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ROAD AND TRACK got several things right in its November 1952 first road test of a Porsche, but in other ways its crystal ball was fogged by adulation for Herr Doktor Ferdinand Porsche, who had died at age 75 a year before.
Bob Dearborn, Road and Track Co-Editor at the time, wrote, “During the war…, we were periodically bombarded by something other than Axis munitions. That something was the oft repeated prophecy about The Post War Car. This fantastic new machine was to be the Dream Car of the Century.”
He continued, “For various reasons the promised car did not materialize. Instead, in 1946, we were treated to (and happy to get) pre-war designs and engineering.”
“But,” Dearborn enthused, “after a turn at the wheel of the new Porsche, and a thoro recording of test figures, one is forced to admit that this is The Car of Tomorrow.”
Some Nit-Picking. Points off for overlooking the inherent tradeoffs of air-cooled thermal efficiency. Others for ignoring trailing-throttle oversteer of swing-axle rear-engine layouts. And, with 70-year retrospect, it would have been difficult to predict the tidy packaging of Alec Issigonis’s now-ubiquitous transverse-engine front-drive coming in 1959.
Nevertheless…. “The Motor Enthusiasts’ Magazine” certainly had a way with metaphors: “In the first place,” Dearborn wrote, “the car is aerodynamic enough to give the actual feeling that it is (in the words of one of the staff) ‘slicing thru the air.’ ”
Later, “And speaking of planes, John von Neumann, who accompanied Road and Track on the all-night trek to and from the test strip (and actually drove the car on acceleration and high speed runs), likened the sensations brought on by driving the 356 to those felt in a DC-6 pilot’s seat. And it is actually true that the driver feels more as if he were airborne than bound to the highway.”
“It is not poesy,” Road and Track stated, “to say that the remote thrumming of the happy overhead valve engine in the rear is similar to the outboard engines of the well-known four-engine plane—tho less intense. With its light controls and the dropping off of the gently sloping hood, curved windshield and aircraft type comfort in the bucket seats… one may well imagine a plane about to become skyborne.”
A Technical Note: “For those who may feel anxious at the analogy, the curve of the Porsche hood increasingly loads the front end, until at 60 mph there are some 160 pounds of extra air pressure pushing downward on the front wheels. It will definitely not become airborne, or even lose front tire adhesion as speed increases!”
Back to Poesy. “To cap the aircraft illusion, the sound of the engine when the throttle is backed off from, say, 70 to 80 mph causes the broad highway in front of you to turn magically into a long landing strip. The feeling is hard to shake off. It is that realistic.”
And to Technicality Again: “Dr. Porsche, as you remember, is credited with the development of the laminated torsion bar for use in place of the more conventional coil or leaf spring, so it is not unusual to find that type of suspension on all four corners of the new German import.”
Accommodations. Dearborn advised, “One glance at the handsome interior and the smart instrument panel will make up your mind.”
“And the passenger seat,” Dearborn noted, “is fully reclining… adjustable by an easy-to-reach knob… marvelous on long trips.”
Porsche Production: In an accompanying technical article, the magazine described that “Porsche bodies are individually assembled and finished. If the Porsche were to be hand built in the U.S., price would be triple present $4300.”
To put this figure in perspective, a Jaguar XK-120 went for $3945; a Ford V-8 Customline, $2285; an MG TD, $2157.
“Each Porsche engine is assembled from the crankshaft up by a single craftsman assigned to that individual powerplant.”
Dearborn concluded, “Transmission non-synchomesh but quite simple to operate. Porsche has so many stellar virtues, owners will be glad to put up with some inconvenience of getting in and out of seats.”
And of learning to double-clutch heel-and-toe in downshifts. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2022
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I remember driving a bent window coupe like this in the 1970’s through the Tehachipi mountains on tiny twisting back roads with bias ply tires ~ it was glorious .
Back then it was a used $1,500 car I could only dream of owning .
The Angeles Crest Highway too was a delight in this nimble and light footed car .
Sadly most who owned them then only zoomed around in town and so missed how brightly they shone in the correct element .
My son still has my 1963 356B coupe (“OLD BLUE”), a decade or so back he drove it and his fiance to Monterey and camped out of it like I used to do, astonishing all the rich guys in their huge mobile homes with over restored trailered 356’s…..
Unrestored with only middling quality radial tires and gas shocks it’s still fun to drive flat out .