Gordon Maltby bought his first Porsche 50 years ago and his latest just this year. Between those two purchases, he has owned around three dozen cars from the sporting German marque. But he has always been fond of the
In fact, he wrote one of the first comprehensive books on the model, Porsche 356 and RS Spyders, in 1991, and for decades acted as the editor-in-chief of 356 Registry, the official magazine of the 356 owners’ club. “The 356, of course, is the original Porsche,” he says.
Now, Maltby has taken that longtime love of the brand and nameplate and assembled it all into a fascinating, well-written, and beautifully illustrated coffee table book, Porsche 356: 75th Anniversary (Motorbooks, $75). And it’s coming out just in time for the bathtub-shaped sports car’s diamond jubilee.
The book’s strength lies in its straightforward writing dosed with just the right amount of technical detail. It also benefits from comprehensive storytelling with plenty of insider anecdotes and delves deeply into the complex history of the manufacturing of the 356, an area that has not been substantially covered in previous accounts of the model’s 17-year lifespan.
“The book specifically is focused on the relationship between Reutter and Porsche,” Maltby says, naming the local German coachbuilder (karosserie) that was responsible for constructing bodies for the 356 and executing the complex and innovative aluminum and/or steel forms.
The book is also an excellent resource on the vehicles designed and engineered in the early years of the Porsche consultancy, in the decades before 1948 when Ferdinand and Ferry Porsche released the first car to bear their last name. “I think a modern Porsche enthusiast maybe doesn’t have a very good idea of the fact that Ferdinand Porsche worked in the automotive industry for 50 years before the 356 was built.”
This includes his pioneering work on hybrid gasoline/electric vehicles in the first decade of the 20th century, and on Audi, Horsch, Sascha, and Mercedes-Benz cars in the second and third decades. It also catalogs his ignominious collaborations with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis, which included his design and engineering of the torpedo-shaped V-16– and V-12–powered Auto Union Grand Prix racers, fleets of military vehicles and powertrains—tanks, airplane engines, four-wheel-drive vehicles, amphibious vehicles, linked battery-powered battle field transports—and, perhaps most (in)famously, the Volks Wagen, the Nazi-sponsored “people’s car” that was intended to put Axis Germany on wheels during the war but was instead manufactured as military transport.
Maltby covers Hitler’s rise to power and how he and the Nazi government were core fiscal sponsors of and contributors to the Porsche family firm and fortune, providing highly lucrative and supportive contracts for these wartime projects as part of their close personal relationship. He even speaks to Ferdinand Porsche’s direct oversight of facilities where the labor of people enslaved in concentration camps was used in building military products. Porsche was jailed for nearly two years for war crimes after the war’s end.
Following his time served, Porsche attempted to rehabilitate his family name. The production and export of Volkswagen Beetles were vital to the German economic rebound in the years after the war, as was the 356 produced by Porsche’s namesake car company.
And the 356, in all its series and variants is a linchpin in that foundational Porsche history and the company’s ongoing allure. “It’s that sort of relationship that people have with the 356,” Maltby says. “They can see it even as a modern car.”
Maltby doesn’t currently own a 356, but if he were to get another, he says, he would want a 1962 “Twin Grille” Roadster. “This was a car that … was basically a culmination of all the Porsche 356 development in a cute looking convertible.”
However, Maltby feels the growing fandom of the model may have caused him to miss out on an opportunity to purchase one. “Unfortunately,” he says, “I’m sort of priced out of the 356 market right now.”
Brett Berk (he/him) is a former preschool teacher and early childhood center director who spent a decade as a youth and family researcher and now covers the topics of kids and the auto industry for publications including CNN, the New York Times, Popular Mechanics and more. He has published a parenting book, The Gay Uncle’s Guide to Parenting, and since 2008 has driven and reviewed thousands of cars for Car and Driver and Road & Track, where he is contributing editor. He has also written for Architectural Digest, Billboard, ELLE Decor, Esquire, GQ, Travel + Leisure and Vanity Fair.