The cars that shaped all Porsches to follow were built on the premises of a former sawmill in Gmünd in Carinthia. It is here where the young company moved during the war from Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen.
As a result of persistent bombing raids on Stuttgart Ferdinand Porsche in autumn 1943 decided to move his fledgeling company - Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, Konstruktion und Beratung für Motoren- und Fahrzeugbau - to give it its full name, to Gmund in Austria, 12 years after the company that eventually became known as Porsche had been founded.
Imagine the sight... around 300 employees showing up at the buildings of a former sawmill, a lack of machines and also a shortage of some materials, never mind the rather cramped working conditions. It is said that workers could hardly move between the lathes. Soon Porsche added a canteen and made other improvements, but the biggest benefit was that it was located in a remote valley beyond the Großglockner and therefore unlikely to be the target of any war activities.
Ferry Porsche (middle) photographed watching one of his workers in Gmund in 1948.
Ferdinand Porsche was imprisoned by the French from December 1945 and released only in 1947, followed by formal exoneration in 1948. In his absence, Ferdinand’s son, Ferdinand Anton Ernst Porsche, known as Ferry, had to keep things going. “In the beginning I looked around and could not find quite the car I dreamed of. So I decided to build it myself.”
The company was kept alive through design of agricultural machinery such as tractors, cutting fingers and cable winches. However, it was a contract to build the Cisitalia Type 360 for the Italian race car manufacturer that ultimately provided the funds needed for Ferry's dream car to become a reality.
Porsche 356 aluminium shells were hand beaten into shape.
1948 was to be the big moment. Internally the new "dream car" was still known as the VW Sport. It featured a tubular steel frame with an aluminium body on top. Major components such as the front axle, transmission and engine were taken from the Volkswagen Beetle. Mid-mounted, the 1.1L engine was small but Porsche's engineers managed to extract 35 PS (26kW) by fitting new cylinder heads and further fine tuning. The car weighed only 585kg and had a top speed of 135kph. On 8 June, 1948, the 356 “No. 1” Roadster with the chassis number 356.001 received its general operating permit.
A very early Porsche 356 at the Gmund factory, 1948.
It was to remain a one-off, but work on its "successor", the 356/2 took place parallel to construction of the “No. 1”, and the first Coupé was completed in August 1948. The base of the 356/2 models was a steel box frame as the chassis. For this model the output of the flat-four engine was further increased to 40 PS (29kW) and the engine was moved to the rear. This created space for jump seats and luggage and also set the formula for future Porsches such as the iconic 911.
Stealing the limelight at the 1949 Geneva Motor Show.
44 Coupés and 8 Cabriolet models of the 356/2 were built from winter 1948/49 up to the end of production in Austria in 1950. The Coupé bodies were hammer-formed from aluminium sheets by small specialists such as Kastenhofer, Keibl or Tatra in Vienna and Beutler in Switzerland, and the Cabriolet bodies were supplied by Keibl and Kastenhofer and by Beutler in Thun, Switzerland.
Porsche marked its arrival on the world scene with a display of these models from Gmünd at the Geneva Motor Show in spring 1949.
It is said that when Ferry Porsche took the decision to build “his” 356, he assumed that he would be able to sell around 500 of such sports cars. He turned out to be very much mistaken... Just shy of 78 000 Porsche 356s were built up to 1965.
Photos and information supplied by Porsche