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Book Review




If you believe – as many do – that we’re living in a world of unparalleled political and social unrest (Russia is bombing, Paris is burning and a porn star is talking), then you should take a breath, take a minute and look back at 1948. While America was on its feet and working toward a postwar economic boom, in Europe the devastation was rampant, hunger was pervasive and Stalin had – at least figuratively – built that wall; the Iron Curtain was going up. And not incidentally, in Gmünd, Austria Ferry Porsche’s design team was about to launch the first car – the Porsche 356/1 – carrying the company’s name. 

In his history of Porsche’s 356 – PORSCHE 356: 75TH ANNIVERSARY – author and Porsche historian Gordon Maltby does a deep dive into the development and evolution of Porsche’s most pivotal engineering and design benchmark. Despite a name known worldwide in the first half of the 20th century, the postwar Porsche history is one of doing more with considerably less. The company’s small team had resettled in the Austrian village of Gmünd during the war in its attempt to avoid Allied bombing. Following Germany’s surrender, and while Porsche engineers were assisting with production development of the Porsche-designed Volkswagen, eyes turned to ‘what’s next’ – and next would be 356/1, the very first Porsche to carry the family nameplate. 

Although Porsche’s design and spec differed, even then, significantly from the VW being launched in what is now known as Wolfsburg, the Volkswagen parts bin supplied both parts and inspiration. Despite the midengined configuration of the first Porsche roadster, a coupe with what is now the traditional rear-engine location quickly followed, which made its international debut at the Geneva auto show in 1949. The rest – as you’d guess – is history, and it’s a history given a most thorough overview by Mr. Maltby.

Of course, in the Porsche timeline there is both the production line (which didn’t really begin until Porsche’s design and engineering team relocated to Stuttgart) and the starting grid, and it took Porsche virtually no time to return to the competitive arena with the 356 coupes and, beginning in 1953, the purpose-built Porsche 550. (If you haven’t seen a 550, you’ve probably seen the occasional Beck 550 reproduction at an area Cars and Coffee.) It was the 550 that put Porsche on the road race map, with its singular focus on beating sports cars with (generally) more displacement under the hood and more factory resources in the trunk. Those successes in the early and mid-fifties led to overall wins in the ‘70s and thereafter, Porsche becoming – often with Penske as its alliterative partner – its own Panzer division in the annals of motorsport. 


But it all began – even the Cayenne SUV and Taycan EV – with the 356, and the affection for that car of most humble beginnings continues to this day. Bill Lightfoot’s 356C Carrera 2, the very last example of that ultra-rare model assembled by Porsche in January of 1965, still resides in Bill’s garage, and still makes trips to the Cars and Coffee at Katie’s in Great Falls, Virginia. With the final evolution of the 356 shape enclosing one of the most exotic flat four’s ever, Bill’s Porsche speaks conclusively to both its classic design and our ongoing desire to go faster than the other guy at the light – or on the grid. 

And it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway…) that in Stuttgart, where Porsche remains headquartered, there’s a comprehensive museum celebrating Porsche’s expansive history. But the Porsche store in Santa Clarita, California – part of the Galpin organization – also has a museum, open seven days a week for your tire-kicking pleasure. And as a member of the Porsche Club of America you can tap into any number of Porsche events and celebrations throughout the year; many of those events were prototyped by Porsche in the company’s early years as promotional opportunities for its dealers.

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Author Gordon Maltby’s book has taken a great automotive history and, in its 256 pages and 300 images, amplified that history with its many personalities – and celebrities! – connected with its timeline over 75 years. In its coffee table format you won’t easily pick it up, but once up you’ll be hard-pressed to put it down. And then, as we’ve noted before, you’ll need to buy a coffee table…

Mr. Maltby’s PORSCHE 356: 75TH ANNIVERSARY is available through Quarto Publishing ( The review copy was provided by the publisher – you can obtain yours via your local bookseller ($75 retail) or Autobooks/Aerobooks in Burbank, CA.

Boldt, a contributor to outlets such as, Kelley Blue Book and Autoblog, brings to his laptop some forty years of experience in automotive retail, journalism and public relations. He is a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, The Washington Automotive Press Association and L.A.'s Motor Press Guild. David is the Managing Editor of txGarage, a regular panelist on the AutoNetwork Reports webcast/podcast, and the automotive contributor to Dallas' Katy Trail Weekly.

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