True bliss in life is the ability to park your high dollar ’65 356 coupe on the street in early April during one of the worst winter/early spring seasons Michigan has seen in decades. I have to salute the owner of this final-year 356 for ignoring the snow pack in the background (deceiving: it was 60 degrees outside) and going out for a ride, running an errand. If I had a 356 coupe, I’d be chomping at the bit, too.
First things first: I’ve never understood the whole Porsche fascination thing, probably because I have little experience with them. Second things second: 356 coupes are, however, on my “Great 28″ list of cars I want to own. It’s the only German car on the list, and it’s certainly one of the unobtainable ones. My personal favorite 356 is the ’62/’63 coupe, with drum brakes and their complementary wheels. This 356 obviously sports later 911 wheels, a look that meshes well with the “bumperettes,” or whatever one calls those insignificant rods jutting from the tail of the car.
Anyway, my only ride in a Porsche was in one of these, when I was eight. Dr. Bob, a family acquaintance, had one, knew I was a car kid, and took me and my dad for a ride. It was 5-speed equipped, and was easily the coolest thing I had ridden in up to that point. He got that egg-shaped spaceship up to 85 or so on a country road, and I was sold! Luckily for me and my wallet, that kind of ride was uncommon, so Porsches never really got under my skin.
It was really Peter Egan, the incomparable columnist from Road and Track, who turned me on to the 356, at least from afar. Of his myriad vehicles, the 356 coupe stood out. I never warmed to the roadsters or convertibles, and later 911s looked fun, but not really my style. This was just right. The close coupled interior seems spacious, even for six-footers, and this one even comes with the requisite hula dancer on the dash. This person’s fun!
At the Meadowbrook Concours one year, I heard a guy refer to another guy’s 356 convertible as a “Custom-Bodied Volkswagen,” which I thought was funny. It’s true in a way, but obviously the 356, for all its Beetle origins, is no Volkswagen. The 1965 was the last of the 356 models, and even though there’s a hint of VW in the profile, I think it’s handsome and well-proportioned. The squared off trunklid and dual hood vents were, to me, improvements over earlier coupes.
This grayish-blue ’65 is the “base” C model, rocking a 75-horsepower version of the 1600-cc flat four. Our featured car is an SC, which took over for the earlier “Super 90.” The SC actually produced 95-horsepower, and could power a 356 to a top speed of around 115 miles per hour. Not bad for 1965, especially when 25+ miles per gallon economy was attainable with judicious driving. Of course, the Carrera model went a step further with overhead cams, more expense, and more complexity, but either pushrod choice would have filled the bill for me in fine fashion. No big hurry here.
This ’64 356 C is basically identical to the above ’65s, but it appears that someone cranked in a little negative camber in the back. I’m not that familiar with the specific mechanics behind the 356’s rear suspension, but Porsches have a tail-happy reputation, especially with swing axles, so this owner may be attempting some corrective geometry.
By most accounts, Porsches make satisfying daily drivers. I think I suffer from Porsche overload; modern car magazines gush, and Road and Track and Car and Driver seem to prominently test a modern 911, Boxster, or Cayman every two issues or so. Then I look at their as-tested prices, including $300 colored keys and $5000 wheel and tire packages, and I can’t relate.
Even if modern Porsches have become so bloated and complex that they hold no interest to me, I’d love to cruise to work in a ’60s model, as the above advertisement suggests. They, too, have become somewhat overpriced, so I’ll have to enjoy them from afar.
If you have the wherewithal to enjoy one though, take a lesson from the owner of our featured car and enjoy it as much as you can. And don’t worry too much about the Volkswagen jokes.