Me and my car: The Porsche 356 is simply idiosyncratic and pure

Natalie Bell felt an instant emotional connection the moment she first climbed into her 1960 Porsche 356 coupe.

There was the fact that her late husband used to drive a 911. There was also the fact that the trappings of the car were eerily similar to a Volkswagen Beetle — the car she learned to drive in with her mom and dad. Those figures appeared in the cabin alongside her as she first clutched the steering wheel that day. And that’s how she “began an enormous love affair with this tiny little car”.

It wasn’t long before the drive revealed itself to be a perfect accompaniment to the feelings.

“She was quite idiosyncratic,” Bell says of her experiences with it. “What I very quickly found out was that she was very much a car that needs to be engaged. I always drive alone, I don’t like to have anyone sitting next to me because it’s such a personal space.”

The 356 is highly sought after among Porsche aficionados. Of the 76000 produced between 1948 and 1966, approximately 2000 were built with a right-hand drive orientation. Those in near-immaculate condition, such as this model, are rarer still.

The precursor to the 911, it’s easy to see why it is so enjoyed by purists. There is no extravagant detailing on it. Every aspect of the curvaceous design seems to serve a purpose; there are no garish edges that one might see in a Lamborghini or Ferrari. The allure is in its simplicity.

But it goes beyond that. Because they’re built by hand, each 356 carries its own subtleties. “It’s almost as if the person putting it together left a personal stamp,” Bell continues. “They’re all different and they all have different cabin atmospheres: a particular smell, the way the doors open and close.There’s a grunty sound to them. It’s visceral, it’s mechanical, it comes up through the floor and engages you. That rear swing axle makes for very interesting driving, she floats like a butterfly — she’s all over the place and at the same time she’s very directional.”

Until recently, Bell and her husband Leo Ming had three classic Porsches sitting in their garage. The other two were sold at minimal emotional cost, but there could never be a price tag placed on this one.

“Every one of these has its own driving feel,” Ming enthuses. “The white one we had, had this buttery feel. The clutch is buttery and smooth. This one has more oomph to it, you feel like it gets you going. “

There’s something about its colour that draws you in — a mysterious deep ocean waiting to be explored. The shade, it turns out, is labelled dunkelblau and was originally used on Mercedes models when it was first applied by whomever owned the car in the late 1960s.

But, again, what it really comes down to is the driving experience; the opportunity to feel responsible for your destiny instead of being coddled by luxurious technology. As entertaining as driving a new Porsche can be, Ming says, there

is a unique thrill that will remain forever absent in modern generations.

“It’s got no essence in it, it’s got no spirit. It’s like a ship you just cruise. There’s no nuance. This thing, you gotta concentrate. You can’t put your hand out the window … you feel the road, you feel the bumps. You smell fuel, you smell a little oil. All those things is what make it different to the modern cars.”

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Luke Feltham
Luke Feltham

Luke Feltham runs the Mail & Guardian's sports desk. He was previously the online day editor.

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