The 356 was created by Ferdinand "Ferry" Porsche the son of Dr Ing Ferdinand Porsche, founder of the company. The 356 was built in four distinct series, the original ("pre-A"), followed by the 356 A, 356 B, and finally the 356 C. While the 356's body was an original design by Porsche employee Erwin Komenda, its mechanicals including the engine cases and suspension components were based on and initially sourced from Volkswagen. The first 356 was road certified in Austria on June 8, 1948 and used many Volkswagen parts for manufacturing economy. Quickly though, Porsche re-engineered and refined the car with a focus on performance. It is interesting to note that they had introduced the 4-cam racing "Carrera" engine (a design totally unique to Porsche sports cars) before they introduced their own, non-VW pushrod engine casing in late 1954. Fewer and fewer parts were shared between Volkswagen and Porsche as the '50's progressed. The early 356 automobile bodies produced at Gmünd were handcrafted in aluminium, but when production moved to Zuffenhausen, Germany in 1950, models produced there were steel-bodied.
Little noticed at its inception, mostly by a small number of auto racing enthusiasts, the first 356 sold primarily in Austria and Germany. It took Porsche two years starting with the first prototype in 1948 to manufacture the first 50 automobiles. By the early 1950’s the 356 had gained some renown among enthusiasts on both sides of the Atlantic for its aerodynamics, handling, and excellent build quality. The class win at Le Mans in 1951 was clearly a factor. It was always common for owners to race the car as well as drive them on the streets.
The most desirable collector model of the 356 series was the "Speedster" introduced in late 1954 after Max Hoffman, the sole US importer of Porsches, advised the company that a lower-cost, somewhat spartan open-top version could sell well in the American market. With its low, raked windscreen (which could be removed for weekend racing), bucket seats and minimal folding top, the Speedster was an instant hit, especially in Southern California. Production of the Speedster peaked at only 1,171 cars in 1957.
Cabriolets had been manufactured right from the start of 356 production but the first open Porsche to make a significant impact was the Speedster. The Reutter-bodied Speedster was dropped in 1958 and replaced by the more civilised Convertible D, which differed principally by virtue of its larger windscreen and winding side windows. Porsche sub-contracted cabriolet body construction to a number of different coachbuilders, Convertible D production being undertaken by Drauz of Heilbronn.