1961 Porsche 356 B “Notchback” A Rare “Ugly Duckling”

WESTPORT, CT – Jason Alford of Westport, CT owns a visually appealing, yet uncommon and surprisingly unsought after 63-year-old Porsche model in Aetna blue. It’s a variant of the popular Porsche 356, the brand’s first production sports car that lasted from 1948 to 1965.

Alford drives a 1961 Porsche 356 B “Karmann notchback” and his brought it to the Spring Fling Rally at Compo Beach on Sunday morning. What makes it unique was it was a one-year-only model that began as a cabriolet and got converted into a hardtop coupe.

1961 Porsche 356 B “Notchback”

“From what I understand, Porsche was having difficulty selling the cabriolets and so they sent the cars back to Karmann and had them weld a hardtop on them,” Alford said. “They were known as the ‘notchback.’ ‘Karmann coupe’ is the official name.”

(Karmann was a German automobile and contract manufacturer that designed and produced components for other brands.)

“There were just over a thousand cars registered as Karmanns, coupes in ’61. Not a great deal of them survived because they were always considered a bit of a step-child or ugly duckling. It was neither coupe nor cabriolet,” Alford said.

“Many of them were raced and kind of used up and thrown away. Some of them were converted back into cabriolets. And then what you’ve got left are just the few remaining Karmann Notchback coupes.”

Alford has owned the Porsche for about 10 years. He spotted it on Bring A Trailer in Long Beach, CA. 

“I’ve got an addiction. It’s called ‘old cars’ and this just happened to be (available),” he said. “I had a ’51 (Jaguar) XK120 and I had an MGA coupe. Both of those wouldn’t fit my two kids in the back seat. This has jump seats in the back so three of us or four of us can go for a spin in an afternoon and this really fit the bill. Plus is was unique. I love unique cars.”

Porsche actually made the “Notchback” for two years – 1961 and 1962 – but 1961 was the only year that cabriolets got retrofitted. “In 1962, they made a Karmann coupe again, but it was with a regular coupe windshield, so it’s a taller windshield, and it was made on purpose. The ’61s were kind of a just solution to move inventory,” Alford said.

Another significant difference between the 1961 and 1962 version is how fueling occurs on the rear-engine model. In the 1961, the gas tank is located in front of the passenger compartment and the hood must be raised to access it. “The filler caps went out on the fender the next year in ’62,” he said.

Alford said the “Notchback” drives well. “Like any other 356, it’s got 75 horsepower ’cause this is a 1600 Super. It drives great. It handles great. It’s so smooth. It just doesn’t have a lot of power, so it’s very much a momentum car, and you can have a lot of fun at 55, 60 miles an hour. It’s like driving 100 miles an hour in anything else. You feel like you’re moving fast and you sit so low. You’re right on the ground.”

Alford’s Porsche often doesn’t get recognized for its uniqueness when he takes it out, although some Porsche enthusiast do know the model’s history.

“It depends on which kind of a Porsche guy you are,” Alford said. “If you’re a 356 guy, you’ll spot it a mile away and you say, ‘Oh, that’s a Notchback.’ They’ll look at it and immediately say, ’61 or 62?’”

As for everyone else, he said, they don’t have a clue. 

Hear from owner Jason Alford in this YouTube video…

About Bud Wilkinson

Bud Wilkinson writes the "RIDE-CT" motorcycle column and the "My Ride" classic car feature in the "Republican-American" newspaper in Waterbury, CT. A graduate of Vermont Academy prep school, he holds a B.A. degree journalism from Ohio Wesleyan University. He is the recipient of a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award in 1992 and a 1991-92 regional Emmy Award for commentary. He currently rides a 1987 BMW R 80 RT and a 2014 Triumph Bonneville and drives a 2010 Mazda MX-5 Miata.

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