CLASSIC DRIVE: Porsche 356 B vs 356 B

Porsche 356 B and Porsche 356 C

Owned by the same family for more than 50 years, this 356 pairing might look identical and boast similar histories, but which is the better version to drive? 

Words: Wilhelm Lutjeharms

It seems that the 356 is one of but a handful of Porsches that is regarded as pretty by both brand enthusiasts and the general public alike. The early years of Porsche is a fascinating era, both in terms of road and race cars, especially when you start delving into the finer details of the changes between respective models. If you listen to podcasts by enthusiast Spike Feresten, in which he chats with renowned Porsche collectors (such as comedian Jerry Seinfeld and Outlaw Porsche builder Rod Emory), you realise how significant this sub-category of Porsche fandom is. 

Porsche 356

Today we find ourselves on the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, and we’re about to spend an afternoon with two 356s. I’m instantly re-enamoured with the venerable 1960s cars’ soft, classy and compact curves. Porsche experts can discuss for hours which 911 model they yearn for most and why it should (or should not) have a rear wing, why earlier models are truer to the Porsche ethos than the later ones, etc. With the 356, however, there seems to be a broader consensus. 

The custodians of these two 356s are a husband and wife, and the former eagerly shared his story. 

Porsche 356

“When I was about 11 years old, I saw the 356 B pull up at our school. It belonged to the school doctor. Incidentally I met his daughter just after I completed military service when I was 19. Then we got married in this very car. I managed a game farm for a number of years and Hazel, my wife, had to do the school run in the 356 on a sand and gravel road for several years... it didn’t break down once! 

“When I turned 50 my father-in-law generously transferred the car’s ownership to me. Subsequently I restored the car and it won the Porsche Club of South Africa’s Concours in 2010, just shortly after its restoration had been completed. So, this car has now been in the family since 1962. But our father-in-law in this story clearly had an affinity for Porsche, because the B wasn’t the only 356 he bought. 

Porsche 356

“My father-in-law bought the C in 1970 and drove the car almost daily. The C’s restoration was only completed in 2015, however. It wasn’t a bare-metal restoration as I wanted to keep it as original as possible. In 2016 the C also won the Porsche Club’s Concours in its class while the B won again in 2017.” 

Even though this enthusiast has other Porsches in his collection, he makes it a priority to drive the pair of 356s. 

“I try to drive them once a week. It is becoming a problem though. People want to sit in them, stand against them and then we are not even talking about other drivers that has little respect for these old classics.” 

Porsche 356

At first glance, the B and C might look identical from the front, but the owner points out the different designs of the bonnets. Whereas the B’s design is pointier towards the front, the C has a flatter nose. The subtle changes continue towards the flanks of each, where the C’s rear three-quarter glass-and-side-window areas have been enlarged compared to those of the B. Also note the thinner C-pillar of the C, no pun intended, which allows the C to have a larger rear window. The B left the factory painted Ivory (code 6004) and the C in Light Ivory (6404). 

From the rear perspective, the two engine vents are different, but their bumpers are identical. However, the owner admits the exhaust tips that protrude from the C’s rear bumper are aftermarket, even if the feature is perfectly functional – it limits bumper staining caused by the expulsion of exhaust gases.

Porsche 356
The indicator lenses on the C should also be replaced with the correct units (such as those on the B). The owner also added a badge on each ventilation grille, one being a ‘Legends of 1963’ and the other ‘Porsche 356 Register of Southern Africa’.

In the C the owner has a large wooden box that holds decades’ worth of history. This includes an original 356 C driver’s manual, a repair and maintenance book, papers from events that the car has attended, old and new bulbs and an early life book stating that the owner’s father-in-law purchased the car in 1970 for R3 000 with 40 000 km on the clock. Two years later, at 65 500 km, he replaced all the brake pads. There is even a 356 toolkit in there. 

Porsche 356

Upon opening the engine cover, the differences between the engines are notable. There are ever so slightly more exterior parts to the C’s engine than that of the B. Still, both bays are clean... it is very evident that these cars are lovingly maintained. 

I open the doors and note that the B has a Karosseriewerk – Reutter – Stuttgart badge at the bottom of the right wing and the chassis number (NR. 112739) is stamped on a Reutter Karosserie plaque. Why? Well, at the time, it was Reutter that built the coupé and convertible 356, Karmann the hardtop coupé and D’eteren the Roadster. 

Porsche 356

However, in 1963, Porsche bought the Reutter coachbuilding company and the Reutter chassis plaques were replaced with a Porsche Karosserie version, as is the case with the 1964 C, which reads ‘Porsche Karosserie NR. 129629’. 

In terms of braking, the C features front-wheel disc brakes (the B has drum brakes all round), plus there is a 1 mm thicker anti-roll bar and shorter, pre-stressed rear torsion bars. Although its capacity remains the same, the C’s powerplant features a number of updates over the B’s motor. The piston crown and valve timings are modified, including the inlet and exhaust ports. This is also the case with the valve spring retainers, the crankcase ventilation, main bearings and the crankshaft. Even with such modest power, a limited slip differential was offered as an option. 

Porsche 356

Climb inside and at first the interiors look identical, especially since both cars feature deep red leatherette interiors (the B left the factory with black leatherette). The owner gestures to the carpet and provides an interesting pointer: “One of the best ways to see if a car has been restored, and redone correctly, on the interior is the weave of the carpet. It should be a period correct square weave”. 

Although both interiors have been reupholstered, they were trimmed in the correct colours. However, slowly the differences between the (earlier) B to C become apparent. Both offer three-spoke steering wheels, but the C’s version offers an additional chrome section. The B has a smooth, simplistic instrument panel with three dials, a radio and a glove compartment and knob to open or lock it. 

Porsche 356

The C’s instrument panel is deeper towards the centre, where you find a small light, ventilation controls for the windscreen, a clock and a surround for the ashtray with two additional knobs. Both cars feature (very) small rear seats. There is nominal luggage space behind them, but they can easily be folded flat when pulled forward to free up extra storage space. As is the case with period cars such as the VW Kombi, the small rear windows can be opened partially. 

I decide to drive the B first. Even though I’m 1.86 metres tall, and the steering wheel is large, I don’t struggle to find a comfortable position behind the steering wheel. Such a large wheel also allows for more leverage at slow speeds – important in these early cars without power steering. In front of me the bonnet dips away in the middle and the pair of front wings stretch characteristically to the headlights. 

Porsche 356

Twist the key and the four-cylinder engine starts with a little help from the throttle pedal. It is a relatively soft and thumping sound. Being a rather hot Johannesburg day, I open the triangular side windows and push it all the way to direct the air to me, perfect for once you are on the move. 

Even at slow speeds the 356 has a compact feel to it. This is partly owing to the narrow front windscreen, which is close to your head, as well as the fact that I can see some of the roof lining around my head from my peripheral view. 

The four-speed gearbox doesn’t have the most direct of shift actions, but then, few early 356 or 911s do. There is also a unique way in which the lever slot into each gear, for example second gear is a very short movement compared to the rest. 

Porsche 356

But, after a few shifts you learn where to point the bended lever. After all the fluids are warmed up, I stop short shifting at 3 000 rpm (at which point the 356 is already moving at a decent speed) and watch the needle climb towards 4 000 rpm. The engine pushes this 920 kg car with such an honest level of acceleration, and if you want to have fun the car reacts well during turn-in and changes direction in a way that any sizeable American car of this period would never be able to replicate. 

The 45 kW delivered at 4 500 rpm is never going to be exciting if you simply look at the numbers, but you would be missing the point if this is your only judging criteria. On the open road this car can cruise at 120 km/h comfortably, while top speed is a claimed 160 km/h.

Porsche 356

Initially, the C feels identical to drive to the B. This includes the feel and the relative directness of the steering, the cabin ambience as well as the engine response in the first part of the rev range. However, even though the base engine is the same (1 582 cm3), several updates have been made from the B’s engine. A look at the rev counter reveals the redline appears 500 rpm later at 5 000 rpm. Peak power of 56 kW is now delivered at 5 200 rpm, while torque has increased from 110 Nm at 2 800 rpm to 122 Nm at 3 600 rpm. In summary then, this engine is more rev-happy than the B. The C weighs a claimed 15 kg more (935 kg) while the claimed top speed is also up by 15 km/h to 175 km/h.

Classic cars for sale


I discover that I sit higher in the C than the B, but that may be simply because the C’s seats have been reupholstered in the recent past, whereas the B’s pews were updated notably earlier. Comparatively, the C doesn’t feel palpably faster than its sibling – the engine’s characteristics are similar to that of the B’s, but I find it difficult to experience the 25 percent gain. The owner mentions to me that the B’s engine was masterfully overhauled and ever since then it has been running perfectly. 

Porsche 356

He urges me to drive the C again and this time, when I rev the motor markedly harder, the car feels appreciably more alive. By virtue of having more revs at my disposal, the C does feel marginally faster than the B and another contributing factor is the livelier throttle response; I test it a few times and can confidently state that the C’s accelerator is significantly more sensitive than the B’s. Having said that, tuning, servicing and maintenance all play significant roles with these cars – the differences in driving experiences largely depend on these factors. 

In 1964, Porsche manufactured 3 823 units of the 356 C coupé, while 4 413 B coupés are said to have left the production line. There is little that differentiates the driving experiences, but with that ever-so-slight increase in power and its front disc brakes, I understand why driving a C – or any of the last 356s – is more appealing to some than the early, slower models. However, the lure of driving a car closer to Porsche’s origins is just as appealing.

Specifications: Porsche 356 B

Porsche 356

Engine: 1 582 cm3, flat-four cylinder

Power: 45 kW at 4 500 rpm

Torque: 110 Nm at 2 800 rpm

Top speed: 160 km/h

Gearbox: four-speed, RWD

Weight: 920 kg

Specifications: Porsche 356 C

Porsche 356

Engine: 1 582 cm3, flat-four cylinder

Power: 56 kW at 5 200 rpm

Torque: 122 Nm at 3 600 rpm

Top speed: 175 km/h

Gearbox: four-speed, RWD

Weight: 935 kg

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published