OLDEST IN SA 1955
Porsche 356 A 1600 Super
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