The Pretty Ones
-- april-may 2013 --
In the summer of 1948, one of the greatest style icons of the modern era was born - the Porsche 356. Production started in an old sawmill in Gmünd, where Porsche's design bureau had to flee during the Allied bombing of the armaments industry around Stuttgart. The first prototype was built as a convertible, mostly to see how many of Volkswagen's standard parts could be used. For prototype number two they had found the form for how the car would look like in the future mass production. The popular Beetle was surely an inspiration here.
The sawmill was far from suitable for automobile production, causing production to be slow. Car body parts were shaped by hand on wooden forms, which kept the production rate at a very time-consuming level. Until 1951, no more than around 50 cars were produced in the old sawmill, of which ten carried the convertible bodywork from the Swiss body manufacturer Beutler. Of the Porsche 356, four different model lines were manufactured between the years 1948 and 1965.
In 1949 the car was presented at the International Motor Show in Geneva, and interest was so high that Porsche planned for a new series of 500 cars. Now Porsche began the move back to their old premises in Zuffenhausen in Germany that had been occupied by the U.S. Army. The problem was that the old premises would not hold for a production of 500 cars. Furthermore, they were intended for a construction agency. As a solution, Porsche had to rent space at his neighbour's premises, body manufacturer Reutter against the promise that Reutter got to build the car bodies. The main difference to the previous production was that now the car bodies were built of steel, because Reutter was missing the option to weld aluminum.
The car model was continued to be refined, and in 1956 introduced as the 356 A. Cars of that series are sometimes also called "The Pretty Ones". The model in our photograph is a 356 B from 1961.
The Porsche 356 was a huge success in America, and was used for a number of rallies such as the Carrera Panamericana. It is also from this seven day race, Porsche later borrowed the model names for many of their cars.
The 356 also has connections to famous people, one of them James Dean. It is said that Dean's favorite car was the said Porsche 356, and that he used the car daily.
James Dean was born in 1931 in Marion, Indiana, and after undergoing theater training at the Actors Studio in New York, he became one of Hollywood's minions in the mid 50's. Unfortunately, he only lived to take part in one of his three film premieres before his tragic death in a car accident on his way to a race in Salinas, California, 1955. A car accident that became moot - was it James Dean who was driving the car or his mechanic? One thing is for sure - the accident occurred with a 550 Spyder, one of Porsche’s models.
Probably, it was the soft seductive lines that made the car so appealing for Dean. Naturally, he dressed in a simple style with jeans and a leather jacket. This simple way of dressing provoked many, and one could say that Dean helped personify the teenage rebel which his looks surely contributed to as well. He was the archetype of the 1950ies young rebel and managed to bring a less dressy fashion to Hollywood. His style exuded simplicity and minimalism, and he was rarely, if ever, seen wearing any accessory such as a hat or scarf.
If you want to recreate his style but still be well-dressed, choose a white or cream-coloured shirt with button-down collar and a pair of khaki chinos with brown shoes.