in Ger­many’s Baden-baden Rally in 1963. Af­ter that, it was im­ported to South Africa in 1965 and one of the fol­low­ing own­ers raced it at the Krugers­dorp Hill­climb, all of which ex­plains the ad­di­tion of the 356 Speed­ster steer­ing wheel that suits its rac­ing CV.

The in­ter­est in – and sub­se­quent prices – of 356s have in­creased tremen­dously over the past decade and, with this mint ex­am­ple, it is ev­i­dent why. The 356 rep­re­sents Fer­di­nand Porsche’s fun­da­men­tal idea of what a sport­scar should be: rear-en­gined; com­pact and light; but also use­able. There is an el­e­gant sim­plic­ity to the de­sign, an ac­com­plish­ment on its own con­sid­er­ing the size of the car. Fol­low­ing our drive, it is lit­tle won­der this car went on to be the con­course win­ner at this year’s Ge­orge Old Car Show.

We’re soon up to 120 km/h – it feels like the equiv­a­lent of 180 km/h in a mod­ern car

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