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A PAIR OF PORSCHE CONTINENTALS—1956

“BY PURE COINCIDENCE,” R&T said in January 1956, “all of our previous tests on Porsches have been made on the Super model, which is, of course, the best performing and most expensive of the line, with the exception of the 550-Spyder.” 

Porsche Continentals, Coupe and Speedster. This and other images from R&T, January 1956.

“Actually,” the magazine said, “the 66 bhp ‘Continental’ Porsche (formerly known as the ‘America’) is a far more desirable automobile for many buyers who do not need or desire a top speed in excess of 100 mph and to whom the $500 saving in first cost is important.” 

To put that price difference in perspective, $500 in 1956 is equivalent to $4858 in today’s cash.

Coupe versus Speedster Aerodynamics. R&T explained, “Converting the Tapley drag in lbs/ton to straight pounds (by multiplying by the test weight in tons) proves that the coupe had 9.5 percent less drag (wind and rolling resistance) than the roadster with top and side curtains installed. We also found that removing the top and side curtains on the open car increased its drag by 7.4 percent.” 

Don’t try this at home, kids; they were professionals. Besides, you may not have a Tapley Meter.

Illustration by Leo Bestgen, R&T April 1988.

Coupe versus Speedster Performance. The two R&T test cars had slightly different gearing, with the Speedster’s third and top gear yielding slightly lower speeds; i.e., the ratios were higher numerically. 

R&T nomenclature of the time identified this as the first test of a foreign car in 1956.

R&T noted, “… as might be expected, the open car, being lighter by 170 lbs., gives better acceleration times but less top speed. Examination of the acceleration graphs in the panel show that at 80 mph the times are equal, but this does not mean that the two cars would be abreast at this speed.” The quicker accelerating Speedster traveled less distance in getting to 80 mph; the Coupe caught up as they both approached 90 mph.

Coupe versus Speedster Handling. “Cornering ability,” R&T said, “was about equal in spite of the Coupe’s greater weight.” Without getting into details of rear weight bias and swing-axle rear suspension (pre-Nader, you understand), R&T wrote, “Much has been written about the peculiar handling qualities of the Porsche, but we feel these cars are as safe to drive as any car on the road today.” 

“The ride is almost soft,” R&T reported, “but cornering roll is very modest and the steering neutral, with the front anti-roll bar now employed. A more comfortable sports car for long, high-speed journeys would be very hard to find and certainly no other car achieves the combination of comfort, performance and fuel economy of the Porsche 1500 Continental Speedster or Coupe.”

My Vintage Experience. In 2010, Porsche celebrated its 60th year in the U.S. I celebrated being offered a drive of the Porsche Museum’s 1955 Speedster. 

Your author, about to drive the Porsche Museum’s Speedster.

In R&T, December 2010, I wrote, “My drive of the Porsche Museum’s 1955 Porsche Speedster clearly exhibited two things: how much fun it must have been to encounter such responsive motoring back then, and how honestly the Porsche tradition has evolved over more than half a century.”  

As expected with this museum piece, it was a drive at moderate pace.

Continental Prices, 1956. R&T observed, “Price-wise, the Porsche looks like a very small package for a large amount of money, particularly the Coupe.” The 1956 Continental Speedster had a list price of $2995; the Continental Coupe, $3590. By contrast, the MG A, introduced that year, had a price of $2330.

“However,” R&T reasoned, “Porsche A.G. is a company who have never quite been able to catch up with demand. And each car is as near to being ‘hand-built’ as is commercially feasible in this day of mass-production by the millions. This meticulous workmanship and attention to detail go a long way toward justifying the cost, which, with the added consideration of good class performance, make us wonder, ultimately, how they can do the job so well for so little.”

There are those today who would express similar  sentiments. ds 

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

2 comments on “A PAIR OF PORSCHE CONTINENTALS—1956

  1. Will Estill
    November 27, 2020

    Okay Dennis, here’s one for you. On my one and only visit to the old 1499 Monrovia R&T digs in Newport Beach, circa 1977, I parked near a lovely white Continental Coupe. My understanding was that it belonged to a staff member, but I’ve never ascertained who it was. My guess would be Joe Rusz. Care to enlighten me?

    • simanaitissays
      November 27, 2020

      A good guess, Will, as Joe is a Porschophile. No, it belonged to our late Art Director Bill Motta.

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