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The 356A (T1) Speedster
Although the Speedster was launched in the United States in 1954, where it became an instant hit, particularly in Southern California, it was not presented to a European audience until the Summer of 1955. Many famous car enthusiasts immedialtely purchased Speedsters including Conductor Herbert von Karajan.
Production of all Speedsters took place at the Reutter coachbuilders works in Zuffenhausen. Approximately 200 prototype series (Pre-A) Speedsters were built by the end of 1954. The first production 356 Speedsters were also known as Pre-A or T0 models to distinguish them from the later 356A or T1 Speedsters. Over 1,000 Pre-A Speedsters came off the production line making a total of around 1,234.
In October 1955 the 356A (T1) Speedster was introduced and would remained in production until it was replaced by the T2 model in August 1957. Approximately 1,850 T1 356A Speedsters were produced.
The 356A was virtually a new car under largely unchanged bodywork with significant changes to the chassis, engine, gearbox, suspension and steering. Two engines were offered to replace the 1500cc engine of the later Pre-A Speedsters: the 616/1 1600N or 'normal' engine offering 60hp and the 616/2 1600 'Super' with 75hp.
A new type 644 gearbox was introduced for the 1956 model year. This had a cast cylindrical aluminium case and was mounted by two large rubber blocks to the torsion bar housing tube (so known as the 'tunnel' or 'dual-mount' gearbox).
The front suspension changed from Volkswagen components to a new design with adjustable 8 leaf torsion bars. The anti roll bar and shock absorbers were beefed up and the rear suspension was improved.
Wheels were smaller in diameter: 15in but with wider tyres: 5.60-15 - or 5.90-15. The VW 'worm and nut' steering box was replaced by a new 'worm and peg' unit, reducing the turns lock-to-lock and the turning circle diameter.
External changes were fairly minor with more rounded whell arches and a slight change to the under engine lid. New US style bumbers with larger overriders and curved guard tubes were introduced and changed design slighlty during the model year. Rear bumpers initially had a single span link at the front, but later had two span arches to allow the number plate to be more visible. The number plate was now illuminated by a 'shine-up' unit and new 'tear-drop' rear lights appeared.
There were other variants particularly with lightling which varied with the regulations of different importing countries, and choices of chrome and 'Rudge-type' wheels or wheels painted to match the body colour. 'Baby Moon' hubcaps were standard.
The steering wheel was 400mm in diameter and the three main instruments were of equal size with the rev-counter in the middle and a combined fuel gauge and oil temperature gauge on the left. Knobs where arranged horizontally. The turn signal lever was redesigned and there was a hand throttle next to the ignition switch.
Vents for demisting the windscreen were a welcome addition but the change to a 'twist and pull' handbrake was less successful.
On the right hand of the dashboard a gold plated badge carried the message "Deutsche Sportwagen Meister-Shaften 1950-1956". On the T2 model which followed, the dates changed to 1950-1957.