Black Plate Driver: 1961 Porsche 356

This 1961 Porsche 356 is described as a driver-quality example that hasn’t been stripped down and restored into a priceless show car, a refreshing change of pace from the usual 356 listing. Still, there’s no such thing as a cheap 356 anymore, especially when it’s an honest driver without any rust. This one is a black plated California example, listed here on craigslist for $60,000 in Huntington Beach, and it looks quite smart with silver paint and polished hubcaps. No interior photos are provided, and the seller believes the asking price reflects the car’s less-than-Concours condition.

It’s really hard to tell where the faults lie with this 356, as it presents seemingly just as good as any other early P-car on the internet. The listing claims it’s been locally owned and maintained since it was nearly new, and the most recent owner held onto it since 1964. The seller does disclose there is one accident in its past, which may impact value – but almost all of these cars have some skeletons in their closet by this point. Whatever the accident damage was, it’s not immediately obvious here as the panels look laser straight and the paint largely consistent.

Obviously, you can’t tell from photos where this 356 may have been whacked – but at least it looks largely correct in terms of trim placement, lenses, and bumpers. The seller lists the car as a 356A T5, which isn’t exactly correct – it is a T5, but that would make it a 356B. The T5 had the single grill insert in the engine lid, whereas the T6 was updated to have dual grilles in the same location. The 356B is also noted for the transition to raised bumpers front and rear. Personally, I like the earlier cars with the chrome bumpers and overriders, clearly lifted off the assembly line for the Beetle of the same era and modified for the 356.

356s are extremely prone to rust, so hopefully, the longtime owner didn’t leave the Porsche parked near the Pacific. Underneath is where the rust will truly explode if not contained, but given the description and the asking price, it seems safe to assume floor rot isn’t an issue. The value for a 356 of this era in “Good” condition is around $55,000, with the next level up going into the low $80s. So, if this 356 is somewhere in between, the asking price seems fair – but I hope it wasn’t parked too close to the tree in this picture. Thanks to Barn Finds reader Rex M. for the find.

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Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Early cars never had chrome bumpers. They were stamped body gauge steel with aluminum trim pieces. The early ones were just the aluminum strip but around ’54 they started putting a rubber strip down the middle of the aluminum piece. Kept that configuration through ’59 to when the 356Bs were introduced. The ’60 through ’62 B Roadsters had the twin grills but the standard cars didn’t. The ’64/’65Cs had twin grills and the addition of 4 wheel disc brakes. The difference between the early ’50s cars and the B and C models was a night and day thing of the highest order. Fun cars.

    Like 7
    • Darrell Anderson

      356-356A cars had the factory option for chrome bumpers.I don’t believe many were delivered but it was an available factory option. I had a 59 sunroof coupe one owner original paint Aqua marine Super, wind wings and a reddish-cork-brown leather interior with this chrome bumper option, Ca. overrider bumpers.

      Like 1
    • Darrell

      Chrome bumpers were a factory option 356-356A.

  2. Steve R

    I wouldn’t worry about rust, from the way the ad reads this is a dealer selling the car. Besides, in most parts of California the ocean air is generally only a problem, when it comes to rust, for very short distances.

    Steve R

    Like 1
  3. Mike

    Did he side swipe that tree? The car is practically right up against it.

    Like 9
  4. Dusty Stalz

    Neat car and yeah having up against the tree like that bugs me too. One thing I never understood is the black plate thing. It’s a license plate man who cares.

    Like 6
    • Mike

      “It’s a license plate man who cares.” Sorry Dusty, those are fightin’ words to the CA plate nerds. ANY mention of CA black plates will spin off into the weeds with experts trying to top each other with their knowledge of the coveted CA black plate. They do it on BaT all the time and I wouldn’t be surprised the comments here about the plates will out number the comments on the car.

      Like 5
    • Stan Marks

      You obviously don’t live in Calif.,Dusty. You may not care. But black plates are a collector’s item. Some years back, the DMV began making them, again, because of the popularity.

  5. Darrell

    It looks like to me that it has an A hood on it. The hoods are similar in shape but the curvature longitudinally is different.

  6. mark mitchell Member

    Black plates on a car simply mean that the car has been sold in California originally (or at least brought into California very early in its life). It suggests that the car is rust free, although cars do rust in certain portions of the Golden State depending on local weather conditions (still not as bad as other parts of the US dealing with high humidity or salted roads). I have many black plate cars in my collection including a ’56 Alfa Romeo Sprint that was brought in from Italy early enough in its life to be issued a set of black plates.

    Like 1
    • Andy

      if a 1956 Alfa or any make of car registered in Ca. in 1956-1962 they would have been registered with yellow and black plates the reverse of the Black and yellow plates of which were registered in 1963. in 1963 the earlier yellow plates were surrendered and the new “black and yellow” 1963 plates were assigned to the 1956-1962 cars and for that matter the earlier cars too.

      Like 1
      • Dougie Member

        Thanks for that clarification, Andy. I knew there was something going on in that transition from yellow to black. Didn’t know about surrendering the yellow plate.
        If anyone has any additional lore about Black plates. I’d love to hear it.

        Like 1
    • Steve R

      There is and has been a strong market for used black plates for quite a while. For at least a couple of decades the California DMV has had a process in place which allows a matched pair of plates, that is not in their computer system to be registered to a car from that era. Just because black plates are on a car doesn’t mean they have been there for any length of time.

      Steve R

      Like 1
      • dougie Member

        yep. At this point you’re absolutely right. But, prior to the use of YOM plates as a custom (vanity) plate, A black plate absolutely meant they had been on that car since new. We’re talking 40 years ago so this is a history lesson. No doubt before a lot of you were born! lol

        Like 1
  7. Allen Anderson

    Bought a new 356 B in Luxemburg in 1961 for $3100. Should have bought two. Got married and started a family and grew out of it. Still love it.

    Like 1
  8. Malcolm Boyes

    If this is “mostly” rust free ( I dont believe there is such a thing as a totally rust free vintage Porsche) tht is a good price. I have a 1956 sunroof A Outlaw with a 912 motor valued a lot higher than that ( that said so called “Outllaws” are a “law” unto themselves when it comes to value..some love em.some hate em). This looks like a decent car at the right price..and they only appreciate!

    Like 2
  9. mark mitchell Member

    Darrell – The early 356B T5 had the rounded front hood like the A’s. The later 356B and 356C were called the T6 and had a wider hood with more squared leading edge, and also an outside gas filler on the front fender. The C’s got disc brakes as well. This one is a T5, or early B. From the photos, the front hood gaps seem to be way off – I would guess that the nose has been whacked at some point!

    Like 1
  10. Darrell

    I understand this. The hood shape looks like it is that of an A and not that of a T-5. The arch of the hood is more pronounced on an A hood and the T-5 hood arch has a flatter profile.

    • DOUGLAS DINBERG

      Looks like a B hood handle; the A was more oval at the front end badge area, not bull-nosed like as pictured.

  11. dougie Member

    I’ll help you out on the black plate thing, Dusty. California ran black license plates 1963-1969. Argumentatively, a sweet spot for a pretty radical shift in automobiles. Cars in this period were extremely desirable. duh.
    In California, you maintained a plate for life unless you sold the car, or the plate was lost or damaged.
    So to cut to the chase, up until 2015, if you saw a car with a black plate, it meant you had just encountered an original owner, California car! This was a big deal! I can’t count how many times I flipped a b*tch to run the car down to chat with the owner.
    Now fast forward to 2015. The money grubbing powers to be decided to offer a black plate up as a vanity plate. So now, it is possible to see a black Lambo rolling down the road with a black plate.
    So, the collector community was incensed about this. The thrill of seeing a black plate car was ca$trated faster than a bull’s ball$.
    So I hope that helps. You can still see what appears to be a 356 with a dog eared black plate. Although a 1961the plate would have been yellow with black letters. So even this car is suspect. But there’s a lot of sneaky folk out there!

    Like 1
    • Richard

      Thanks Dougie- I always wondered. I sent a black plate car to Japan earlier this year and I wondered if I should have kept the plate. Looks like not a huge loss.

    • MGSteve

      Dougie — all very true . . . good summary of the Black Plate phenomenon. I would point out that a child of 3 can pick out the new black vanity plates. The font of the characters is smaller, and the entire alpha-numeric sequence on the plates totally reflects the new system, not what was found on the original Black Plates you summarized so well. I’m surprised at the popularity of the new vanity plates. They ain’t fooling anyone, IMHO.

      • Stan Marks

        Dougie & Steve, I pretty much went over the same history of Ca. plates, before & after the black plates. Unless I missed something, the reason for the smaller font, on the new plates, is due to the digits going from 6 to 7 numbers & letters.

      • Stan Marks

        BTW… I forgot to mention, my comments were on the ’56 B/W Buick cop car.

      • dougie Member

        Hey @MGSteve. Yep you’re right in the one regard on the newly manufactured black plates. But here’s the fly in the ointment. You can use an original vintage black plate as long as it is certified to be no longer active. Occasionally this requires a sign off from the original owner. DMV also requires that it can’t be all beat to sh*t. Although as is typical, you can sweet talk a DMV employee to let it slide. I have several interesting stories in this regard. lol. So bottom line, you can use an actual dog eared 1960 plate and tag on your Lamborghini, if you’re so inclined (who would be). Also, people with fake beck spyders, speedsters, conv D’S etc can get an original plate to really pull the wool over us fanatics eyes. Of course the gigs up once within 20 feet. But,at 90 on the 405, it works. But obviously, those not suffering from OCD like me, could really give a 💩

  12. Jim S

    LOL. This is a Porsche garage in downtown Huntington Beach that has been there at least since i lived behind it in 1991. They pull them all inside at night and then cram as many as possible on their little lot during the day.

    They must be doing OK… I always see different stock in there every time I walk by and there are always at least 6 cars up on jack stands and lifts getting worked on. Tiny shop on the corner of 5th and Olive St.

    Like 2
  13. BobinBexley Bob in Bexley Member

    2 year old Toyotas & of course, anything late model GM & Dodge are extremely prone to rust too. LOL.

  14. bobhess bobhess Member

    Darrell… Didn’t know the chrome bumpers were a US option. Had some factory advertising years a go and do remember the chrome bumpers in the German ads but none in the US ads. Either way, we’ve owned a bunch of them and had great fun with them.

  15. MGSteve

    Whatever . . . they ARE smaller, which makes them look entirely different. And “Oh Yaw” . . . the fact that they have 7 digits instead of the original 6 is another big hint that they are not an “original” black plate. That said, it is has generated a lot of revenue for the state!

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