Despite looking outwardly similar to the preceding models, Porsche thoroughly updated their 356 line in 1956 and called their new model the 356A. At the core, this included a larger 1600 cc engine, but also a curved-glass windshield and a thoroughly revised suspension. At the 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show in September of 1955, Porsche released the 356A/1600 to the world with cabriolet, coupe and speedster bodies from Reutter. These were updated to better suit the improved gasoline and tire technologies of the period.
With the 356A came a larger 1582 cc engine that had higher compression to take advantage of the available higher octane fuels. A Type 616/2 Super engine was offered as an option with raised power. Extensive testing by the experimental department known as Versuchsabteilung resulted in numerous suspension and drive line mounting changes before the final 356A specification was decided. They softened the springs by removing leaves from the torsion cars and fitted stiffer dampers. This was done to take advantage of a more modern tire technology which allowed for a smaller-diameter 15-inch tire and a wider tread with reduced air pressures.
From the outside, the 356A kept to the Porsche mantra of stepwise evolution. The new model was outwardly identical to the previous version except for the wider tires, a small rub-strip below the doors, a fully-curved front window and enamel paint replacing lacquer previously used.
Inside, Porsche fitted an all-new, flat-face dashboard that was sculpted around the new curved windshield. It included a padded-top, locking glovebox and a provision for a modern radio. Other interior appointments included a headlight flasher, automatic interior lighting, self-cancelling signal switches and, most importantly, a lower floor. Popular options were a steering-wheel lock and a clock.
At the 1957 Frankfurt Motor Show Porsche released the T2 body style with exhaust routing through the rear bumper over-riders. More importantly, the T2 cars stopped using the roller-bearing crankshafts and the Hirth crankshaft in the Super models. Other changes included changing the carburation from Solex to Zenith 32 NDIX. By 1959 the 356A was replaced outright by the 356B.
Porsche 356A/1600 Coupe (1956 – 1959)
The Porsche 356 A Coupe appeared in late 1955 and continued to be the most popular body style of the 356 A line-up. Almost 6,000 T1 Coupes were produced, practically doubling the amount of 356 A Cabriolet and Speedsters offered during the same time span. After the T2 changes were made to the 356 A, about 7,200 Coupe cars were produced, a difference close to 3,000 more than Cabriolet, Speedster, and Convertible D’s combined. In 1959, the 356 A Coupe was replaced by the Porsche 356 B T5 Coupe.
Porsche 356A/1600 Cabriolet (1956 – 1959)
The Porsche 356 A Cabriolet body style continued as the main Convertible variant of the 356 A in late 1955. Rarer than the Speedster for the T1 cars (1,000 cars produced vs. 2,400 Speedsters), the Cabriolet had some features that made it more a convertible tourer than a low-cost sports-oriented vehicle as was the Speedster. Some of these features included wider and more comfortable seats (instead of the sport bucket-seats), a fixed, taller windshield that made part of the body (instead of a smaller, removable windshield), and roll-up glass windows (instead of side-curtains). Engine choices mimicked those that were available with the Coupe, with 1300, 1300S, 1600, and 1600S options(the 356 A Carrera engine was also available in the cabriolet body style).
In 1957, the T2 body change came mid-year and the Cabriolet featured a modified rear cowling that allowed it to accept a new optional hardtop. Wing windows were also added to the Cabriolet. For this evolution from the T1 cars, the Cabriolet production exceeded that of the Speedster (2,400 vs. 1.300 T2 Speedsters). Total production for 356 A Cabriolets peaked at 3,367 when it was replaced with the Porsche 356 B Cabriolet in late 1959.
Porsche 356A/1600 Speedster (1956 – 1958)
After its introduction in late 1954, the Porsche 356 A Speedster continued life in the 356 A generation as a stripped-down, low-cost, sports-oriented, convertible Porsche 356. It had a cut-down windshield that could easily be removed, a lightweight removable top, and side curtains instead of roll-up windows featured in the 356 A Cabriolet. It could be had with any of the engine options offered for the 356 A Generation (a limited number were made with the Carrera Engine). Popular in the United States for use in racing and sports car events, the Speedster became possibly the most iconic version of the 356. Total production is estimated at 3,944 cars between 1955 and mid-1959 when it was replaced by the Porsche 356 A Convertible D.
Porsche 356A/1600 Convertible D (1959)
Produced in 1959 only, the Porsche 356 Convertible D was the replacement for the 356 A Speedster. In many ways this reflected Porsches desire to make more expensive and premium models. As a result, the $3,695 Convertible was much more expensive than the Speedster it replaced. As such the new car featured roll-up windows for the first time, a more robust hardtop and a higher windshield for more headroom. Porsche retained the chrome-ringed windshield trim which was iconic of the Speedster. Inside Porsche retained the Speedster dashboard, but fitted more luxurious seats and door panels with integrated pockets. Drauz at Heilbronn, Germany was responsible for production of the bodies which explains the Convertible D moniker. Major differences were the addition of roll up side windows, a better convertible top, and a slightly taller windshield, though it was still easily removable. Total production was 1,330 cars. The “D” was a reference to the coach builder Drauz. It was replaced by the Porsche 356 B Roadster in 1960.
More powerful and further refined, the 356 A was manufactured until September 1959 with production split between two varieties: the T-1 (1956 and 1957 model years) and the T-2 (1958 and 1959 model years). Initially available in Coupe, Cabriolet and Speedster body styles, the Speedster was ultimately replaced by the slightly more practical Convertible D for the 1959 model year. Customers could choose from either plain or roller-bearing engines of 1.3 or 1.6-litres.
Like all 356s, the ‘A’ derivative featured a unitary steel chassis / body. Suspension was fully independent via transverse torsion bars and trailing arms with additional swing axles at the rear. To improve handling and offer a more compliant ride, the suspension now came with softer springs and increased travel. At the rear, vertically mounted telescopic shock absorbers replaced the old angled type and telescopic steering dampers were fitted for greater precision. The hydraulic drum brakes were almost the same as before but the rear shoes were widened to match those at the front.
Grip was improved by fitting wider 15 x 4.5-inch wheels (up from 16 x 3.25-inches). These were shod with 5.6-inch wide tires (up from 5-inches). Wheel and hub cap designs were the same as before. The Coupe, Cabriolet and Speedster bodies built on the 356 A platform were fabricated by Reutter. They featured a number of changes to the outgoing model. A new curved glass windscreen for the Coupe and Cabriolet replaced the rather crude bent arrangement used previously which meant the front scuttle and roof had to be made rounder. Not only was this arrangement more visually appealing, it further improved visibility.
The wheelarches were also rounder than before while flattened sills no longer curved underneath the bodywork. New jacking points were required as a result. The flattened sills were given a protective chrome strip with a rubber insert that ran the length of the wheelbase. As before, Speedster variants had a unique cut-down windscreen plus an anodized gold belly strip on each flank and Speedster script on each front fender.
The 356 A came with an all-alloy air-cooled Flat 4 engine in four states of tune: 1300, 1300 Super, 1600 and 1600 Super. The new 1.6-litre engines replaced the outgoing 1.5s. By increasing each cylinder bore from 80mm to 82.5mm, displacement rose from 1488cc to 1582cc. Stroke stayed at 74mm. The difference between Porsche’s regular engines and the Super variants was an exotic roller-bearing crankshaft in the latter. The former had a more conservative plain-bearing crank.
Universal modifications made to all 356 A engines saw a heavier flywheel installed to subdue idling and facilitate smoother starts. Hot air was now directed from the cylinders to the carburetors for quicker warm-up. While the 1300 and 1300 Super had to make do 44 bhp and 60 bhp respectively, the 1600 got the more powerful Type 616/1 engine, with a compression ratio of 7.5:1 and twin Solex 32 PBIC carburetors. Power for the 1600 was 60 bhp at 4500 rpm and 81 ft lbs of torque at 2800 rpm. The 1.6-litre variants were officially exported to the USA, while the others were not. Transmission was via Porsche’s own four-speed synchromesh gearbox.
This package was a decent performer for the era. The 1600 could accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 14.10 seconds, complete the quarter mile in 22.5 seconds and hit a top speed of 103 mph.
A series of updates were made inside as well. Coupes and Cabriolets came with a redesigned dashboard, the top of which was now trimmed in either leather or vinyl to match the rest of the upholstery. Previously, this upper element had been body colored metal like the rest of the dash. The Speedster already used its own type of custom dash (with a unique instrument binnacle and black vinyl top) which was retained.
VDO gauges replaced the old Veigel type in all three variants. While the instruments were still green on black, the three primary gauges (speedometer, tachometer and a combined oil temperature / fuel gauge) were now the same size. A full circle horn ring was added to the steering wheel and a hand throttle knob to the dash. The handbrake was now operated by a chrome handle with an in-out twist action and was no longer attached to the steering column.
Fully reclining front seats became standard and the rear seats were re-designed. Radio speakers were housed in each kick panel (to replace the old dash-mounted speaker). A bright white perforated vinyl headliner was fitted. This extended down the roof pillars unlike the original cloth headliner. In addition to its special dashboard, the Speedster did not have the door pockets fitted to Coupes and Cabriolets.
Porsche made the first updates to the 356 A in July 1956 when cars bound for the USA were fitted with elaborate bumper overriders and a nudge bar. More changes came on stream from March 1957. The two circular tail lights per side were replaced by a single teardrop cluster and the number plate light was moved from above the registration plate to below it. At the same time, padded sun visors were introduced, the now chrome ashtray was repositioned to the base of the dash and the rear window on Cabriolets and Speedsters was enlarged.
Production of the T-1 ended in September 1957 after 8364 had been completed. This figure comprised 5782 Coupes, 892 Cabriolets and 1690 Speedsters. In September 1957, the revised T-2 was launched at the Frankfurt Motor Show and the 1.3-litre engines were dropped. This meant that, aside from the four-cam Carrera, customers had just two motors to choose from: the 1600 and 1600 Super. The regular 1600 engine was enhanced with the aluminium camshaft gear used on the Super (to replace the old fibre-toothed unit) and cast-iron cylinders were fitted to lower manufacturing costs and provide quieter running.
A universal change included offset piston wrist pins to counteract the problems sometimes experienced with cold engines. There was also a modified crankcase to improve oil flow and a bigger, stronger oil cooler was fitted. Zenith 32 NDIX carburettors replaced the outgoing Solex type. Despite these not insignificant changes, Porsche retained the existing type numbers for both engines. The regular 1600 unit was Type 616/1. With its 7.5:1 compression ratio it produced 60bhp at 4500rpm and 80lb-ft at 2800rpm. The gearbox was a new single-piece Type 644 four-speed gearbox. A Haussermann diaphragm spring clutch replaced the Fichtel & Sachs coil-sprung assembly used on the T-1.
Few modifications were made to the chassis, but the T-2’s floorpan was strengthened at specific points to accept seatbelts. A ZF worm and peg steering box replaced the old VW-derived component and offered greater precision thanks in part to an increase in the steering ratio. Only minor cosmetic changes were made. T-2′s were most easily identifiable by their exhaust pipes that exited through the bumper overriders. However, while this distinctive feature improved ground clearance, it came at the expense of quickly discolored metalwork. Door handles were made more rounded on all three body styles, a towing hook was added under the lower nose panel and Supers got Porsche crests added to their hubcaps. A new option was a hardtop for the Cabriolet (manufactured by Brendel).
In August 1958, Porsche discontinued the Speedster and replaced it with the Convertible D. The Convertible D bore more than a passing resemblance to the Speedster but came with a taller windscreen, wind-up windows, a proper folding canvas roof and standard seats instead of buckets. The bodies were initially fabricated by Drauz in Heilbronn and then by Reutter. Convertible Ds retained the Speedster’s distinctive clip on swage line although this was now silver instead of gold and the Speedster script from each front wing was dropped.
356 A production ended in September 1959 when the 356 B was introduced. By this time, 12,161 T-2s had been completed. Of these, 7225 were Coupes, 2475 were Cabriolets, 1131 were Speedsters and 1330 were Convertible Ds.