#0050 - Porsche 356-A Carrera Coupe, 1960
Photographed: York Heritage Trust Concours d'Elegance, 2008. Owner: not recorded
Cams & Cranks: For details on the standard flat 4-cylinder motor, please reference the Humble Beginnings heading in our feature on the 1959 Porsche 356-A Speedster. For the time being, we're diving into how quickly things can get interesting with this little motor. A series of changes to the original 1,100cc platform result in big things, effectively creating an entirely new motor with completely different driving characteristics; this is what forms the basis of the 356 Carrera.
The most obvious change is increased displacement, though in the case of our Carrera the exact capacity of the motor is unknown. Suffice to say it is likely in the neighborhood of 1,600cc. Displacement, however, is hardly the most important alteration. To really get things moving, valve actuation was changed from pushrods to overhead cams. This alone signaled a more determined, precise cut toward competition. But even for the horizontally opposed layout, twin-cams per bank were also specified, creating a flat four, quad-cam configuration. Lastly, the revised Porsche crankshaft could be replaced with a competition spec roller bearing unit. Determined suitable for the track, and damn costly to run otherwise, the roller bearing crank increased revving potential which, in turn, not only threatened to hasten wear on the bearings, but also increased the chance of throwing the rest of the motor. True, these 356 motors are known for endless watch-like operation once they're sorted, but excess speed and excess heat will tire mechanical components no matter how well assembled.
Recently (as of July, 2010) Jay Leno commented that he finally acquired a 356 Carrera. But he was adamant about avoiding the roller bearing crankshaft purely for reasons of practicality. What's lost for the hot crank is locked away in the upper reaches of the Carrera's rev range, (approaching and then hammering 7,500 rpm), which equates to an absolute blast on the track, but not a lot more usable power on public roads.
As it is, a full-on Carrera provided the motoring world with a transformative experience compared to the compact touring car that was the standard 356-A. In period, Sports Cars Illustrated tested a new Carrera GT Speedster, with Jesse Alexander reporting that the standard 356 is just about settling itself at 4,200 rpm, whereas the Carrera is only getting started at 5,000. Similarly, all that extra power—as much as 140 brake horsepower or more for a very well run 1,600cc quad-cam—really made good use of the long gears. Wrote Alexander, "The range of speeds in the gears is amazing, 40 mph in first, 70 in second, and 100 in third, figures hard to believe until one gets behind the wheel and experiences it." More to the point, Porsche were developing a new way of going fast—ever unconventional, and thrilling because.
Tracking History: Without a connection to the owner, the story of a 356 is impossible to guess. How the car came to its present configuration, where it might have raced, and all the details about the carburetors, cams, and cranks employed is up for debate. Around 24 different motors were offered in the 356 through more than fifteen years of serious volume production, so the fine points of a particular car can only be left to those with intimate knowledge. In other words, let this Carrera represent the body of special, hotted up 356 Porsche cars, and perhaps later on down the road we'll pick up some details on a truly remarkable stablemate.
Thoroughbred & Classic Cars, September 1996, All-Time Greats, Porsche 356, by Tony Dron, Pages 56-63
Christie's International Motor Cars - Pebble Beach Auction Catalogue, 1999, pages 30-32
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