The Story of 1950 Porsche 356 Cabriolet #5135

27 02 2009

After the initial batch of aluminium bodied Type 356/2 Porsche’s were built in Gmünd Austria, Porsche returned to Germany hoping to re-occupy their base in Stuttgart and continue their car building enterprise. After World War II, the First Motor Pool of the United States Forces had commandeered the offices, shops and garages that made up 2 Spitalwaldstrasse in Zuffenhausen. In November 1949, Porsche submitted an order of 500 cars to the coachbuilder Reutter, although 600 would eventually be built between Reutter and Gläser coachbuilders. These would be known as Type 356, Model 50 which roughly corresponds to the year in which they were to be built. Forced to find somewhere to base the assembly of the next phase of the 356, in early 1950 they rented space from Reutter to house their operation.

1950 Porsche 356 Glaser Cabriolet #5142

1950 Porsche 356 Glaser Cabriolet #5142. Photo: Hal Thoms

These new 356 Porsches had 4-digit chassis numbers and were numbered 5001-5600. Of the 600 cars produced, 53 were Gläser bodied Cabriolets, 12 were Reutter bodied Cabriolets and 535 were Reutter Coupes. The cars were fitted with either a Type 369 1100cc engine or the Type 506 1300cc engine. Of the 12 Reutter Cabriolets produced in the initial batch of steel 356’s only 5 are known to still exist. According to the Split Window Registry these carry chassis numbers #5014, #5033, #5134, #5135 and #5138. Chassis #5135 with its Metallic Radium Green paint and 1300cc engine P*1022, despite being a 1950 model year, was delivered new in February 1951. This car nearly 57 years later has arrived in New Zealand and will soon begin a very lengthy but detailed and accurate restoration to return it to its condition as it left the factory. #5135 is one of the oldest Porsches in the world and is now the oldest Porsche outside of Europe and North America.

1950 Porsche 356 Reutter Cabriolet #5014

1950 Porsche 356 Reutter Cabriolet #5014

It may seem a strange car to want to buy as your first Porsche but ever since looking for a 356 project over a year ago, I found the earlier the car, the more interesting the history. The very early Pre-A cars had a very different look with their split windscreen, body bumpers, solid wheels and a very diverse and interesting selection of exterior and interior colours. These cars also had the non-synchronized ‘crash-box’ transmission borrowed from the VW and rare lever dampers in the rear. The 1100cc engines had a mere 40 bhp using 7.0:1 compression and the 1300cc engines developed 44 bhp. The cars took Reutter approximately 550 hours to finish and were priced at around $4000 USD.

1950 Porsche 356 Glaser #5142 Interior. Photo: Dr Brett Johnson

1950 Porsche 356 Glaser #5142 Interior. Photo: Dr Brett Johnson

As so few of these cars still exist and they very rarely are advertised for sale, it was obvious that finding one was going to be no easy feat, although it wouldn’t have been fun without a challenge. I began my search by researching the Split Window Registry which is organized by Thomas Birch in California. Thomas is a Model 51 Gläser Cabriolet owner and an expert in the early cars. He directed me towards a few possible cars which could be for sale for the right price but unfortunately the owners didn’t wish to part with them. It was about this time which I came across a series of articles in Excellence magazine on the restoration of a 1951 356 Gläser Cabriolet owned by 356 expert Dr. Brett Johnson. After collecting all of the 17 or so articles on the restoration of his car, I contacted him also to see if he could help in my search. Unfortunately he did not have any leads that would help, but he continued to keep in touch and helped out with answering questions on the different unique aspects of the early cars. I began going through the Split Window Registry and 356 Registry and emailing anyone and everyone who owned a Model 51 or Model 50 car and had their contact information available. In doing so I came across a Fishsilver Metallic Blue Model 50 Coupe #5403 in Sweden. This car was an excellent candidate which the owner was interested in selling as the car had been disassembled and lay sitting in his garage for the last 20 years. It was a rust free matching numbers car with its original engine P*0405. Initially my father, Paul thought it would be too difficult to find a car so early in 356 production but as we got closer and closer to finding one his interest grew until he became nearly as obsessed about them as I was. This coupe seemed a perfect candidate and after 4 months of negotiation and agreeing on a price, our offer was thwarted by his wife who decided (after 4 months) that she didn’t want to sell it after all! It was frustrating to say the least as during that period we had let a Model 50 Coupe #5101 slip through, however it was a little overpriced and had no engine.

1950 Porsche 356 #5014 Engine Bay

1950 Porsche 356 #5014 Engine Bay

We continued our search however and began talking to a Porsche enthusiast in Holland. He owned two Model 50 cars – a coupe #5144 and a Radium Green Reutter Cabriolet #5135 which he had purchased from well known 356 enthusiast Ron Roland in the US some ten years earlier. Unfortunately due to his work commitments it took months before we received photos of the car although he was a serious seller and the car was mostly complete with its original engine P*1022, a Type 506 1300cc 44hp engine albeit with a lot of floor rust. It was also believed that this car was the first Porsche imported into the United States with a 1300cc engine. At the same time Tom Birch and Dr. Brett Johnson advised us of a car which they had uncovered in Ohio. A Model 50 Gläser Cabriolet #5161 which was not on the registry list and had been languishing in a garage for over 25 years. The owner had passed away and his wife was selling the car. So now, after over a year of searching we had two cars to choose from! After careful consideration and discussion with Tom Birch and Dr. Brett Johnson we decided to make an offer for #5135 due to it having its original engine and being more reasonably priced.

1950 Porsche 356 Reutter Cabriolet #5135

1950 Porsche 356 Reutter Cabriolet #5135

After a few emails and phone calls bounced back and forward, we came to an agreement and on the 24th of December the car left Europe bound for New Zealand and its new owners, Paul and myself. As many of you will already know, it is hugely rewarding to receive something you have worked so hard for, however we are well aware that the journey has only just begun and it will be some time before this piece of Porsche history will be enjoying the flowing roads of New Zealand’s countryside.

Period Photo of #5135 taken in 1951. Note the 1951 Connetticut License Plate

Period Photo of #5135 taken in 1951. Note the 1951 Connetticut License Plate