Before the onset of World War II in 1939, Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche was developing three Type 64 cars for a Berlin to Rome automobile race in 1939, but the event was cancelled due to the hostilities in Europe. Not until after WWII would the next Porsche be built – a mid-engine tubular chassis 356 prototype called “No. 1”, which remains on display in Stuttgart to this day. This prototype has led to some debate as to the “first” Porsche automobile, but Porsche itself considers the steel-bodied 356 to be its first production model in 1950. Its reputation as a lightweight and nimble handling two-door sports car with a reliable powertrain was the key factor in the post-war resurgence that Porsche enjoyed for many years.
- 1,582 cc four-cylinder 616/2 Super engine,
- four-speed manual transaxle,
- four-wheel independent suspension
- and four-wheel hydraulic drum brakes; wheelbase: 82.7”
Little noticed at its inception, except for a small number of auto racing enthusiasts, the first 356s sold primarily in Austria and Germany. It took Porsche two years, starting with the first prototype in 1948, to manufacture the first 50 automobiles, but soon the 356 had gained some renown among enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic for its aerodynamics, handling, and excellent build quality. Porsche’s Class Win at Le Mans in 1951 was clearly a turning point in world recognition for the brand.
By 1956, the 356 in all forms had been continually developed into one of the world’s most respected sports cars. This feat was quite remarkable considering that Porsche as a company was only celebrating its eighth anniversary. The evolution of the Porsche 356 was swift and further impelled not only by Porsche’s drive for technical improvement but also commercial success. By 1958 the Speedster model was four years old and sales were declining. Porsche realized that significant improvements were necessary to attract buyers, despite the market for a “weekend racer”. The Porsche 356A Convertible D was the replacement in 1959, and with Reutter coachworks straining to keep up with the demand, Porsche contracted with the Drauz Company in Heilbronn to manufacture the bodies for the Convertible D (the “D” stood for Karosseriewerke Drauz KG).
The new “Convertible D” featured a taller, more practical windshield allowing improved headroom, roll-up glass side-windows and far more supportive seats. The Convertible D model is arguably the rarest production Porsche 356 model ever manufactured for a full year, with just 1,331 produced between August 1958 and September 1959, with a fraction of those (estimated at 300) ordered with the high compression Super engine. It’s replacement came along in the form of the 356B Roadster Convertible, introduced in 1960. Alas, the sports car market’s love affair with top-down motoring was fading, and soft-top 356 model sales declined significantly in the early 1960s. Today’s market feels quite differently, and clearly the late Type A Super cars remain the high-water mark for 356 collectability.
The car we photographed near Dallas is the rare 1959 Convertible D, produced late in the run on August 7, 1959, the tenth from the last produced as confirmed by the Porsche Certificate of Authenticity obtained by the car’s long-term caretaker. It retains the original options of reclining bucket seats, chrome luggage rack, clock, and the factory safety belts it was shipped with in 1959, and with the factory Super engine, this rare Convertible D represents one of the most desirable Porsches of the entire era.