1954 Porsche 356 1500 Pre-A
Purportedly the oldest surviving right-hand drive 356 Pre-A has recently emerged from a four-year restoration. And, thanks to its impending sale, this stunning Porsche could soon be yours...
Words Johnny Tipler
Photography Historics Auctioneers
A FEISTY RIGHT HOOK
Having just undergone comprehensive restoration, within and without, mechanicals included, this 356 looks absolutely amazing. It’s shortly going under the hammer at the London Classic Car Show, to be held on 25th February at the Olympia exhibition hall in Kensington, where the Porsche will be offered as star lot in the highly anticipated Historics Auctioneers sale. As what’s thought to be the oldest surviving right-hand drive Pre-A, we wait with bated breath to see what its final sale price will be.
Chassis 51847, complete with matching engine 32797/1500, was assembled in 1954, confirmed by Porsche’s own Certificate of Authenticity. If you want to know what an early Porsche looked like when it left the production line, here’s a very fine example. Don’t overlook the fact the company was barely six years old when our star car was built.
WE’RE INTERESTED TO SEE JUST HOW MUCH THIS BRILLIANT BLUE PRE-A WILL FETCH ON THE DAY OF AUCTION
To set the Pre-A in historical context, as well as its specification in 356 chronology, the name refers to cars built between the 356’s inception in 1949 up to 1956, when the centre-bend windscreen was superseded by what was, by then, considered normal: curved panoramic glass. It’s easy enough to recognise an original Pre-A by its two-piece windscreen, divided by a central bar, a system replaced by the single-piece centre-bend screen for the 1952 model year. For clarification, check the photographs on these pages and notice the slight angle top-centre of our feature car’s front glass.
Early 356 bodyshells were crafted in steel (as opposed to the original aluminium) by Reutter. Until Porsche’s Zuffenhausen factory premises was handed back by the occupying US military in 1955, post-Gmünd 356s were assembled in workshops leased from the coachbuilder. Stylistic as well as practical evolutions saw the bumpers, previously flush with the body, become detached and sporting overriders in 1953. Rectangular rear lights changed to round ones, along with indicators front and back. A year later, the front indicators were integrated in the horn grilles, brake lights were integrated in the rear lights, while the chrome numberplate light module was mounted above the number plate itself.
THE ENGINE WAS COMPLETELY REBUILT USING ENTIRELY NEW PARTS, BUT RETAINS THE ORIGINAL CASINGS
Six engine options were available in 1954, including 1,100cc, 1,300cc and 1,500cc units. The smaller capacity flat-fours weren’t offered in the USA, where cubic inches mattered. The 1500 Super (marketed as the Continental Coupe in the USA until 1956, when the Continental epithet was dropped in deference to homegrown Lincoln) was the all-singing, all-dancing model, replete with radio, aluminium wheel trims, passenger sun visor, adjustable passenger seat back and folding rears, all of which have to be seen as deluxe items, especially when compared with standard utility fayre, such as the contemporary split-screen Morris Minor, in which you were lucky to be able to call upon two windscreen wipers. The 1956 model-year 356 bore the suffix ‘A’.
Crucially, as far as provenance is concerned, the Porsche you see here is thought to be the oldest surviving example of all right-hand drive Pre-A 356s, as owner, Dave Marriott, explains. “As far as I am aware, it’s the earliest right-hand drive Pre-A to make it to the present day, unless someone’s got an even older example hiding somewhere. Porsche manufactured only nineteen 356s with right-hand drive in 1954. I believe this was the fourth to come into the UK through AFN, then Porsche’s British sales outpost.”
FORCE OF NUMBERS
Almost nine hundred left-hand drive 356s were produced during the same year, a number highlighting how unusual — and rare — a right-hand drive Porsche was back then. Needless to say, it’s not just the comprehensive restoration, but also the ‘scarcity factor’ that’s made it very hard to pinpoint the value of the car. Of course, with recent auction prices to take note of, it’s easy enough to assess the value of a left-hand drive Pre-A in the current climate, but there hasn’t been a right-hand drive Pre-A on the market for some time, let alone one restored to this level, with good history and carrying ‘matching numbers’.
Even so, Historics Auctioneers has set the estimate between £340,000 and £370,000. Let’s look at the restoration carried out on this particular Porsche. When you run a bodyshop, you have a head start. Dave does just that, operating Marriott Coachworks in Milton Keynes. He has an intimate lifeline to a classic Porsche hotspot, namely Export 56, located in close-by Cranfield. “We do a lot of the bodywork on Export 56’s cars,” Dave tells us. “Company boss, Mick Pacey, decided he wanted a Pre-A and sourced two examples. He kept one and I bought the other, which he found at Lux Classics at Great Leighs in Essex.” The four-year restoration commenced.
“We did the complete bodyshell,” said Dave, “which, to be fair, didn’t need too much attention, certainly in terms of corrosion. It had been colour-changed to a lighter blue, but there was no rust to be found. We replaced the two floor pans, purely for cosmetic reasons on account of the fact they were dented where previous owners or mechanics had raised the car on jacks incorrectly. While we were attending to the floor, we also replaced the outer longitudinals, outer sills and heater tubes, just because that’s part and parcel of changing the floor pans on a 356. The remainder of the bodyshell was panel-beaten and lead-loaded, just as it would have been on the production line back in the day.”
THE CAR WAS DISPATCHED TO CLASSIC PROJECT SHOP FOR MECHANICAL WORK, ASSEMBLY AND TRIMMING
Given the car’s seven-decade lifespan, it’s amazing to learn Dave’s team wasn’t dealing with lots of rust, not to mention the fact he didn’t find much in the way of previous damage or repairs in need of rectification. Consequently, the restoration was light, though when it came to the paint job, returning the original hue proved taxing, as we shall discover shortly.
“We’ve got a fair amount of paperwork supporting the full history of the car, as well as various letters and emails from archivists. We know it came into the country in April 1954 and was subsequently used as AFN’s demonstrator.” Remarkably, only three previous owners were listed before the car came into Dave’s possession, though it passed through the hands of noted 356 specialist, Roger Bray, in 2012. “I’ve got various emails from Roger confirming the Porsche was in his custody and highlighting the authenticity of the vehicle, which moved from him to a collector. The guy bought the car because of its rarity, but with three Speedster projects on the go at the same time, this Pre-A coupe was sold to fund the trio of restorations. That was in 2018, when I took ownership.”
The bodyshell restoration took from then until early 2020. The car was subsequently dispatched to Bicester-based Classic Project Shop for mechanical work, assembly and trimming. “The Classic Project Shop team built the car up using ninety-five percent of the original parts, which Mick Pacey confirmed were authentic at the point of inspection at Lux Classics. We always prefer restoring parts, rather than replacing them. Pretty much everything on the car is original, bar a few incidental items, but make no mistake, the dials, the dash knobs, the majority of the glass, all exterior trim, the brightwork, the bumpers, the over-riders and many more parts are original to this Porsche. What’s more, they benefit from expert restoration. This is a totally authentic 356 Pre-A.”
Gorgeous it looks, too. What about the finish? “We discovered it’s a special Porsche colour named Adria Blue,” Dave explains. “Porsche used two different blues at the time of production. The one most people know is a fair bit darker than the paint on this car.” Confusingly, there were also two shades of Adria Blue in use. “It’s very hard to find the original formula. In 1954, the whole bodyshell would have been painted in 509 Adria Blue, inside and out, including the interior of the metal dashboard. When a 356 was sold, however, a buyer might have kept the dashboard as was, or had it colour-coded to their choice of upholstery, which is what the original owner of this car did. Essentially, they had the dashboard painted grey to match the vinyl interior. And so, in order to find the original body colour, we carefully disassembled the dashboard and excavated the original blue paint from beneath the grey paint. We literally removed all the grey, bit by bit, which took about three or four days.” Digression alert: I am reminded of a time when, in another life, I spent many long, dark days perched on rickety scaffolding, my face inches away from cold church walls, picking layers of flaky limewash off medieval frescoes, using only dentistry tools. Painstaking stuff.
“After revealing the original layer of paint, we spent a further eight days colour-sampling to get an exact match,” Dave continues. “The whole car was then repainted accordingly. We’re fully confident we have applied the correct shade, corresponding with the original, exactly as it appeared when this 356 left the factory in 1954.” Decorating the bodywork, the lights are all original, albeit with new original-specification glass lenses for the headlamps. The engine lid grille is also, as are the badges and bumpers, all of them restored. Save for the windscreen, the glass is original to the car. Even the number plates are restored originals. The door handles have been restored, as has the bonnet lid handle. Likewise, the wiper arms are original and restored, but the rear number-plate light and rear reflectors are replacement parts.
The cabin interior has been totally refurbished, with new carpets fitted and new grey vinyl seat upholstery and door cards installed. All gauges and instruments were fully reconditioned, using all new oldstock (NOS) parts.
The steering wheel is original. New rear luggage straps have been fitted and the sun visors were remanufactured to match the factory parts. Under the front bonnet lives the original date-stamped (4/53) spare wheel, a new replacement wheel strap and the original (now restored) fuel tank. The date-stamped wheel caps (also 4/53) are original, but have also been restored. The engine was completely rebuilt using entirely new parts, but retains the original casings. The cylinder barrel liners were re-plated to factory specification, while all fasteners were treated to the appropriate coatings.
Likewise, the gearbox was fully stripped and rebuilt with new seals and sprockets. All the running gear, including suspension, brakes and linkages, are all original but fully rebuilt, incorporating new bushes. Obviously, the original six-volt electrics remain in place.
Some flat-four parts proved hard to get hold of, primarily because the Pre-A has a different engine design to the subsequent 356 A. “Different carbs, different casings. Pretty much everything is different in the Pre- A’s 1500 engine,” Dave points out. Many of the required components were sourced from Roger Bray Restoration and the Sierra Madre Collection in California. Classic Project Shop had the cylinder liners re-plated — they’ve now got a coating featuring tiny little dimples, which retain a little bit of oil. “Authentic coatings were applied to every nut and bolt on the engine,” Dave confirms. “Some are zinc, but there are different anodised coatings throughout, even on the carburettors.
There are three different coatings on the various nuts and bolts, all exactly as applied by Porsche in period. A lot of research has gone into this aspect of the restoration — it’s difficult to find original images documenting Pre-A assembly in the 1950s. A lot of the material we relied upon takes the form of illustrations, or grainy black and white photographs.”
As Dave enthusiastically endorses, “one way or another, every single nut and bolt has been re-worked and re-coated. In fact, every aspect of this Pre-A has been attended to. The seats, for instance, were stripped down to the frames, the frames themselves were repaired and painted, the many chrome seat components were replated and then fresh vinyl was fitted. We brought in an interior kit from America. It was supplied specifically for a right-hand drive Pre-A. The same was true of the wiring, which was a brand-new right-hand-drive-specific loom, rather than one adapted from a left-hand drive loom. The wiring, as well as the interior, was installed at Classic Project Shop.” Though there are a number of respectable 356 interior trim specialists in the US (including Stoddard and K&H), it’s worth noting PRS 356, Design 911 and FVD Brombacher are good sources of trim and upholstery for Porsches of all ages in the UK and mainland Europe. Incidentally, FVD Brombacher has a USA sales base, too.
The lower sales estimate listed by Historics Auctioneers for this Pre-A is around £100,000 more than an equivalent left-hand drive Porsche might be, but reflects this 356’s rarity and restoration. Dave is upbeat. “I know there’s a bigger market for left-hand drive 356s, but this Pre-A should appeal to any collector looking for an early right-hand drive, four-cylinder Porsche in superb condition. I guess we’ll find out on the day of sale just how much interest there is.”
FEAST FOR THE EYES
Since the restoration was completed, this 356 obviously hasn’t gone very far. Indeed, you could eat your dinner off the inner wheel arches. They really are that clean! “We displayed the car at a couple of shows in the summer,” Dave reflects. “Additionally, Classic Project Shop had it on the company’s stand at a recent Bicester Scramble event, but it has been in storage since. I estimate this Porsche has covered only five hundred miles following completion of the rebuild, the mileage accrued simply for run-in purposes and to highlight any niggles we needed to attend to prior to preparing the car for its next owner.”
We’re guessing the final sale price will be way beyond the budgets most of us can play with, but we’re interested to see just how much this brilliant blue Pre-A will fetch on the day of auction. Will this 356 spark a bidding war? Pop along to the London Classic Car Show and see for yourself.
Oh, and if you’re interested in buying the car, visit historics.co.uk, where you can register to bid in the room, online or by telephone. Perhaps you’ll soon be the custodian of this rare, historically significant Porsche? It’s an aesthetic delight in its own right.
Above and facing page Historics will be offering this 356 as a star lot at its London Classic Car Show auction, where the four-cylinder Porsche will be offered alongside a selection of tasty air-cooled 911s.
Above Engine parts proved difficult to get hold of, but help from marque specialists both in the UK and USA enabled the flatfour to be rebuilt to original specification at Classic Project Shop in Bicester.
Above and facing page Original colour was uncovered by carefully scraping away grey paint applied to the dashboard at the original owner’s request.
Above and below Every inch of this 356 has been fully restored, though virtually all of the car’s original components have been salvaged and reused.
Above Thought to be the oldest surviving right-hand drive 356 Pre-A, this 1954 build was originally used as a demonstrator for Porsche’s UK concessionaire, AFN.