Speedster, T-5, pre-A, Convertible D, Carrera 2, SC, Roadster, 356 B,
T-6, S-90, Cabriolet, GT Coupe, Continental.
All of the above are meaningful descriptions of various types of the Porsche
356 automobile. For the uninitiated however, they usually make no sense at all.
To the untrained eye, all 356's look the same and determining whether one is
looking at, say, a 1954 or a 1964 model is generally the result of a lucky guess
rather than a logical conclusion following the observation of specific
This article is meant as a "spotter's guide", i.e. it will
hopefully enable you to pick up a number of major evolution reference points so
that once you're on your own at a car show or at a 356 meet, you will be able to
know what kind of 356 you're looking at and what model year it is. Please note
that this article deals only with the street cars, and that any reference to a
specific year means the model year, which does not necessarily correspond to the
year of manufacture.
Finally, some helpful advice for differentiating between these cars. If
you're not sure, try to work by elimination using major reference points.
Imagine you're looking at a 356 Coupe and you're trying to determine the year.
It could be anywhere from 1950 to 1965. So what you do is narrow down until you
can't go any further. For instance you look first at the windshield: that will
tell you if the car was made before or after 1955. Then you look at the front
fenders: that will tell you if it was made before or after 1960. Then you look
at the front hood: that will tell you if it was made before or after 1962, and
so on and so forth. Good luck and have fun.
Except for the excessively rare 46 Gmünd cars manufactured in Austria
for about two years, the Porsche 356 was built in Zuffenhausen near Stuttgart
from 1950 to 1965. This is the first major reference point: 356 = 1950-1965.
Over those 15 years, four major model types are recognized: Type 356, Type
356A, Type 356B and Type 356C.
Type 356 is often called pre-A. This is not an official Factory designation
but rather a convenient way of avoiding confusion and being generally more
accurate when talking about the early cars.
In addition to these four major type designations, three additional ones are
sometimes used: T-2, T-5 and T-6. These refer to different body types (not to
be confused with body styles, i.e. Coupe, Cabriolet, etc.), but only the last
two are commonly used for model identification.
Finally, body style is another confusing point. There are two basic 356
body styles: Coupe and Cabriolet. Coupe is generally no problem as everyone
knows that a Coupe is a car with a fixed metal top. Things get a little more
involved with the soft top version of the 356, as it can be a Cabriolet, a
Speedster, a Convertible or a Roadster, with often a combination of those in the
same year (and in addition there can be a soft top with a hard top.). Are you
getting really confused yet?
Engines basically follow a steady evolution from small displacement and
adequate power to bigger displacement and more power. Except in the case of the
Super 90 and the SC, engines are usually not relevant in identifying a model
year, as other characteristics on the car will tell you more about the specific
This article deals with the different types of 356 in historical progession,
i.e. pre-A (1950-1955), A (1956-1959), B (1960-1963) and C (1964-1965).
Type 356 (PRE-A) - 1950-1955
One word of caution where early cars are concerned: although there are
general rules of thumb to differentiate between various model years, these are
far from absolute. There are indeed numerous exceptions to the rules, due
essentially to the fact that Porsche was at first a very small operation and
supplies were not always readily available so the Factory had to manage with
what they had on hand. This is evidenced by photos taken at the time (not
photos of restored cars). So remember that there are no absolutes but only
general rules of thumb for the early cars.
The most significant feature of the pre-A is the windshield: look at the
windshield and you will always be able to tell if the car was made before 1956
or not. Everything else takes a back seat to this foolproof reference point.
The pre-A windshield (in its 2 configurations) is unique and easily
recognizable. As seen from above the car, it is shaped like a wide open V
(whereas all post-1955 windshields are curved), except for the Speedster of
This rule applies to both the steel top version (Coupe) and soft top version
(Cabriolet), but not to the Speedster, which always had a special curved
Since it would be no fun if things were that easy, there are two different
types of pre-A windshield (both in the shape of a wide open V): the SPLIT
windshield and the BENT windshield (the latter not to be confused with the
curved windshield). Both have the same shape, but the split windshield is made
of 2 pieces of glass joined in the middle by a big vertical rubber strip while
the bent windshield is a single piece of glass with a vertical crease in the
Split windshields were used for about 2 years (April 1950 - April 1952) and
bent windshields until the introduction of the 356A in 1956. So remember: pre-A
= 1950-1955 with split windshield (1950-1952) and bent windshield (1952-1955).
In order to accomodate these windshields, the edge of the roof has a typical
"peak" in the centre.
Once you have determined that the car you are looking at is a pre-A, how can
you more accurately pinpoint the specific model year, apart from the change of
windshield in 1952?
A number of visible and not so visible changes were made over those six
During model year 1952, the split windshield was replaced by the bent
windshield (April) and, on cars exported to North America, the early "body"
bumpers were replaced by "interim" bumpers. The early bumpers
appeared to be attached to the body but were in fact removable. The interim
bumpers are mounted slightly away from the body and are larger. They are
similar to the late pre-A and A bumpers but they wrap around the front and rear
fenders to a much larger extent.
A slightly different hood handle appeared in mid-1952. The first hood
handle was thin and short and had no hole. It was replaced by the same type of
handle, except that the new one had a hole and had more of a "hump" to
accomodate the hole. Here again, there was some overlapping as some earlier
models had the hole while some later models had no hole. Anyway, the change
occurred some time in 1952.
From 1950 to mid-1957, the rear license plate light assembly is mounted
above the license plate (commonly called "shine down" as opposed to "shine
up" after mid-1957).
1953 cars are easy to spot as opposed to earlier and later pre-A's. In the
front, the turn signals were moved directly below the headlights (while they
were more "in-board" on earlier models) and are of the stand-alone
type (as opposed to 1954 and later).
In the rear, the round and rectangular taillights were replaced by two round
(called "beehive") taillights side by side on each fender for the 1953
For 1954, another change was made which makes this vintage easily
recognizable. The turn signals on the front were mounted in combination with a
horn grille below each headlight. This grille was designed to allow cooling air
to reach the front brakes as well as to provide an opening for the horn. This
feature cannot be considered on its own however as it was carried over until the
introduction of the 356B in 1960, which had a different grille and turn signal.
You may get a little confused when you look at a 1955 model, but this
confusion is in itself your indication of the 1955 vintage. I mentioned before
that there were two types of pre-A hood handles, one without a hole and one with
a hole and a hump, both of them without a crest. A new type of hood handle
appeared for 1955: the A hood handle, on a pre-A model. This handle is bigger
and much longer and has a crest on it. So if you see a pre-A body with an A
hood handle, you know it is a 1955 model. In addition, a number of 1955 models
had the "Continental" script on the front fenders.
In summary, pre-A = 1950-1955. Major characteristics: split or bent
windshield, shine-down license plate light, 16-inch wheels, small
polished-aluminum hood handle (except 1955).
TYPE 356 A (1956-1959)
The major feature differentiating the pre-A from the A is again the
windshield. All windshields are now curved, i.e. they form a smooth arc from
one side of the car to the other, as does the roof (the "peak"
previously required to accomodate the pre-A windshield having been eliminated).
The body remains basically unchanged, with the front having its typical
rounded fenders with low mounted headlights. The hood handle is now much
longer and has a crest.
On the side, the rocker panels are now flat, as seen in perspective from the
front of the car (while they curved inwards on the pre-A) and a deco strip has
been added with a large rubber insert, as opposed to the B where the insert is
Wheels are 15-inch whereas the pre-A had 16-inch rims. Also, as a result of
the new windshield shape, the dash has been redesigned and is now curved to
follow the shape of the glass instead of being "pointy" as in the
So far so good, everything is fairly straightforward. But things get a
little more complicated in 1957 and 1958, so hang on to your Nomex.
For 1957, overriders tubes (supposedly for increased protection) were added
to the front and rear bumpers on the U.S. models. So the fact that the car
you're looking at does not have those may or may not be significant, depending
on whether it is a European or U.S. model. In addition, they are often removed
on restored cars. On top of that, these overrider tubes were first fairly low
over the front bumper (1957) but were raised higher in 1959; plus they were
first one piece on the rear bumper (1957) and then 2-piece (mid-1957). Finally,
the overriders were offered as an option on European models.
For 1957 also, the shape of the door handles was slightly modified and
looked more rounded in its rear section.
Mid-1957 is a major reference point to tell cars apart. In the rear, two
significant changes were made: the beehive taillights used since 1953 were
replaced by a one-piece teardrop unit on each side while the housing for the
license plate light and back-up light was moved from above the license plate ("shine
down") to below the license plate ("shine up").
Model year 1958 saw the introduction of the T-2 body. This reference is not
used very often as visible differences are few. The major one is the door
striker plate, which was moved lower than in previous models and was held by 3
screws instead of 5.
Another telltale change is the exhaust. The two exhaust pipes now exit
through the lower part of each bumper guard (except on Carrera models).
In addition, Cabriolets now sport vent windows (Coupes only have them
starting in 1960 with the T-5 body).
Finally, inside, the ashtray was moved from the face of the dash on the
right to under the dash in the centre.
Apart from the higher overrider tubes, no significant changes were made for
1959. This was the last year of the Type 356 A, which was replaced in 1960 by
the 356 B and the T-5 body.
TYPE 356 B (1960-1963)
Model year 1960 is a milestone in the evolution of the 356, with the
introduction of the T-5 bodied 356 B. There were both major and minor changes
compared to previous models.
The most striking changes are those made to the front end. The hood is
flatter, with a massive chrome handle (as opposed to polished aluminum on the
Pre-A and the A). The bumpers are higher and bigger, and have a "pointy"
shape. They also have large chrome guards.
The sheet metal was also revised. Seen from above, the front end now makes
a smooth curve from side to side, instead of a "wave" as on pre-A and
The headlights have been raised and the front fenders make a nearly straight
line from the windshield posts to the headlights.
The horn grille and turn signals are different from the A cars. The grille
does not come in contact with the body as on previous models, but is mounted
from inside the fender and consists of only 2 horizontal anodized aluminum
blades. Under the bumper, a new large opening has been added on each side, with
grilles or optional foglights.
The 1960 model year is also the last year of the front mounted Porsche
script. All Coupes now sport vent windows.
In the rear, the bumper has also been raised and is similar to the front one
(cone shape with large guards). Two license plate lights are mounted on the
rear bumper. The pre-A and A license plate light assembly is therefore no
longer used. The backup light is integrated into the body, under the bumper.
The taillight units remain the same. Free standing reflectors appear either
above the taillights (U.S.) or below the bumper (European).
Following this landmark evolution of the type in 1960, the Factory rested
for a year and no major changes were made for 1961.
The T-6 body type was introduced for the 1962 model year, and this will need
some clarification as many people get really confused and are more often than
not mixed up with the B, C, T-5 and T-6 designations.
The B and C designations refer to car type while the T-5 and T-6
designations refer to body type (body type not to be confused either with body
The 356 B was introduced in 1960 with a T-5 body. In 1962, the T-6 body
type was introduced but the car was still a 356 B. The T-6 body was used from
1962 to 1965 but in 1964 the 356 B was replaced by the 356 C, with of course a
Now, if you're just as confused as before, a little diagram may help.
As you can see, trivia buffs can have lots of fun with this as a result of
the various combinations possible. For instance, a B car can be a T-5 or a T-6,
a T-6 can be a C or a B but a C can only be a T-6. Try saying this fast five
Now that everything is clear, let's see what those designations refer to in
We have already discussed the B type, introduced in 1960 with the T-5 body.
The T-6 body was introduced in 1962 with a number of changes from the T-5 body.
Three of those changes stand out: the front of the hood is squared off instead
of rounded, there is an air intake at the base of the windshield (except on
Roadsters) and a gas filler trap has been added on the right fender (from 1950
to 1961, you had to open the front hood to fill up).
In addition, the roof line was slightly modified due to an enlarged
windshield and rear window. In the back, the engine lid is larger and shaped
slightly differently (Coupes only) and has 2 air intake grilles instead of one.
The T-6 356 B remained in production until the advent of the final evolution
of the genre in 1964, the 356 C.
TYPE 356 C - 1964-1965
The 356 C was introduced for 1964 and, as everybody now knows, was a T-6
body type model. The only outward difference between a T-6 B and a C is the
wheels, or more precisely the hubcaps. There were basically three types of
hubcaps over the entire 15 years of production: the Baby Moon, the Super and the
The C hubcaps are like a disk (with or without a Porsche crest in the
center). They are flat, as opposed to the other two types. These hubcaps
indicate that you are looking at a car with four disc brakes, the 356 C.
There were a couple of other minor changes but none of them visible outside
the car. The 1964 and 1965 cars are the last of the 356's, culminating with the
top of the line SC engine (in pushrod trim) and the Carrera 2 engine (in 4-cam
Coupe, Cabriolet, Speedster, Convertible D, Roadster, Hardtop
356 soft-top body styles are a major point of confusion for the uninitiated.
I should have a dollar for each time I was told that I had a beautiful
Convertible (which was in fact a Roadster) or that so and so was looking for a
Speedster (when he actually wanted a Cabriolet).
We all know what a Coupe is, right? It's a car with a fixed steel top, as
opposed to a soft-top model. The answer is basically "yes" as far as
356's are concerned (we'll come back to that later).
Now for the hard stuff. A Porsche 356 with a soft top can be a Cabriolet, a
Speedster, a Convertible D or a Roadster. Let's try to make some sense out of
A Cabriolet is the soft-top equivalent of a Coupe. The way to tell a
Cabriolet is to look at the windshield frame. The Cabriolet windshield frame is
the same shape as the Coupe and is painted the same color as the rest of the
On the other hand, Speedsters, Convertible D's and Roadsters are special
cars that do not correspond to an equivalent Coupe model. Here again, they can
be told apart by their windshield frame. Since the Cabriolet and the Coupe are
related, but the others aren't, it follows that you can have three body styles
in the same model year, i.e. a Coupe and a Cabriolet, plus one of Speedster,
Convertible D or Roadster (depending on the year) but you cannot have a
Speedster, a Convertible D or a Roadster in the same year. For those getting
really confused, a little diagram will be useful.
Coupe and Cabriolet only for all other years (except for 16 completely
different America Roadsters in 1952).
So the Cabriolet is like a Coupe but with a soft top and with the windshield
frame painted the same color as the body.
On the other hand, the Speedster, the Convertible D and the Roadster all
have removable (to a point) chrome windshield frames. Here is how to
tell them apart.
The first to come along was the Speedster. It was built from 1954 to 1958.
A Speedster can therefore be a pre-A or an A. It has a low, thin chrome
windshield frame, with rounded upper corners.
The Convertible D (D stands for the body maker Drauz) was manufactured for
the 1959 model year only. It is therefore an A. The chrome windshield posts
are bigger and higher than the Speedster, and the two upper corners make an
angle with the top of the chrome windshield frame (as opposed to the rounded
corners on the Speedster).
The Roadster replaced the Convertible D in 1960. It is therefore a B car,
but with the same chrome windshield frame as the Convertible D. It was
manufactured until 1962, which means that the Roadster can be a T-5 or a T-6.
The T-6 Roadster is known as the Twin-Grille Roadster and is extremely rare, as
fewer than 250 were built, starting with #89601, with which I was intimately
acquainted at some time.
Let's have another of my little diagrams to recap all this.
|| Convertible D
|| --- 1959 ---
|| --- 1962 ---|
|| ---- A ----
|| ---- A ----
|| T-5 ---- 356 B
|| T-6 ---- 356 B|
Plus, of course, for all those years, the Coupe and the Cabriolet.
One final oddity in the 356 saga: the Karmann Hardtop (also called the
We all know that a hardtop is a removable steel (or sometimes fiberglass)
roof designed to fit on a cabriolet. Removable hardtops were available for
Speedsters and Cabriolets either as a Factory option or aftermarket. The "Karmann
Hardtop" or "Notchback" was essentially a Cabriolet body with a
fixed hardtop welded in place. It looked like a Cabriolet with a hardtop but
was in fact equivalent to a Coupe since the top could not be removed. This
model was built for 1961 and 1962 and less than 2,300 were made. They are
easily recognizable due to their special shape and can be differentiated from a
Cabriolet with a hardtop in place by the uninterrupted sheet metal coming down
the side of the rear window and blending into the rear cowl (whereas on a real
cab with a hardtop, there is a gap between the base of the rear window and the
PORSCHE 356 1950-1965
|Type 356 (pre-A)
||Split windshield. "Body" bumpers. "Crash box"
transmission. 16-inch wheels. No hole hood handle. Inboard front turn
signals. One round and one rectangular taillight (each side). Shine down
license plate light. Single engine lid grille. Wood trim on top of doors.|
|Type 356 (pre-A)
||Bent windshield. Interim bumpers. Hood handle with hole. No more wood trim
on top of door.|
|Type 356 (pre-A)
||Syncromesh gearbox. A-style bumpers. Turn signals moved directly
below headlights. 2 round beehive taillights on each side.|
|Type 356 (pre-A)
||Horn grille with front turn signals.|
|Type 356 (pre-A)
||Bigger hood handle with crest (A type)|
|Type 356 A
||Curved windshield. Flat rocker panel. 15-inch wheels.Redesigned dash.|
|Type 356 A
||Overrider tubes added on bumpers of U.S. models. Rounded door handle.|
|Type 356 A
||Mid 1957 :
||Beehive taillights replaced by single teardrop unit on each side. Shine up
license plate light. Split rear overrider tubes on U.S. models.|
|Type 356 A
||T-2 body. Exhaust through bumper guards. Front turn signals mounted on
wedge base. Ashtray under dash.|
|Type 356 A
||Higher overrider tubes.|
|Type 356 B
|| T-5 body: in the front, bigger and higher bumpers with big bumper guards.
Higher headlights and nearly straight fenders. Flattened hood with
larger chrome handle. Revised horn grille and turn signal, with additional
grilles under bumper. Last year of front mounted Porsche script. Vent windows
on Coupes. In the rear, bigger and higher bumpers also, no license plate/back-up
light assembly, but 2 license plate lights on bumper and back-up light
integrated in body under the bumper.|
|Type 356 B
||T-6 body: slightly different roof line due to larger windshield and rear
window (Coupes only). Larger engine lid (Coupes only). Twin-grille. Air intake
at base of windshield (except Roadster). Squared-off front hood. Gas filler
trap on right front fender.|
|Type 356 C
||Disc brakes. Flat hubcaps.|
|Type 356 C
||End of production.|