From the Porsche 356 came not only the hallowed 911 but also the mind-set and benchmarks for the company as a hole. Our man ponders Genesis with the help of this JPS Motorsport-built, pristine replica
You think this is a piece of machinery that takes you from A to B. A collection of noisy nuts and bolts that drinks gasoline, expels gases, and that if you dare touch inside, your hands get muddy with greasy black soot. You are wrong.
With this piece of machinery, we are talking about Porsche as a last name, and the number 356 as a surname. And this is not a car. This is a piece of history. A museum item offered to the altars of cinematic excellence.
Admittedly, this is not one of them. A pristine example mind, but a replica tribute nonetheless, produced by JPS Motorsport in 2013, and an example of perfectly modernising a cult classic. The (highly polished) Nardi wooden steering wheel for instance remains intact, as does the Cork Full Leather Interior, the perforated Leather Speedster Style front seats – and the ‘Wide 5’ chrome hub caps. But take a peak beneath and you’ll find the flat-four engine has been completely overhauled for improved performance with a 2332 big bore 140HP air cooled flat four with dual Weber carbs , there’s new IRS suspension for better road holding with 4 wheel disc brakes, a new stereo and air conditioning. But still, the heritage and pageantry remains.
The predecessor to the 911 was on the market for 17 years, and by the time Porsche stopped it, in 1965, only around 76,000 had been made. And yes, plenty of John’s bought one, and lots of Daniel’s got another. But one James and one Steve deemed it worthy, namely James Dean and Steve McQueen. Highlander’s Conner McCloud had one, as did the cool chick in Point Break. Dylan drove one in 90210, but nobody’s history is unblemished.
Basically what I’m trying to say here is that the 356 Coupe made Porsche what it is today, and remains a true testament to Porsche’s strategy of removing bits and increasing the price that every model with the hallowed ‘RS’ badge has used ever since. Its ‘buggy’ eyes remain a fixture in today’s 911, even when the Volkswagen Beetle – a direct descendant, let’s not forget – has ditched them. It’s a similar case with the rear slope and chassis-hanging engine: no halo Porsche would look quite the same without it.
Given that the 911 remains a benchmark of true driver’s sports car, the 356 Coupe is Genesis. Engines range from 1.1-litre to 2.0-litre flat-fours to keep the centre of gravity low, and for 1957 – essentially where the air-cooled flat-four in this JPS Motorsport-built replica hails from – 138bhp sent to the rear wheels via a four-speed manual gearbox was pretty impressive. Electrohydraulic steering? Yeah, right. Muscles, three pedals, and an engine you could fix yourself, all while an unvarnished soundtrack from the exhaust pipes keeps you company.
Every car on the market is technologically improved, but that is completely pointless. The 356 is not about getting home from work. It’s about the weight of heritage with every turn of the wheel. It’s about style. It’s about pride and it’s about honour. Come to think of it, you don’t go to the gym because you enjoy paying money to suffer under heavy equipment. You do it because of how powerful and achieved you feel when you leave, and because how good you look after a while.
As the first model, the 356 set the high standards that would follow for decades afterwards, and earned its status today as a cult classic. Lucky you are if you see one, for there are very few still alive, and those who own them keep them under feathered kilts.
- Technical specifications available on page 2