Book review: The Essential Porsche 356 Buyer’s Guide

It’s telling that item two of Dr Brett Johnson’s list of “eleven essential items to bring along when heading out to view a Porsche 356 for sale” – part of Veloce Publishing’s latest Porsche 356 Essential Buyer’s Guide – is reading glasses. “Take your reading glasses if you need them to read documents and make close up inspections” advises the good Doctor. He is not wrong. Most people I know with the resources to buy a classic Porsche 356 have definitely advanced to the reading glasses stage.

“There was a time when Porsche 356s were reasonably priced transportation for people without children. Regrettably, that was fifty years ago. Now they are high-priced toys for the same demographic,” says Brett. I enjoy this sort of writing. The latest edition of “The Essential Buyer’s Guide: Porsche 356” has the same tone throughout, asserting what to steer clear of in a clear and light-hearted way, without being overly onerous.

The book opens with a short introduction before working its way through seventeen chapters. The early chapters explore considerations when the purchase is still at the dream stage, but as the first viewing looms closer, the content firms up, with two chapters on what to look for in both a 15-minute inspection and a 60-minute inspection.

Four pages cover the model evolution: you’ll probably have experienced a few cars by the time you decide to get serious. I’ve driven quite a few 356s and they are all fun to be in, so it’s hard to pick one that I would buy if in the market. While the early cars have that proximity to the origin story, the later ones get things like disc brakes. Early cars are perhaps a bit prettier: I think a pre-A is a beautiful thing. They are all fairly tough. Whichever model you drive, it will turn heads, especially with ladies. Good 356s are also very solid residually.

The author’s track record is worth noting. The former veterinarian and Porsche part expert’s 1997 book: “The 356 Porsche: A Restorer’s Guide to Authenticity” has a 4.5 rating from 32 Amazon reviews. With circa 45,000 copies sold to date, the original version gets a few thumbs down for the lack of engine details and darker black-and-white photographs typical of a budget production, but good feedback on the rest. Later editions are available.

This compact 64-page Buyer’s Guide from the same author features many colour photos, but all are quite small, contributing colour and diversity rather than much information. The text has many interesting details, however: certainly enough to educate any 356 novice. I like how Brett engages the reader. I found nothing disagreeable. As a 356 fan but no sort of expert, I learned quite a bit by reading the book.

Reaching the end left me hungry for more, so I looked at used prices for the bigger restoration guide and dug out some of my own 356 books. While there is more than enough information in the Essential Buyer’s Guide to justify a purchase, I can see some people getting through it quite quickly and reading a second time to review what they missed.

While a buyer’s guide book should not be expected to replace the trained eye of a seasoned expert – and my advice is to always have a car inspected by an expert before any money changes hands – the low cost of this work versus the substantial time one would have to invest elsewhere to learn all that it covers means that this book should be considered essential reading for anyone setting out to buy a Porsche 356. With 356s now costing upwards of $56k for a barn find with interesting one-owner provenance at auction and no real upper limit for the very best cars, educating oneself on what to watch out for and thus save a lot of wasted time and effort is a total no-brainer. This little book is definitely worth having.

The publisher’s price is £13.99 in the UK, although Amazon is showing some cheaper prices. Veloce is currently doing a 35% off stay at home sale, so that’s worth a look too. Visit the webshop at veloce.co.uk/store/.


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