Porsche has had a long and complicated history, and the first true Porsche is quite a hard thing to pin down--for some, it's the earliest cars designed by Ferdinand Porsche in the early 20th century. For others, it might be the striking pre-war Type 64 race car, and for others still--including Porsche itself--it was the 356, the car with closest links to today's cars.
Of those, the 1948 and 1949 Gmünd cars are the earliest of the breed, produced in the Austrian town of Gmünd. With only 52 cars produced there, they're among the rarest Porsches on the road, produced before Porsche's move to Zuffenhausen in Germany where subsequent 356s were made. All 356s featured flat-four engines, similar to that of the Volkswagen Beetle but tuned for greater performance with racier internals, cylinder heads and manifolds. Even so, the earliest cars displaced just 1.1 liters and produced only 40 horsepower. Slippery lines helped it carve through the air though, and the cars still delivered a true sports car driving experience in their day.
As Jeff Zwart attests in Porsche's official video on the car, the low power really makes you think about how you drive it on the road. "It teaches you patience," he says. "Your moves in today's modern traffic have to be very well planned...". Most thought-provoking of all is what Porsche might have become were it not for the Gmünd 356 and the cars that followed it. "If it hadn't been for this car, and simple decisions made in building this car, you kinda wonder what would a 911 be like today?" Zwart asks.
Today, Gmünd 356s still appear at top concours events like Pebble Beach, and some--such as Jerry Seinfeld--are even lucky enough to drive them on the road now and again. Seinfeld's own car is also a '49 example, and one he used to ferry fellow Porsche enthusiast Jay Leno for coffee in a recent episode of his web series. If any car deserves the title of the first true Porsche, the Gmünd 356 has a pretty solid claim.