Porsche 356 Pre-A Speedster 1600 1955
Chassis no. 80990
Engine no. 60070
•Rare and desirable
•One of the very rare Pre-A series with a 1,600cc engine from new
•Recent complete engine overhaul
•Eligible for the Mille Miglia, Zoute Grand Prix, etc
Although conceived as a no-frills, cut-price, entry-level model for the United States market, the iconic Speedster is today one of the most highly valued and sought after of Porsches.
Ferdinand Porsche had established his automotive design consultancy in the early 1930s but his name would not appear on a car until 1949. When it did, it graced one of the all-time great sports cars: the Porsche 356.
Having commenced manufacture with a short run of aluminium-bodied cars built at Gmünd, Porsche began volume production of the steel-bodied 356 coupe at its old base in Stuttgart. The work of Ferry Porsche, the 356 was based on the Volkswagen designed by his father. Like the immortal 'Beetle', the 356 employed a platform-type chassis with rear-mounted air-cooled engine and torsion bar all-independent suspension. In 1951 a works car finished first in the 1,100cc class at the Le Mans 24-Hour Race, thus beginning the marque's long and illustrious association with La Sarthe.
Constant development saw the 356's engine enlarged first to 1.3 and then to 1.5 litres; the original split windscreen replaced by a one-piece; and a Porsche synchromesh gearbox adopted. A cabriolet followed hot on the heels of the original 356 coupé, and then in 1952 a trial batch of 15 America Roadsters was constructed at the behest of US importer Max Hoffman, who had persuaded Porsche of the potential for a 'cut-price' entry-level model. The Roadsters' successful reception in the USA led to the introduction of the Speedster model in 1954. The Speedster's inspiration is also credited to John Von Neumann, Porsche's West Coast distributor, who had chopped down a Gmünd-built coupé in the late 1940s to create a lightweight competition car. Explaining such a car's appeal Neumann once said: 'Guys want to go, on a Saturday night in June, down Sunset Boulevard with their elbow over the door and the girls can see them in the car.' Plus ça change...
Instantly recognisable by virtue of its low, wraparound - as opposed to V-shaped - windscreen, smaller and entirely retractable hood, lower door waistline, horizontal trim strip at the level of the door handles, and twin bucket seats - all of which served to emphasise its sporting image - the Speedster was, in effect, an 'economy' model intended to compete with the cheaper British sports cars. The Speedster was powered initially by the 1.5-litre version of Porsche's horizontally opposed four, gaining the new 1.6-litre, 60bhp engine with the introduction of the improved 356A in 1955. Priced at $2,995, the Speedster was the lightest of the 356s, enjoying a commensurate performance boost that meant over 100mph was possible. Allied to its already renowned handling characteristics, this meant that the Speedster was an instant success in the burgeoning American sports car racing scene.
Testing the Speedster alongside its Coupé sibling in 1956, Road & Track magazine declared, 'A more comfortable sports car for long, high-speed journeys would be very hard to find and certainly no other car achieves the combination of comfort, performance and fuel economy of the Porsche Continental Speedster or Coupé.' Its combination of style, performance and value for money made the Speedster deservedly popular - 4,822 examples being constructed between 1954 and '58 - and today this most handsome of the 356 variants enjoys iconic status.
The example offered here was delivered new via Porsche importer Max Hoffman in New York for the United States market. It is a very rare late Pre-A model, delivered new with the 1,600cc engine that would be standardised on the 356A. It was delivered in October 1955, just before the introduction of the 356A, and was fitted with engine number '60070', indeed the 70th 1,600cc Porsche engine built. The Speedster was delivered new in red (it still is) with black leatherette interior – a classic choice for US customers. Unfortunately, the car's early history is unknown. Subsequently the Speedster moved to Italy where it has been for many years. It underwent a complete restoration a while ago, and it is believed that it was at that time that the interior was re-trimmed in beige. The engine and mechanicals were overhauled that time. Thus this Speedster still retains its original matching-numbers engine. Recently the Porsche moved to Belgium where the engine was completely overhauled again only a few months ago to make sure the car is in excellent mechanical condition, a new clutch and flywheel being installed at the same time as well as a new soft-top (beige).
Accompanying paperwork consists of a copy of the original factory specification sheet; an ASI document; photographs of the engine rebuild; and Italian registration papers. Also included is the toolkit. This historically important late Pre-A Speedster 1600 is ready for its next adventure on one of the numerous events it is eligible for, including, of course, the Zoute Grand Prix and the incomparable Mille Miglia. An opportunity not to be missed.
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