The 356 was a lightweight and nimble-handling rear-engine rear-wheel-drive 2-door sports car available in hardtop coupe and open configurations. Production started in 1948 at Gmünd, Austria, where approximately 50 cars were built. In 1950 the factory relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany, and general production of the 356 continued until April 1965. A total of 76,000 cars were manufactured.
The car was built of a monocoque (unibody) construction and the basic design of the 356 remained the same throughout its lifespan. A variety of models in both coupé and convertible forms were produced from 1948 through 1965.
356 coupes and "cabriolets" (soft-top) built through 1955 are readily identifiable by their split windscreens (1948 to 1952) or bent windscreens (center-creased, 1953 to 1955).
The original 356 carried forward the 1100 cc engine, originally used in the prototypes. Later, 1300 and 1500 cc engines with considerably more power were introduced. Today all of these earliest Porsches are highly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts worldwide for their design, reliability and sporting performance.
In 1955 the 356A was introduced. The car used the same body and had a curved windshield. Its internal factory designation, "Type 1", gave rise to its nickname "T1". In early 1957 a second revision of the 356A was produced, known as Type 2 (or T2. The four-cam "Carrera" engine, initially available only in the Spyder race cars, became an available option starting with the 356A.
In late 1959 significant styling and technical refinements gave rise to the 356B (a T5 body type). The mid-1962 356B model was changed to the T6 body type (twin engine lid grilles, external fuel filler in the right front fender and a larger rear window in the coupe). A unique "Karmann Hardtop" or "Notchback" 356B model was produced in 1961 and 1962. The 1961 production run (T5) was essentially a cabriolet body with the optional steel cabriolet hardtop welded in place. The 1962 line (T6 production) was a very different design in that the new T6 notchback coupé body did not start life as a cabriolet, but with its own production design—In essence, part cabriolet rear end design, part T6 coupe windshield frame, unique hard top. Both years of these unique cars have taken the name "Karmann Notchback".
The last revision of the 356 was the 356C introduced for the 1964 model year. It featured disc brakes all round, as well as an option for the most powerful pushrod engine Porsche had ever produced, the 95 hp "SC". 356 production peaked at 14,151 cars in 1964, the year that its successor, the new 911, was introduced to the US market (it was introduced slightly earlier in Europe). The company continued to sell the 356C in North America through 1965 as demand for the model remained quite strong.