Photos by: Brian Rozar
In the racing car world, there are prototypes, then “production models”, and finally the highest “improvement on the existing art,” to paraphrase patent application language. These are typically the last very few examples of an existing model, brimming with standard equipment that was optional on previous years—or hadn’t been invented yet.
Porsche introduced the “Carrera” engine and body designation as its ultimate version in 1956, basing it on engineer Ernst Fuhrmann’s dual-overhead camshaft engine, the Typ 547, designed initially for the Typ 550 1500 RS Spyder—but which Fuhrmann also wanted for his own car. With 1,498 cc overall displacement, two twin-throat Solex carburetors, and dual ignition and two spark-plugs per cylinder for highest efficiency fuel burn, the engine produced 100 DIN horsepower at 6,200 rpm, using a roller-bearing Hirth crankshaft. Porsche never unnecessarily decorated its cars: this top-of-the-line Carrera ran wider tires, a slightly larger steering wheel, a speedometer reading to 250 km/h (155 mph) and a tachometer peaking at 8,000 rpm, and placed the name “Carrera” in subtle script on both front fenders and the engine lid. Buckets seats replaced the standard padded ones. The company manufactured Carrera coupes, cabriolets, and Speedsters.
In 1957 engineers improved the Carrera with a new engine, the Typ 692. While still using a 1.5-liter displacement for racing purposes, it delivered 110 DIN horsepower at 6,400 rpm. Along with the new engine came a new designation corresponding to a racing class known as Grand Touring, Gran Turismo, or GT. Porsche limited production to coupe and Speedster body styles. To save weight, Porsche deleted the rear seat in the coupe, used Plexiglas for rear and side quarter windows, and removed the bumper over riders.
Porsche gave the Carrera two distinct personalities in 1958, offering a sumptuous but heavier Carrera de Luxe although it made few changes to the GT, they were significant: body engineers fitted them with aluminum door skins, front deck, and engine cover. What’s more, they sliced horizontal louvers for additional cooling and air intake onto the engine cover on both sides of the large vertical chrome-painted grille. For faster tire changes in races, Porsche offered Rudge knock-off wheels and hubs, and across the entire 356 line up, engineering upgraded the steering system.
For 1959 Porsche assembled its ultimate 356A version, the 1600 GS Carrera GT with its new Typ 692/2 and /3 engines of 1,588 cc displacement. With its plain-bearing crankshaft, two twin-throat downdraft Weber carburetors, 9.8:1 compression, and a low-restriction muffler, the 692/3 produced 115 DIN horsepower at 6,500 rpm; this is 141 SAE (gross) horsepower. Engine vibration forced Porsche to reposition the distributors drive from the end of the cams to a V-shaped fitting on the end of the crankshaft. Inside the deck lid, the horizontal louvers fed air directly to the carburetors through funnel-like ducts. The 1959 GT models were limited to coupes but delivered with 12-volt electrical systems.
Porsche introduced numerous options for 356 owners who raced and rallied. These included different gear sets, roll bars, and extra large fuel tanks among other upgrades. Engineering managed car weight scrupulously; the 1959 GT weighed 870 kilograms (1,918 pounds) compared to the 885-kilogram (1,951-pound) 1600 Super Coupe. Porsche manufactured just 41 of these GT coupes in 1959.