75 years of auto motor und sport: Porsche 1600 and 1600 Super

We have not yet published a test on the Porsche 356 A series that came out last fall. So I called Huschke von Hanstein, press officer, racing manager, occasional racing driver, and also authorized signatory of Porsche KG, and asked him to put a Super and a “lady” – as the normal type is popularly called – at my disposal for a few days. “But you know,” he said, “our cars are constantly pumped out to journalists all over the world. And when they come back, the next candidates are always already in the factory yard with hungry eyes. Is your own car broken down, then?”

“No,” I said, “I don’t want a loaner car from you, I want to measure through the two 1600s. Surely there must be a decent car to be found somewhere!” But there wasn’t. We then agreed that I would take over Huschke’s private Super with over 50,000 km on short notice when he flew to the Avus race in Berlin. In the meantime, a 1600cc lady from the new production was to be run in a bit, which I wanted to take over after returning the Super, in order to give it a good going over.

When I returned the green Super, there was a sparkling new lady in blue with 900 km on the speedometer. Mindful of the fact that the air-cooled Porsche engines only develop their full power at around 10,000 km, I expressed reservations about whether I could take this still very young girl sharply.

Archive auto motor und sport

Despite numerous modifications, the 356 A still looks very much like the original model.

An almost untouched lady

“Don’t be falsely ashamed,” Huschke said. “But we can have a look to see if she does it yet.” I still had work to do at the plant. When I saw the lady again, she had 1,150 km on the speedometer and had lost her awe of high revs. So the two test cars were of very different provenance: the Super with over 50,000 km on the roads of Europe driven by a wiry, stern gentleman, and the blue lady young as the dewy morning that can still become anything.

On the level of this cheerful composure, with which the house of Porsche makes two so completely unselected cars available for a test, lies the attitude to the performance of their vehicles in general. This also includes the mentality of understatement that is otherwise only common in England, as it is revealed in the owner’s manual, for example. There the probably unique case comes to light that not only the values for the maximum speed, but also the acceleration and – as I have justified reason to assume – the power curves for the two 1600 models are indicated more unfavorably than they actually run.

The lady is listed at 160 km/h and 36.9 seconds for the kilometer with a standing start, but I stopped the dewy-eyed girl at 163 km/h and 34.8 seconds. The Super figures at 175 km/h and 34.5 s for the km with a standing start. Huschke’s faithful warhorse ran 182 km/h and needed 34 s for the standing kilometer. That these values are achievable with the catalog-standard 60 and 75 hp, respectively, I would strongly doubt. On the other hand, the customer has the guarantee that his car will at least reach the catalog values, and if it then exceeds them, he is particularly satisfied. The Prussian “be more than it seems” is being practiced here by Austrians in Swabia.

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

Inside, Porsche models now offer the refinement and equipment of luxurious touring cars.

The Porsche owner’s manual is a small chapter in itself. It is a model of its kind, and on 114 pages – 10 of which are index pages alone – it really does cover everything that the owner of a Porsche would want to know in every conceivable case. Clear, sober, balanced, and well thought out down to the last detail, it is in its own way a true reflection of the Porsche car.

In our Carrera test (issue 9/1956), the revised Type 356 A/GS, which is identical to the 1600 models except for the engine, was described in detail. Although the 356 A looks confusingly similar to the first Porsche from 1950 except for tiny details, the technical progress of 20 years of automobile construction lies between these two stations. What is much more astonishing, however, is that there is a similar fundamental difference between last year’s 356 model and the current 356 A.

With the means described in the Carrera test, which primarily affected the wheel suspension and suspension, the extremely oversteering sports car (which, however, caused indescribable pleasure to drive!) was turned into a vehicle that is subjectively and objectively one of the safest in existence today at the speeds it can reach. Even our dear grandmother can dare to drive a Porsche through a bend faster than the average car or to brake fully at high speed on a wet road – nothing will happen to her, indeed, she won’t even realize that this was actually a bit daring.

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

The data and measured values of the Porsche 356 1600 and 1600 Super.

In order not to bore readers with extended technical descriptions and a list of all the attributes and properties that were already set down in detail in the Carrera test (you’ll find all the car’s design features under the technical data on page 71), and on the other hand, as a Porsche driver of many years’ standing and thus nolens volens biased, not to fall into the mistake of judging the one you love particularly critically, I would like to leave the usual pattern of our test reports this time.

Probably the most immediate impression of the Porsche is given to outsiders when they have driven it for the first time after appropriate experience with other cars; the fresh experience, the difference from everything they know, and the arc that spans from their own car to this one-these all form a better yardstick than when I look benevolently at the comparatively lame 1600cc lady from the 200 km/h Carrera.

Porsche novices at the wheel

So I had others drive the lady and give me their impressions. Here are my test subjects: Dr. P. S., submarine officer, gasoline enthusiast, editor at “Motorrad” magazine. He owns one, as well as a 1.3-liter Hanomag and a 30-year-old Bugatti, but had never driven a Porsche. After a few Solitude laps, he commented, “When you drive this car, it’s so easy not to take any other seriously!”

Next was Dipl.-Ing. W. B., well known to readers as one of our testers. He owns an Opel Olympia Rekord and multi-layered experience with all cars of the world production, except the Porsche. His summary: The drive was an experience. He had expected a sports car and found a well-kept, elastic and cultivated touring car with excellent road handling, above-average brakes and the best transmission he has ever experienced.

Then P. P. got to grips with the blue lady – former Grand Prix driver, equally fast and picky car enthusiast, and publisher of our magazines on the side. He drives a Mercedes 300 S and only knows the older Porsche types. Verdict: “Now that’s a car! Engine, handling characteristics, driving safety – all very impressive. Behind the dashboard, it rattles a bit on bad roads.”

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

The coupe is priced between the Speedster and the Cabriolet.

The last test subject is a lady, R. W., mother of two children, VW owner, knows Porsche cars only from the next seat and from being overtaken. Let her speak for herself: “Actually, I was afraid of the Porsche. Why? Well, because it’s so fast. I thought it would jump ahead as soon as you hit the gas, or maybe stutter if you didn’t start off right. Also that you might slide out of a corner …, but it’s all very different. It rides much smoother than my family car and is so heavenly quiet, a real ladies car, everything goes without effort. And then the safety when overtaking! You don’t get into the awkward situations anymore, and the brakes are much nicer than I had imagined. On my VW, I like the handbrake lever better, which I can hold with my right hand, and the somewhat old-fashioned high seating position is more appropriate for my driving style – I can see what’s close in front of my front wheels better there. It takes some getting used to the low seating position in the Porsche. At night, oncoming cars also dazzled me more than in the VW.”

Most of these impressions apply to both 1600 models, which differ only in engine, the Super having a compound Hirth crankshaft with roller bearings for the connecting rods instead of the lady’s plain-bearing ones. Further, the Super engine features a different camshaft with steeper cam lobes, higher compression and larger carburetors (Solex 40 PBIC instead of 32 PBIC) with different intake manifolds. This results in a power output of 75 hp at 5,000/min compared to the lady’s 60 hp at 4500/min.

The highest torque of 11.9 mkg is only slightly higher than the 11.2 mkg of the lady, but while the Super delivers it at 3,700/min, the lady reaches it already at 2800/min and is thus more elastic and smoother in the mid-range. The Super can be revved 500 rpm higher for this, which has an effect on its top speed, but also in the gears, where it allows a speed that is around 10 percent higher in each case. In second gear this is 82 instead of 75 and in third gear 128 instead of 115 km/h.

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

A thickly padded bead above the dashboard now offers more safety for the occupants.

The roller-bearing engine runs harder and sportier than the plain-bearing one and is louder. Since it is of course more sensitive and, due to the Hirth crankshaft, 1,100 DM more expensive than the normal one, you have to have special ambitions if you choose it. Sporting laurels are no longer to be won with it anyway since the appearance of the Carrera.

The fuel consumption curves of both engines are practically identical as long as they are driven in the same rev range. If you take advantage of the higher engine speed of the Super, its consumption also increases. The specific consumption of both engines is surprisingly low, while the test consumption was 8.6 and 9.7 liters per 100 km, respectively. The old rule of thumb that consumption is around 1/100 of the weight in liters thus applies here as well. The Super weighed 880 kg ready to drive with a full tank and built-in radio, and the lady is hardly lighter.

Premature speedometer

In the past, the speedometers installed by Porsche were characterized by particularly accurate calibration. If you drove 140 on the speedometer, then it was 140, sometimes even a little more. But bad examples corrupt good manners, and unfortunately even the Zuffenhausen company has come to regard a 10 percent lead as customary in business. The blue lady, for example, was not afraid to show 180 km/h on the speedometer when she was running a scant 163.

It has been proven that car owners do not stop their cars, but enjoy the speedometer reading and outdo each other with the speed they read off, even though they know in their innermost districts that the reading is fibbing. Since each knows from the other that he likewise exaggerates, this knowing self-deception must have psychological causes, which stand with the gasoline in causal connection. It is just nevertheless a completely special juice.

When I sat down in the 1600 lady after about 25,000 kilometers in the Carrera, it was with not too great expectations. Externally, the two cars are hardly distinguishable, but the 100-horsepower, four-cam engine sets a different standard. I was very quickly proven wrong. The much more pleasant clutch, the smooth running, the acceleration that starts at 2000 rpm and is quite superior to the Carrera, and the playful ease with which this car can be driven effortlessly made a strong impression on me.

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

Porsche 1600 and 1600 Super (1956).

Of all Porsche models, it is the most balanced and grateful, at the same time the most economical and reasonable. There will always be a number of non-serious, not to say crazy, people who are perfectly happy driving from Munich to Lübeck in eight hours and only shift into fourth gear at 170 km/h. I am one of them. I am one of them myself.

No automobile factory can survive on them. But there is a much larger number of people who would like to own a relatively fast, affordable, comfortable and pleasant car that is just as sporty. It will take two hours more to get from Munich to Lübeck, but you will be able to listen to the music on the radio and still reach your destination eight or ten hours earlier than the express train – early enough in any case.

This is the kind of car that Porsche’s 1600s are, the lady even more so than the Super. And if you look at it right, they not only belong to this category, but are also the lonely leaders in the field of sporty small touring cars with high mileage. Of course, there were sports cars with superior performance for their time in the past, such as the magnificent eight-cylinder Bugatti, with which you stood with your legs in the engine, the Alfa Romeo 1750, the BMW 328 or the Austro-Daimler, and they were also the pipe dreams of countless enthusiasts at the time. Anyone who was fortunate enough to acquire one of these cars was in a completely different position in terms of driving comfort than someone who realizes his Porsche dream today.

In the past, driving a sports car meant being tough, healthy, and frugal, with enough cash and unshakable equanimity. The sports cars of the time were spartanly simple, noisy, cramped and cold. Compared to the normal cars of their time, they had brutally hard suspension, ate candles out of their hands and had their own peculiarities, which it was expedient to employ a special mechanic to remedy. Their owners in the 1930s were unwavering enthusiasts whose luggage consisted of nothing more than a toothbrush and a kidney belt when the going got tough.

75 Jahre ams 4.2. Porsche 1600

Our test in issue 21/1956 describes the two basic versions of the Type 356 A, which had been renovated the previous year.

The change is striking. Today, the performance of a Porsche is just as above comparable cars in its class, but what makes it so desirable for many is not even so much its high top speed and good acceleration. Rather, it’s something that was reserved for luxury touring cars back then: the ride comfort, the driving safety, the refined interior and complete equipment with all the many extras – in short, the realization of a dream car for two people whose general standard is a higher one than usual. Not only the brakes and transmission, cornering and acceleration should be better, but also the seating comfort and bodywork, paint and interior.

Big and small wishes

The 1600 series represents the in-service undemanding small touring car of superior performance that its friends around the world swear by. Nearly 75 percent of its production is exported, as it has no equal abroad. For its further development in the near future, I would nevertheless like to express a few wishes, some of which were already expressed in the Carrera test – such as a braking system with two separate circuits, which would represent a further step towards driving safety, or larger headlights of 180 instead of 160 mm in diameter, which would be more appropriate for the car’s driving performance.

Other items on the wish list include smoother steering with even better straight-line stability, a differently cranked gearshift lever so that even non-Giants can reach third gear with their backs against the steering wheel when driving with their arms outstretched, and finally even better ventilation of the interior, which may require pop-out windows.

We even can’t avoid the topic of tires in this context. Both test cars were equipped with Michelin X tires, with those of the Super having a mileage of about 25,000 km. There are some objections to these X tires with steel inserts and a tread that must be over 20 years old, mainly that they rumble at low speeds on bad pavement and are louder and harder than normal. Also, the required tire pressure difference for usual and, on the other hand, very fast highway driving is greater than other makes, and finally, the fine profile of Michelins is said to be more nail biting than competing makes.

I myself have not made this experience, but another, which makes me accept all the mentioned disadvantages: The skid resistance and thus driving safety of these tires is unrivaled. In addition, they are completely rail-friendly. Who does not believe it, may make the attempt to come at high speed on rain-wet paved road in a curve with the left, the right or all four wheels on the rail. You expect the car to slide away, prepare yourself for countersteering – but nothing happens. The Michelin X tires punish rails as well as highway center joints with complete disregard. It would be a satisfaction not only for me if I could say the same about our tires.


For over 25 years!

A quarter of a century is not yet.


To sum up, let’s come back to the 1600: The Super is the car for those who don’t think they can do without 175 or 180 km/h. They have to pay for the extra power with less noise and elasticity, shorter life and 1,100 DM extra price. The lady is less fiery, but combines all the good qualities associated with this term. She should fully satisfy 95 percent of all her lovers, and if I didn’t have to make frequent trips that are as long as they are short, I would probably switch to the Dame as well. She is so immensely lovable.

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