Underneath the sheep’s clothing of this 1956 Volkswagen is a feral Porsche wolf. The transmission is 911, Spyder brakes are at all corners, the engine is a Jake Raby-built 2.6 liter Type 4 engine. Even what you see is deceptive: fenders, door skins, engine lid, front trunk lid, running boards and bumpers are all aluminum.
But this Porsche-laden VW is more than an interesting symbiosis. It is symbolic of the converging road taken to arrive at a light and handy modern sports car worthy of the legendary Porsche name.
Ferdinand Porsche was father of the Volkswagen. Following his departure from Daimler-Benz to set up an independent design studio in Stuttgart in 1931, Porsche had commenced on a variety of automotive projects, numbering each new design consecutively (though he craftily began with number 7 to allay any possible trepidation by his first client). The Volkswagen, or People’s Car, carried project No. 60.
During World War II, when the pressure of Allied bombing had become too great, the Porsche studio was relocated near the family estate in the resort of Zell am See, Austria. Close by was Gmünd where, in a converted sawmill, project No. 356 was born in 1948. The new Porsche was brought to reality by Ferry Porsche working under the watchful eye of his father.
Manufacture in Gmünd was on a shoestring. The 356’s engine was a pushrod VW fitted with Porsche-designed cylinder heads. The bodies were hand hammered over wooden bucks out of sheet aluminum.
Humble origins fascinate when followed by a long and remarkable history. The car that was born of Volkswagen parts in a converted sawmill in the Austrian mountains is proof positive of that.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
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