This aluminum-bodied 1953 Porsche 356 1500 Pre-A Cabriolet is shrouded in mystery
There’s nothing ordinary about the 1953 Porsche 356 1500 Pre-A Cabriolet. Since Porsche built only 394 cabriolets that year, their exclusivity is undeniable. One, however, is without equal. It also has a history with so many unanswered questions that the story lends itself to pure speculation. Even by Porsche.
We present the one and only aluminum-bodied ’53 Porsche 356 1500 Pre-A Cabriolet. Built by Germany’s Karosseriewerke Reutter, it’s an unusual discovery that required six years of painstaking restoration work to bring back to its original glory.
Aluminum bodies are not uncommon; traditionally, they’ve been used to make cars—particularly race cars—lighter and more agile. So what’s the big deal about this one? First of all, most aluminum-bodied cars are coupes, and this is a cabriolet, which begs the question: Why? Not even the extensive archives of Porsche and Reutter can answer that.
Porsche recently revealed this one-off Pre-A Cabriolet, along with some conceivable reasons for its existence. “One possibility is that a member of the Association of Mechanical Engineers (VdM) ordered the car in this configuration, perhaps wanting to investigate whether small-scale aluminum production might be worthwhile,” Porsche reasons. Clearly, Porsche decided it wouldn’t be, and ultimately it decided to go with steel bodies.
Ferry Porsche later wrote in his memoirs that Reutter was not keen on welding aluminum bodies, suggesting that there were discussions on the subject but no orders—apart from this Pre-A Cabriolet, an order that doesn’t appear to have been placed by the company.
Little is known about the car’s history, beyond the fact that it was delivered to well-known Porsche dealer Glöckler, in Frankfurt, in July of 1952 and made its way to Reutter in March, 1953. According to Porsche, there is a two-decade gap in documentation until the 1970s, when the car turned up in the U.K. and was offered (in Gloucester) for £1000. The advertisement read, “Historic and unique Porsche Cabriolet Type 356. Aluminum body specially built to single order by Reutter, Zuffenhausen, March 1953, unmarked white paintwork, new grey interior trimming, new red upholstery and new black hood, all to original standards.”
Porsche says that at some point the car—which is powered by a 1488-cc, four-cylinder Type 546 boxer engine—made its way to Germany, where its current owner was allowed to purchase it “on the condition that he would one day restore it and not just put it to one side as a speculative investment.” The buyer kept the gentlemen’s agreement, and six years ago a team was assembled to ensure that the complex restoration work was carried out as perfectly as possible.
The task of coordinating the various trades was given to engineer Rolf Sprenger, who initiated the Porsche Exclusive department for meeting individual customers’ wishes. Porsche concedes that Sprenger “doesn’t just know all there is to know about old vehicles, but also has the right contacts at the right companies.”
One thing was clear to the team from the very start: Quality would come before speed, hence the meticulous six-year restoration.
“After an initial stock-take, it was clear that this unique vehicle had to be completely dismantled,” Sprenger says, “and although the car was complete, we naturally had to overhaul every part and check that it was working properly.” Among the many questions Sprenger and the Porsche team had to answer was, “How can we keep as much of the old substance as possible and restore the vehicle to its original condition again?”
Clearly, they found a way.