Sometimes a test car reveals its personality rather slowly and a neutral first impression is succeeded by a growing like (or dislike). The Porsche, on the other hand, has an immediate attraction for most people; several passengers expressed this feeling spontaneously before completing their first mile. Essentially its charm springs from a very rare blend of first-class sports car virtues with touring car amenities and from the overall balance of its design. A surprisingly large percentage of the most desirable cars available have some features which fall far below the general standardâ€”it may be noise, heavy controls, harsh suspension, an unpleasant gearbox, uncomfortable seats, a bad driving position, poor visibility, etc. The Porsche is not perfect and it does not reach the highest standards in everything but it does get the “above average” rating in more aspects than almost any other sporting or G.T. car we have tried.
The 356 B series comprises nine models, a permutation of three different body styles with three 1,600 cc engines of different power output. We had the intermediate engine giving 75 bhp net, half-way between the 60 bhp of the standard model and the go bhp of the Super 90. The three bodies, all of which are mounted on a platform chassis of great rigidity, comprise a detachable hardtop, a detachable convertible and a fixed head coupe. The last, which we tested, is the traditional low-drag body, still very similar in shape to that of the first Porsche which was introduced in 1949 and which was based largely on Volkswagen mechanical parts.
Thirteen years of development have left few if any of the original components unaltered but the general layout remains the same with a rear-mounted air-cooled flat-four engine, swing axle independent rear suspension and front wheels mounted on twin parallel trailing links. The usual tendency for cars to grow in size and weight has been largely resisted and although increasing refinement has brought some weight penalty, this 17,5cwt car is one of the very few machines available to a buyer who insists on luxury in a compact and agile form.
The unusual comfort of the front seats confirms that correct shaping is more important than soft padding. The upholstery is quite hard but body weight is well distributed over its surface and the adjustable rake back rests support the whole length of the spine whilst also giving satisfactory location against sub-stantial cornering forces. The Motor staff, who vary rather extravagantly in height from 5 ft. 4 ins. to 6 ft. 5 ins., had to admit that the fore and aft adjustment was entirely adequate.
A low floor is a desirable feature and although the pedals arc spaced well apart an angled organ-type throttle allows easy and natural heel and toe operalion of brake and accelerator; the left foot has plenty of room to rest when it is not working the clutch or the plunger type windsreeen washer. A manual dipswitch is combined with the direction signals and headlamp flasher in a convenient finger-tip control projecting from the left of the steering column. The steering wheel is placed high enough to leave ample room above the legs and low enough not to interfere with an excellent view down the short sharply sloping bonnet. The rear view is also comprehensive and this latest Porsche, with front and rear windows enlarged since the end of last year, shows a useful improvement in all-round visibility over earlier models.
At night this visibility is maintained by powerful headlights with a good spread and in bad weather by extremely effective windscreen wipers, with a heavy contact pressure. Although variable wiper speed is no longer a novelty, these have the widest speed range we have yet encountered. The facia is neat and practical with well-separated switches and large, clearly marked instruments. No oil pressure gauge is fitted but there is an oil thermometer as a reminder that oil temperatures fluctuate more widely in air= cooled than in water-cooled engines. The instrument was not calibrated in degrees, but we never got the needle anywhere near the red warning sector even after quite a number of miles at or near maximum speed.
The thoughtful design of the seats and controls makes a new driver feel at home very quickly and his acclimatization is accelerated by the Porsche gearbox, which for many years has set something of a standard by which others are judged. Long connections to the rear-mounted gearbox isolate the lever from engine vibration whilst introducing a degree of flexibility which is no disadvantage in practice. All four forward ratios have synchromesh and, perhaps because this car had done only 500 miles when we took it over, bottom gear was always heavy to engage, but the other changes were light, and very fast. An unusual and most attractive feature is the quietness of the lower gears which give maximum speeds of approximately 30, 50 and 80 mph at 5,500 rpm. It seems natural in the Porsche to run up to 5,000 rpm (the beginning of the red sector on the rev. counter) quite regularly and not, as in most cars, only when in a desperate hurry; thus in ordinary driving one comes near to repeating the excellent acceleration, figures shown in the data panel. The mean maximum speed of 106.6 mph was recorded with less than 1,000 miles on the clock and would probably improve appreciably after a lot more running in.
Obviously the smoothness of the flat-four air-cooled engine is a major factor in encouraging this sort of use; as heard from outside the car or by reflection from walls through open windows, the power unit is not quiet but its remote position and effective insulation prevent the direct transmission of mechanical sounds to the interior leaving only a deep-throated and not unpleasant combination of intake and exhaust noise. When throttled back for high-speed cruising most of this disappears and generally the engine has a relaxed air as though working well within its limits.
Wind noise round the very well=streamlined and wellsealed body is extremely low with all the windows shut; a separate cold air inlet makes fully closed motoring possible in mild weather but the front or rear quarter lights must be opened to induce a substantial flow of air. If the side windows are wound down very far, a most unpleasant buffeting airflow is established.
We have said that the engine enjoys turning fast and a green sector on the rev. counter from 3,000â€”5,000 rpm indicates the region in which the needle should be kept for high-speed motoring, but it is certainly not inflexible. Two double-choke downdraught carburetters provide a separate inlet tract for each cylinder and there is ample evidence that carburation is unusually clean. Smooth, even pick-up is possible from below 1,000 rpm and the steady speed fuel consumption figures are particularly good. An 11,5 gallon tank with a reserve tap and a touring fuel consumption of nearly 36 mpg make a cruising range of 400 miles possible at moderate touring speeds. In our hands the car was driven as hard as possible nearly all the time and with a good deal of rush-hour town motoring thrown in the overall figure of 26 mpg was creditable. No rich mixture device is fittedâ€”a few strokes of the throttle squirt in enough fuel from the accelerator pumps for cold starting and almost immediately the engine will idle reliably without use of the hand throttle provided.
It is well known that early Porsche had the appreciable oversteer that is often associated with rear enginesand swing axle suspension und which demanded considerable skill in fast driving. Suspension and tyre development have now eliminated premature rear=end breakaway and left a car which can be driven extremely fast on winding roads without exceptional technique. Drivers who prefer more understeer can have it if they order the modified rear suspension which is standard on the Super 90 and available on the Super 75 as a factory-fitted optional extra. This consists of a crentre=pivoted transverse leaf spring which allows the use of thinner torsion bars giving a reduction in rear roll stiffness of about 20 %. Our test car was not equipped with this extra spring.
In general, the high=geared steering is reasonably light if not, perhaps, as light as one would expect with a high=efficiency mechanism and only 7,5 cwt on the front wheels, but considerable effort is needed to hold it into a sharp corner taken really fast when self-centring is very pronounced. Textile braced tread German Dunlop SP tyres (an optional extra) may have been partly responsible for this but, in return, they grip the road tenaciously in wet or dry conditions. In the limit, it is still the back wheels which break away first but they do so fairly gently; this limit can be postponed to stiii higher speeds by cornering with the power on; with i.r.s. and 58 % of the unladen weight on the driving wheels a good deal of power can be used with advantage even in the lower gears.
It is very noticeable that the Porsche responds best to those with a light, sensitive and relaxed touch and any attempt to grip the wheel and direct it forcefully results in jerky cornering and erratic straight-running. Normally it needs little correction at high speeds, but changing cambers, to some extent, and cross winds, to a considerable extent, can cause high=speed wander.
The roll stiffness is very great, the centre of gravity low and the rear roll centre high, a combination which diminishes lean on corners to a very small amount but introduces a characteristic lateral rocking motion into the ride as camber changes are followed closely and rapidly. Springing is comfortable but very firm so that there is some well-controlled vertical movement on ordinary roads but really bad roads are absorbed with unexpected ease; washboard surfaces, pot holes, bumps and ridges disturb neither its road clinging nor the monolithic feel which is an outstandingly pleasant result of a very rigid rattlefree structure and well-insulated suspension. This is one of the few cars where cornering speeds are indicated by the sharpness of the bend and not by the roughness of its surface.
The deceleration figures taken from 30 mph show that the brakes are powerful and fairly light but, although they proved entirely adequate for motoring in this
country, they fall below the standards set by good modern disc brakes. At low speeds and low pressures they made a loud and rather gritty rubbing noise and when stopping really hard from fast cruising speeds high pedal forces were needed and a slight judder was observed. A rapid succession of hard stops from 60 mph produced increased pedal travel and some fade. The pull=out handbrake, mounted under the facia, is extremely powerful and held the car with ease on a gradient of 1 in 3, but it is rather awkward to release and tends to remain in a half=way position unless pushed firmly back.
Luggage room under the front bonnet is rather limited but there is plenty of room inside the car when the occasional seat backs are folded flat and luggage can then be secured by straps which are available as an extra. For short journeys it is quite possible to put two average=size adults in the rear seats provided that the front ones are pushed forward to give kneeroom.
In many ways a light smalUengined car with a really high performance gives a keen driver the maximum satisfaction but, in this country at least, most of the vehicles which rival the Porsche for speed and agility lack its refinement comfort and carrying capacity. It is amazing that it still has so few competitors or imitators.
Reprinted to Porsche brochure of 1962 with permission of “The Motor”, London