“I couldn’t find the sports car of my dreams, so I built it myself” - Ferry Porsche
In 1948, Ferry Porsche and his father Dr Ferdinand Porsche put together their first 356, so called simply because it was the 356th design project to come off their drawing boards – we’d love to know what projects 355 and 357 were, but it’s probably safe to say that they aren’t as beloved as Porsche’s delightful 2+2, which lived on until 1965 when it was replaced by the flash in the pan that was the 911 (whatever happened to them?).
Throughout the 356 era a total of 76,000 examples were manufactured and approximately half of these are still known to exist. The original 1948 coupe was continually improved by Porsche with each passing year as new innovations in automotive technology were created and “Technical Programme V” – the so-called T5 series of Type 356 models, began to roll off the Zuffenhausen assembly line in late August 1959.
Porsche offered the new cars, designated the 356B series, with three pushrod engine options, the 1600 Normal, with 60 horsepower, the 1600 Super with 75 horsepower, and the Super 90, introduced in the spring of 1960 (or on January 29th depending on who you believe, but maybe Spring came earlier in those days?) with an entirely appropriate and perhaps unsurprising 90 horsepower.
For the T5 body, engineers raised the headlights to improve illumination and also better comply with regulations, especially in the USA where Porsche were doing a roaring trade via New York based dealer and general all round sales-genius Max Hoffman.
Bumpers were also raised, coming up 95mm, whilst the front marker lights grew in size and projected slightly further out from the bodywork. The adjacent horn grilles grew longer and flatter and matching grilles below the bumper masked oval brake air inlets. A new, wider, distinctively shaped chrome handle replaced the original 356A’s down the centre of the bonnet. Engineers also routed the dual exhaust pipes through redesigned vertical over-riders at the rear. Less visible were the fins cast perpendicularly on the brake drum castings to catch more air and improve brake cooling.
A new three-spoke steering wheel and shortened gear lever (by 40mm) were two of the more obvious visual interior changes. Ergonomically the front seats proved significantly more comfortable and more supportive than in the 356A models and the rear seats now split to fold independently. Importantly they were also recessed to offer an additional 60mm of rear legroom – although if you can fit in the back then all we would say is ‘congratulations’ (and also ‘no, we’re not there yet and please stop hitting your sister’). Opening front quarter windows on the coupes enhanced interior air ventilation, thus offering yet more luxury to those spoilt little people ensconced in the back.
The 1600 S-90 (‘Super 90’) enjoyed various refinements to its naturally-aspirated Boxer 4 cylinder engine - a counterweighted crankshaft, sodium-filled valves and twin Solex P40-II carburetors (used for the first time on a non-Carrera) were the main selling points along with a revised 9:1 compression ratio, but there were in fact numerous detail changes internally as well including a unique oil pick-up system which allowed the motor to rev harder (indeed a useful extra 800 RPM was available).
The Super 90’s increased power (available at 5,500rpm) combined with a kerb weight of just 934kgs to create the pinnacle of the Porsche range outside of their ‘Carrera’ exotica. These models were (and remain) the fastest available to us mere mortals – American magazine Sports Car Graphic managed 0-60 in under 10 seconds - although as that’s at least a couple of seconds faster than many of the other timings we can find, perhaps it was downhill. More reliably perhaps, German enthusiast magazine Auto Motor und Sport reached 117mph in a S90 – at 15 mph faster than a standard car it’s abundantly clear why the Super 90 was – and remains – so desirable.
Production numbers are frustratingly vague, but we can say with some authority that a total of 4,414 356 coupes were built in 1960 alongside 528 roadsters, and it seems that of these totals just 132 examples were Super 90s. So, this is a rare model indeed.
This particular car rolled off the production line on 29th July 1960 and was acquired by the present owner in 2012 in fine overall condition from a Mr Phillip Thorpe of Lancashire. Although the car is a European model supplied originaly to a Porsche dealership in Munich, at some point it had made its way across the pond as Mr Thorpe had imported it into the UK from the US some 20 years prior to selling it on. During this time the car largely sat dormant in his storage facility - indeed he let slip to the current owner that he had only used it once during his entire ownership. Since taking over custodianship the current owner has carefully gone through the entire car, attending to whatever needed doing as and when funds allowed to the extent that almost £25,000 has been lavished on this now outstanding example over the last decade or so (all bills are held on file).
Whilst not in concourse condition, that to our minds allows this example to be used without fear of rendering the perfect imperfect and the ability to actually drive and enjoy a car is of course the entire point of ownership (Mr Thorpe may beg to differ!). Indeed the only reason the car is currently coming to market is that regular use is becoming more of a challenge for its increasingly busy current owner.
In our experience red is a colour best avoided on anything other than Alfa Romeos (including Ferraris) but this beautiful and original shade of Ruby Red (code 6002) suits the car perfectly and certainly makes a welcome change from the more commonly seen silver, grey or cream. We couldn’t find one spot, scratch or blemish anywhere during our exhaustive inspection, every panel is straight and true and the shut lines are absolutely perfect – narrow and completely even throughout. To get this right is the hardest part of any body restoration and many cars can never be brought back to this standard once they’ve been apart. A lack of early history means that we can’t say if this example has ever been restored, but we’d doubt it and if it has then it’s been put back together extremely well. Talking of panel shuts we could have spent a happy hour just opening and closing the doors, such is the satisfying ‘thunk’ that they produce – the whole structure just oozes solidity and expensive German engineering.
It’s perhaps worth remembering that these cars were high end machines when new, their £3,000 list price dwarfing the E-Type’s £2,196 in 1961 - while a new Mini would have set you back a princely £470 five years later - and it’s not hard to see why when you encounter build quality of this level.
Continuing the external inspection, all the glassware is correct and free of cracks, scratches, chips and clouding and all the rubber seals, catches and badging are in fine fettle. An easy win for the new owner, should they feel so inclined would be to attend to the chrome work on one of the hubcaps and the front over riders (as ever, we have tried to show every blemish in the gallery) but really there’s no immediate need and as something for the ‘to do’ list this couldn’t be an easier or more satisfying ‘fix’.
The original chromed wheels (offered as an extra back in 1960 and still with the car) are in lovely condition and are shod with appropriate Continental 165/80 tyres with plenty of tread left in them. The current owner has taken the wise decision to upgrade the drum brakes (never the 356’s strong suit, even with those extra cooling fins) to period correct discs all round – an important and not inexpensive nod towards safe everyday use on today’s roads.
Underneath the good news continues as the floor pans are completely dent and rust free, again the impression here is one of total solidity and there is plenty of underseal protection in evidence to give the owner the confidence to drive the car all year round if desired.
Opening the bonnet reveals the spare wheel, correct rubber mat and fuel tank, a fresh battery (replaced just a few weeks ago) and, well not a lot of room for the shopping frankly (thank goodness for those fold flat rear seats once you’ve got rid of those pesky kids). The clearly original fuel tank is now perhaps starting to show its age cosmetically but again, everything here is completely solid and as it should be structurally.
Moving to the rear of the car the story is rather different as the engine bay and all the mechanicals within it are in perfect condition, having clearly had a lot of time, love and money lavished on them in recent years, there’s plenty to feast your eyes on here and absolutely nothing to attend to.
The interior of this example is really the highlight of the car for us. As the Porsche Certificate of Authenticity that comes with the car shows, it was delivered new to a Porsche dealer in Munich featuring a rare ‘Leatherette and Cord’ trim, a delightful combination that the car thankfully continues to rejoice in to this day. The feeling here is very much ‘lived in’ and yet nothing is worn, torn or in any way tatty. You cannot manufacture patina like this - but for some lucky bidder, in this instance you could buy it – and in our view to touch any of the trim on this example would not only be entirely unnecessary, it would be a crying shame. We’ve not seen this finish on a 356 before and the whole effect when sitting inside is like that of being in a time capsule - it really is a very special place to be.
Turning to the mechanics, the car starts on the first turn of the key and settles into that distinctive Porsche flat four beat. All the instrumentation works perfectly and (as you might expect from German engineering) all electrical systems, wipers, lights and so on function correctly.
On the road the 90 bhp available (no less than 50% up on a standard 356, remember!) is easily put to good use, pushing this lightweight sportscar forward with impressive vigour, whilst those disc brakes bring everything back to a halt again with reassuring ease. The clutch feels smooth and as light as you’d expect, the gears all engage with no nasty graunches or whining from the ‘box and the now legendary Porsche feedback through the steering wheel is all present and correct.
The twin Solex carbs were completely re-built a couple of months ago so throttle pick up is crisp and immediate whilst the idle speed is as you would expect, smooth and even.
It’s fair to say that no 356 (bar a Carrera) is ever going to provide a breathtakingly fast ride by today’s standards but the Super 90 is certainly no slouch either and overall this gorgeous example is simply a delight to drive, really coming into its own between 3,000 and 4,000 revs whereupon everything starts to lighten up and the whole car becomes more nimble. The brisk acceleration is enough to put a smile on even Mr Grumpy's face, and the handling as you hustle the little Porsche through the twisty-turny B roads that are its bread and butter is fantastic. Everything feels and sounds just right and the overall impression is of a car that you could jump into and take on a long adventure with absolute certainty that it would get you there safe, sound, relaxed - and possibly 10% cooler than you were when you set off.
This matching numbers example has just sailed through an MOT test with no advisories, and at the time of writing we are struggling to think of a more exciting, charming and desirable classic car for upcoming summer use.