Experiencing the Porsche 356 Gmünd first-hand is like stepping into a time capsule. The narrow space between the steering wheel and the seat, characteristic of late 1940s design, presents a challenge even for the slenderest of drivers, reminiscent of a bygone era.

This particular model, an early example of Porsche’s engineering finesse, hails from a time when the now-iconic sports cars were manufactured not in Germany but in Austria. As a lifelong Porsche admirer, driving a genesis story was the stuff of fairytales, albeit a rare and expensive one. With its value estimated at a staggering $3.5 million from seller, DK Engineering, owning this piece of automotive history remains a fantasy, unless fortune favours me in otherworldly ways.

The astronomical value of this Porsche is due to its scarcity, with its chassis number 356/2-0032 indicating its place in the first production run following the prototype. Unlike its mid-engined prototype, the Gmünd production models featured a rear engine and retained the hand-beaten aluminium body panels, akin to the VW Beetle, and the iconic 911.

Completed on June 12, 1950, this particular Porsche has a storied history, having been owned by early racing enthusiast Gert Kaiser and various notable collectors across the US and UK. Its recent years have been spent in dry storage in the UK, but as it goes up for sale, it demands and deserves the spotlight once again.

Distinguishing features of this Gmünd car include indicator levers on the front wheel arch and a split windscreen, elements that were present in models until 1953. Entering the car is an exercise in agility, involving a unique pull-out door handle and a careful manoeuvre under the steering wheel.

Starting the car is straightforward, requiring only a turn of the key and a press of a hidden button under the dash, all after the fuel tap has been opened. However, driving it is an entirely different matter. The floor-mounted pedals and lack of synchromesh in 1st and 2nd on the gearbox require a level of skill and patience that modern automatics have made us unaccustomed to. Navigating the gears is a deliberate process, demanding precise timing and gentle handling, especially given the car’s modest 40bhp output.

Driving the Porsche 356 Gmünd is a lesson in humility and nostalgia. On the hills of Lambourne, the car struggles to exceed 50km/h, but its air-cooled flat-four engine and transmission whine provide an enchanting soundtrack to the leisurely pace. The steering, while heavy, offers a genuine connection to the road, and contrary to expectations, the ride is surprisingly firm, transmitting every nuance of the road’s surface.

Encountering this historic Porsche was an unforgettable experience. Its lack of speed, by today’s standards, only adds to its charm. The next fortunate owner of this 356 Gmünd should cherish and utilise this remarkable piece of Porsche’s legacy. It’s a vehicle that not only represents the origins of a legendary brand but also a priceless snapshot of automotive history.

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