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When you climb into the driver seat of a Porsche 356 from the early 1960’s, you are not greeted by the smell of supple leather or the feel of lush carpet beneath your shoes but, instead, an overwhelming smell of fuel, burnt oil and crumbling horse hair. A steel steering wheel, cold to the touch, necessitates the use of leather driving gloves—not as some “stylish” accessory but as the only means of maintaining a grip on the slick painted surface under spirited driving. A chromed handle on the right side of the dash is the only place for a passenger to hold on for dear life while flying around the winding corners.

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1961 Porsche 356. Track day at Harris Hill. Photo by author.

The interior is spartan and with minimal creature comforts, save for the chrome plated ashtray and optional Blaupunkt radio. This sports car, like many others from its era, is remarkably simple by today’s standards. Sports cars then, and the Porsche 356 in particular, were designed as a mechanical extension of the driver—there was no power steering, power brakes or computer driven aids. These cars were machines that demanded respect on the road and track alike—without it, it wouldn’t take much to send the car sailing off the pavement.

1961 Porsche 356

 These were sports cars in their purest form. This lack of excess is what makes these cars and many others from the 1950’s and 60’s so desirable. While the German designs did not share the same dramatic lines and beauty of their Italian counterparts (such as the work being completed at Ferrari by Pininfarina), the designs were purposefully elegant. Every detail had meaning that, when combined, created a no frills sports car that aesthetically expressed its purpose — speed. A car that wasn’t meant for show or luxury but as a vehicle that crossed the threshold between a Sunday cruiser and a thorough bred racing car.

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1961 Porsche 356. Photos by author.

They were inherently beautiful. Bodies were hand crafted and had smooth flowing lines dictated by a newly found obsession with aerodynamics. There was no heavy use of plastic, no complex array of buttons. They were uncluttered and intuitive and everything was carefully within reach and decisively oriented toward the driver.

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Porsche Ad Circa 1961

Today, much of this simplistic beauty has been lost.  Electric steering takes away the feel from the road. Modern sound deadening eliminates your connection to the outside world (so much so that cars like the new BMW 2-Series shamelessly play pre-recorded engine “noise” through their speakers).  Auto-manual transmissions eliminate yet another element of driver interaction. New sports cars are laden with these features and modern amenities. As a result, modern Porsches are a whopping 1000-3500 lbs heavier than their older 356 brethren. While the performance of these newer cars is undeniably phenomenal, they have become sterile and numb by comparison; it is this lack of character that has made the classics so sought after.

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1956 Porsche 356A Coupe

Within the past five years alone, prices within the classic car market have increased exponentially as the desire for these old cars rapidly grows. To many, these cars are works of art in their own right. They are icons of style used in modern day advertising to promote products ranging from perfume to luggage.

Associating your product with classic cars, old wooden boats or even an antique warbird says, “I’m timeless, well made and sophisticated.” These vehicles exhibited the imperfections of the human hand, yet at the same time, the attention to detail that a robot on an assembly line can never replicate. They have an aura about them, a rich history that is responsible for the technology we marvel at today.

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So what could possibly make an antiquated, fifty plus year old car with a meager 65 horsepower so alluring? When you sit in the driver seat of a vintage Porsche 356 and look at the three gauge dash with the bright chrome rings, black dials and vibrant green numerals it is immediately evident that this is not retro—this is what retro was born from. With minimal sound deadening and light weight 18 gauge steel floor pans being the only thing that separates you from the small, but loud four cylinder engine and the road beneath—the driving experience is purely visceral. It not only stimulates the senses, but the heart and mind. It is rich in its purity of design, it is rich in feel and it will never again be duplicated.

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Porsche Hill Country Rallye March 2014.