TYPE 356 A (1956-1959)
The major feature differentiating the pre-A from the A is again the windshield. All windshields are now curved, i.e. they form a smooth arc from one side of the car to the other, as does the roof (the “peak” previously required to accomodate the pre-A windshield having been eliminated).
The body remains basically unchanged, with the front having its typical rounded fenders with low mounted headlights. The hood handle was the one with the crest used in 1955 models.
On the side, the rocker panels are now flat, as seen in perspective from the front of the car (while they curved inwards on the pre-A) and a deco strip which was on all pre-A Speedsters and late 1955 coupes and carbiolets was added with a large rubber insert, as opposed to the B where the insert is thinner.
Wheels are 15-inch whereas the pre-A had 16-inch rims. Also, as a result of the new windshield shape, the dash has been redesigned and is now curved to follow the shape of the glass instead of being “pointy” as in the pre-A.
So far so good, everything is fairly straightforward. But things get a little more complicated in 1957 and 1958, so hang on to your Nomex.
In mid 1956, overriders tubes (supposedly for increased protection) were added to the front and rear bumpers on the U.S. models. So the fact that the car you’re looking at does not have those may or may not be significant, depending on whether it is a European or U.S. model. In addition, they are often removed on restored cars. On top of that, these overrider tubes were first fairly low over the front bumper (1957) but were raised higher in February 1959; plus they were first one piece on the rear bumper (1957) and then 2-piece (mid-1957). Finally, the overriders were offered as an option on European models.
For 1957 also, the shape of the door handles was slightly modified and looked more rounded in its rear section.
March 1957 is a major reference point to tell cars apart. In the rear, two significant changes were made: the beehive taillights used since 1953 were replaced by a one-piece teardrop unit on each side while the housing for the license plate light and back-up light was moved from above the license plate (“shine down”) to below the license plate (“shine up”).
Model year 1958 saw the introduction of the T-2 body. This reference is not used very often as visible differences are few. The major one is the door striker plate, which was moved lower than in previous models and was held by 3 screws instead of 5.
Another telltale change is the exhaust. The two exhaust pipes now exit through the lower part of each bumper guard (except on Carrera models).
In addition, cabriolets now sport vent windows (coupes only have them starting in 1960 with the T-5 body).
Finally, inside, the ashtray was moved from the face of the dash on the right to under the dash in the centre.
Apart from the higher overrider tubes, no significant changes were made for 1959. This was the last year of the Type 356 A, which was replaced in 1960 by the 356 B and the T-5 body.