Porsche 356 Do I really want one?

chris396chris396 Member Posts: 53
edited March 2014 in Porsche
I really love the looks of the Porsche 356 and I'm thinking about saving up for one instead of another musclecar. I currently own a '69 Camaro RS SS 396 convertible and would like something different to sit beside it. I've owned a few VW Superbeetles and had a lot of fun with them before the bottoms rusted out. How would the Porsche's handling, braking, and highway driving compare with a VW? With a modern car? What about the dreaded maintenance costs? Is a 356 as expensive as a lot of other foreign sports cars? Do you have to adjust the lifers every 3,000 miles like you would a VW? I'm thinking about a '62-65 Coupe with the emphasis on the '64-65's because of the disk brakes. A factory sunroof would be great but they seem to add another $5-10K to the price of the car.


  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    They are swell cars and you can use them everyday.

    As far as performance, their build quality and brakes and handling would easily exceed any stock VW of the time, but of course you can build up a VW engine to easily outrun a Porsche 356...it might be a hand grenade of an engine, but it will GO!

    A 356 is still fairly primitive when it comes to ventilation, heat, noise level, etc., but it is stilll really fun to drive and very reliable and un-fussy. There are no "dreaded maintenance costs" at all unless of course you buy a turkey of a car and you need to cut out rust or rebuild an engine. But if you buy a sound, straight car, you can drive it the rest of your life without any major hassles if you stay on top of it.

    Yes, a C coupe with disc brakes is also my favorite, There's a nice one for sale right next to me. It looks to be a very correct car with no rust, in what I'd call a very clean driver condition (#2), with all mechanicals apparently rebuilt, from what I'm told. They are asking $18K which is high retail, but I bet you could improve on that. I also saw a '64 in a showroom yesterday with an $18K price tag and it wasn't as nice, since I saw cracking paint on the door (bondo for sure), old weatherstripping, lots of paint chips, etc. The car just doesn't POP like the red one next door.

    For $18K, a 356 C should be pretty darn sharp...not concours but very very nice. You can find decent ones for as low as $13K if you look around, but below that they start to get ratty or have "needs", and you don't want to go near a 356 with "needs". Remember that the 356s body is the whole car. If the body has been perforated by too much rust, the car is utterly useless. There is no frame per se.

    If the car doesn't have the original engine, that's a price deduct but not too bad. You will often find 356s with Porsche 912 motors in them, and really it's an improvement in many ways. I have no problem with a 356/912 if the car is meant to be a driver.
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    Shifty just gave some great advice.

    Yes you can drive them daily. I amusing my 57 Coupe about.. ohh.. 3 or 4 times and maybe 250-300 miles a week right now. It loves it. The more you use them, the better they run it seems.

    OK... Yes, you should be CHECKING the valve clearances every 3k miles and adjust as needed. And while you are changing the oil, make sure its' Kendall (They seem to like it.. and the 356 engine builders I know and trust say to use it..) and 50wt in hot climate. 30-40wt otherwise. DO NOT use Multigrades. They do not like it. These are higher maintinence cars than a Camaro. If it helps tho, they were getting 60hp/liter out of some of them tho! They thrive on attentive owners, and are VERY unforgiving to neglect. A neglected 356 will make you cry. A well and properly maintained one will bring you joy.

    Rust is a killer here. Battery box, then floorpans, then longitudinals, then scrap heap unless you are quite commited to the car or its' a Speedster/Roadster/Cabrio/Carrera.

    Dont buy a Carrera. A Carrera 2 Coupe is more than a nice 1600S Speedster AND a Stunning SC Sunroof coupe anyways.

    For a regular driver, you are looking at the right cars. The T6s are by far the most common. They made 75K or so 356s. Something like 45K of which were 62.5ish-65 T6s (T6=Twin Grilles on decklid)

    356Bs are nice too! The B Brakes are not bad, and a very worthwhile upgrade on an A. But discs are far superior. The bargain of the bunch? The T5, or the 1960-early 62 356Bs. Single grille cars, narrow hood, but I like em. Worth 80% of the value of a T6B.

    Engines... they sold a lot of 60hp "normals" in the Bs.. And they are sluggish by today's standards. It is a sweet engine that does not take well to being over-revved or badly beaten on(More so with the 356A normal engines. Take one of them over 5,000 and the rods wont like it..) The "Super" is a 75hp engine and a nice choice. On a 356B, the Super 90 is the almost-top-of-the-line save a 4-cam Carrera. Dont buy a Carrera as a novice. But early Super 90 engines can be fragile things. The best motor they ever made was the 95hp SC engine. Strong, reliable, and quick. 95 DIN HP, but the car is about 2K pounds so it is peppyish. The Base C engine is basically a Super.

    1600 Normal: 0-60 14.5secs or so

    1600 Super: 0-60 12 secs or so

    1600 S90/SC: 0-60 about 9-10 secs or so.

    Faster in a Roadster.

    Handling and roadholding and braking are excellent. No comparison to a Beetle. I used to regularly cruise at 80-90-100 in an SC Coupe I used to own. It loved it and was very stable. Once you get familiar with the car, these little guys communicate with you unlike any other car I have driven of their vintage. Just MHO tho. However, if you are unfamiliar with their handling, you canb get into a lot of trouble very quickly. Dont push it too hard till you get used to it! :)

    Now, I can take some off-ramps quicker in one of my 356s than I can take them in my 1995 XJ6. And an SC stops VERY well. They are safe to drive in modern traffic. A good upgrade if you wanna get on it? 185-65R15 tires. A La Pirellis, Dunlops..etc. They dont make any decent 165R15s anymore, which is the "correct" size for 55+ cars.

    Shifty is right on pricing. You want to buy a "driver". Sunroof SCs bring a huge premium. SCs are about the costliest coupes as it is (Save REALLY early cars,to say nothing of Gmund-Built coupes which are in the mid 6-figure range, but you wouldnt wanna drive one of those around anyways.. A 55 or so is as old as youd wanna drive daily)

    A perfect, mathing numbers, show-quality, totally correct 356SC Coupe can pull $30-35K all day long. I can think of 2 that I know of that did that. Both had $40++K restoration jobs and were about 130-140% as nice as when they were new. You dont wanna go that way. A "Driver" Cabriolet would be a better way to spend $30-35K.

    Watch pricing. These cars are frequently grossly overpriced. The $15-20K range will get you a very presentable and nice SC Coupe without any real needs (Oh damn the clock is broken..and the oil filter housing is the wrong color..etc..) or a SUPER nice B Super or VERY nice B Super 90 coupe. It will also get you one of the better B Normal coupes out there ($20K).

    Sub $10K? Don't go there unless you WANT to restore the car. Bodywork repairs are VERY expensive as are engine rebuilds. $5K can easily be thrown at a 356 engine. OTOH, they can easily run well past 100K miles with proper care.

    And "little piddly stuff" can add up quickly. Go to http://www.perfect-motion.com and price a nice steering wheel! I just gave Jeff $750 for a nice 356A Dual-Ring wheel. But OTOH, repro chrome bits are generally cheap. $25-50 or so for horn grilles..$50 for an A Hood handle, $150 for a B/C one.. etc. So those arent killers. 356A Turn signal switches are. Took Kits are. A perfect original tool kit is worth close to $2,000.

    And make sure whoever works on the car knows what they are doing. DO NOT EVER NEVER EVER EVER EVER have the motor rebuilt by a Beetle mechanic. There's just too many subtle differences and I have seen awful things happen. And by the time the 60s cars were out, hardly any parts were shared anyways.

    Here's where you start.. boomark and view these sites:

    http://www.356a.com <--Checking serial numbers on engine..etc. Don't pay a premium for an "SC" when it has a "C" engine!


    The 356 Registry. If you are serious about buying one, then join. a WONDERFUL group of people. Also join the e-mail list and lurk.. LOTS to be learned.

    http://www.hcpresearch.com Harry Pellow's site. An excellent California Engine builder. Read the articles.

    Questions? Lemme know! And good luck! These are wonderful cars.


    57 1600N Coupe today

    Others as well :)

  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonMember Posts: 20,338
    Great information!

    So....my buddies CHERRY '65 SC coupe that caught fire and burned up on the San Diego Freeway around...oh....1975, would be worth 30,000 or more today?

    That was a sad day...he spent like two years looking for the perfect SC. I think he paid something like 5000.00 at the time.

    Damm fuel lines!
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Oh, yeah, VW mechanics on Porsche engines----EEEK!

    The problem is Porsche engines are NOT VW engines. They sort of resemble them but that's about it. Internally and externally they are really quite another universe, and require proper tolerances, torques and tools. Lay out the parts side by side and revel in the difference between a rock and a diamond.

    One tragic mistake often made is that when rebuilding a 356 engine, people will choose the economical route regarding new pistons and piston liners. If you use a Japanese made piston set, you had best "do your math" regarding what compression ratio you are going to end up with, Some of the aftermarket piston raise compression and the builder does not compensate--in fact, often compounds the problem by flycutting the heads! Result? Compression ratio is actually 10.5 or 11 to 1 and first days out under engine load with today's gasoline and KABOOM!

    The short story is this--if you see a 356 and no one knows the engine history, or can DOCUMENT who rebuilt it and when, you must presume it is tired and act accordingly.

    A decent rebuild (not overhaul, but REBUILD) of a 356 would cost around $7.5K, but it is a long mileage motor if you do it right and keep it right.

    I actually have a VW mechanic story--we pulled apart a 356 engine and I found vise grip marks on the bearing cap bolts.
  • chris396chris396 Member Posts: 53
    I've been checking a few 356 sites and pricing cars. A cabriolet is out of my price range of around $15-20K. But I prefer the look of the coupe for some reason. I would use the car as a weekend driver during the spring, summer, and fall so a perfect show car isn?t need or wanted. I guess I better get to work and save that $. I figure I should hopefully have enough in about a year to begin shopping.

    One question. I love the chrome luggage racks some cars have, but wouldn?t any luggage on it block airflow and cause the engine to overheat?
  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    A coupe it is then!

    You HAVE Joined the registry list and have been lurking I hope, right?

    Luggage Racks? No harm on cooling ability.

    Good luck and DO YOUR RESEARCH! Which it looks like you are doing, which is smart! :)

  • im_brentwoodim_brentwood Member Posts: 4,883
    Isell, for an SC Coupe to be worth that.. it has to be a VERY VERY Strong #2 car, really a #1-. I mean, a show car.

    Shifty, also those big-bore kits can put a lotof extra stress on the crank....KABOOM! There was just an article in the registry magazine about this...

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    I guess the shape of the piston is part of the problem.

    But the German pistons are very pricey so some people try to do it more economically.
  • speedshiftspeedshift Member Posts: 1,598
    How does the piston's shape stress the crank? Is it square :-)?
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Flat topped I suspect, raising compression to ungodly levels. Also probably heavy, also probably not balanced very well. You know, when you are trying to crank lots of HP out of a very small 1960s engine, all the little design errors add up. That's why Porsche engines need to be just right or they will bite you.
  • chris396chris396 Member Posts: 53
    My computer's motherboard decided to commit suicide so I've offline for a couple weeks. Yes I'm going to join the registry. I also bought Buying, Driving, and Enjoying the Porsche 356 by Jim Schrager. It?s a good book for the first time buyer.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaMember Posts: 64,482
    Yes, he knows Porsches and writes clearly and very frankly. He's a Porsche 356 lover but not "in love" to the point where he tries to hide the car's faults.
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