Although Ferdinand Porsche had designed many cars including the iconic Volkswagen Beetle, the Porsche 356 was the first car to go into production wearing the Porsche badge. It was available as in coupe and convertible body styles from day one, with a Speedster model added later to target the California market. 356 prototype number 1, a mid-engined convertible was built in 1948 based on knowledge gained from the Type 64 racing cars and pre-war Type 114 sports car design which never made production. The design was then changed to use more off the shelf VW parts and featured a rear mounted engine in a monocoque body shell.
Basing the 356 on the Volkswagen allowed Porsche to use many components of the mass produced car significantly reducing costs. Later when budgets allowed many of these components including the engine and suspension parts were exchanged for superior in-house designs. The bodywork, styled by Erwin Komenda, owed much to wind tunnel tests that were conducted for the earlier cars and continued their sleek, organic lines. The early cars were handcrafted from aluminium while later models were steel.
Early cars sold in small numbers to German enthusiasts but by 1951 when the 356 made a class win at Le Mans it had become a highly respected and popular sports car selling at its peak 10,000 cars a year. Nearly half of the 76,313 cars produced were convertibles and perhaps the most desirable being the Porsche 356 Speedster. While it may now fetch a premium the Speedster was designed as a stripped back, low cost option produced between 1954 and 1958 where it was replaced by the more practical Convertible D. The cars with the more powerful quad-cam Carrera engine are also rare and highly sought after with the a Carrera Speedster perhaps the most prised of all. By 1964 the Porsche 911 had been released but the 356 continued to sell well for another year as it was considerably cheaper and lighter than the new car. The last 10 convertible 356s were sold in 1966 to the Dutch police who often used Porsches as pursuit cars.