The Porsche 356 is a sports car that was first produced by Austrian company Porsche Konstruktionen GesmbH (1948–1949), and then by German company Dr. Ing. h. c. F. Porsche GmbH (1950–1965). It was Porsche's first production automobile. Earlier cars designed by the Austrian company include Cisitalia Grand Prix race car, the Volkswagen Beetle, and Auto Union Grand Prix cars.
The 356 is a lightweight and nimble-handling, rear-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-door available both in hardtop coupé and open configurations. Engineering innovations continued during the years of manufacture, contributing to its motorsports success and popularity. Production started in 1948 at Gmünd, Austria, where Porsche built approximately 50 cars. In 1950 the factory relocated to Zuffenhausen, Germany, and general production of the 356 continued until April 1965, well after the replacement model 911 made its September 1964 debut. Of the 76,000 originally produced, approximately half survive.
From the earliest, 1,100 cc Gmünd beginnings, the overall shape of the 356 remained more or less set. In 1951, 1,300 and 1,500 cc engines with considerably more power were introduced. In late 1952 the split windscreen was replaced by a slightly V-shaped, single windshield, which fit into the same shape opening. In 1953, the 1300 S or "Super" was introduced, and the 1,100 cc engine was dropped.
In late-1954 Max Hoffman, the sole US importer of Porsches, convinced Porsche to build a stripped down roadster version with minimal equipment and a cut-down windscreen.
Towards the end of the original 356's time (in 1955, when the 356 A was about to be introduced) Hoffman, wanting a model name rather than just a number, got the factory to use the name "Continental" which was applied mostly to cars sold in the United States. Ford, makers of the Lincoln Continental, sued. This name was used only in 1955 and today this version is especially valued. For 1956, the equivalent version was briefly sold as the "European". Today all of the earliest Porsches are highly coveted by collectors and enthusiasts worldwide, based on their design, reliability and sporting performance.