When Germany and Austria's shattered economies started to make its comeback in the wake of the Second World War, it was due in no small part to the production of a snazzy sports car, the likes of which the world had never seen. That car, first produced in Austria in 1948, was the legendary classic Porsche 356. Bearing only the slightest resemblance to its little sibling, the VW Beetle, the 356 was light, sure footed and fast. For the first two years, the vehicle was built at a plant in Gmünd, Austria. In 1950, manufacturing was moved to Zuffenhausen, outside of Stuttgart, West Germany, where production continued for another 15 years.
The design traces its origins a pre-war concept racing car, known as the Porsche Type 64. As Ferdinand Porsche was the original designer of the "People's Car," it's not surprising that the Type 64 looked a great deal like a flattened-out VW Beetle on steroids. Three of these vehicles were construction before war broke out in Europe, made by hand of aluminum construction. One of them was destroyed in a bombing raid shortly after the start of the war. The Porsche family used two of them, but eventually put one of them in storage. However, when U.S. occupation troops arrived in May of 1945, some G.I.s found the car and decided to lop off the roof and use it for tooling around the countryside. Eventually, the engine wore out it wound up on the scrap heap. The sole surviving example of the Porsche Type 64 is still in existence, and was actually driven in a vintage road race in Monterey, California in 1982.
The first Porsche 356 hit the road in June of 1948 and won the first race it was entered into. At first, Porsche and Volkswagen shared many parts and components, but this changed over the ensuing decades as the two divisions went their separate ways. In the beginning, production was slow; only fifty vehicles were produced during the first two years. Eventually however, Porsche's success in road rallies and races caught the attention of motoring enthusiasts in Europe as well as North America.
One of the most famous owners of an early Porsche 356 was actor James Dean, who was killed while driving one on a California highway in September of 1955. By then, the Porsche 356 was widely available at U.S. dealerships. They weren't cheap, even then; the sticker price of a new Porsche 356 in the late 1950s was a whopping $4,000 - about the same price as a new Cadillac at the time. Today, that is equivalent to about $34,000, which would be a heck of a bargain. A fully restored Porsche 356 today can fetch as much as $100,000 at auction.
Fortunately for restorers, there's a fair amount of Porsche 356 used parts around as well as Porsche 356 replica parts. However, if you want to save some serious money, check out the discount pricing at PartsGeek.com, where you'll find Porsche 356 parts for sale at up to 80% off the retail price you'd pay elsewhere.