1950s / German / Porsche

Porsche classics: 1950 356 SL Coupe

The first car to wear the Porsche name was the Type 356 built in 1948. It was extensively tested on public roads by Ferry Porsche, but it remained a one-off model that largely served as a test bench for new ideas. The prototype was sold to a Swiss car dealer for 7,500 Swiss Francs in order to help fund the development of the production-bound 356, though it was re-purchased in 1953 and it has been part of the company’s collection ever since.

The most significant modification made to the prototype as it transitioned to a production car was that the flat-four was moved from behind the passenger compartment to behind the rear axle for cost and packaging reasons. The styling was updated, but it wasn’t completely revised. And while the company didn’t have a wind tunnel at the time, the coupe nonetheless boasted a surprisingly low drag coefficient.

The 356’s potential on the track was immediately evident, so Porsche set out to modify a handful of cars to participate in endurance racing events. Made out of aluminum instead of steel, the lightweight SL coupes received aero-enhancing modifications such as wheel well covers and louvers over the rear windows. The example pictured below took first in class (and 19th overall) in the 1951 edition of the 24 hours of Le Mans, giving Porsche its first victory in a major race. Its average speed during the race was about 75 mph (118 km/h), which wasn’t bad considering it relied on a 1.1-liter flat-four engine.

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