1953 Porsche 550 Spyder

1953 Porsche 550 Spyder

The first Porsche designed specifically for motorsport, the 550 Spyder is considered one of the most important race cars ever manufactured...


World-changing air-cooled classics.

Just three years after 356 No.1 debuted, Porsche made its first showing at Le Mans and won the 1.1-litre class with the aluminium-bodied 356 SL Gmünd Coupe. By mid-1952, however, Porsche motorsport director, Fritz Huschke von Hanstein, could see the writing was on the wall for the 356’s budding reputation in the racing world. In the 1.1-litre class, Italy’s OSCA presented a formidable new threat with its purebred racing engine. OSCA was also beginning to invade the 1.5-litre class, which was won at Sarthe that year by a British Jowett Jupiter. In Germany, meanwhile, Borgward and the East Zone’s EMW were also strong opposition in the bigger-displacement class. Against this improving competition, Porsche could no longer rely on modified and lightened versions of its production cars. If it were to defend its position as ‘the one to watch out for’, it needed something better suited to racing than the 356.

Following the 1952 24 Hours of Le Mans, two new design studies were initiated. One of these projects, designated Type 547, was a new engine designed to offer vastly more development potential within the same general size and structure as the old power unit. This new engine was viewed by Ferry Porsche as a research tool with which Porsche’s engineers could extend their knowledge of high-performance air-cooled powerplants. The other project, Type 550, was to have more immediate consequences — it was a new car to be used by the factory for racing.

Powered by the ‘Fuhrmann’ 1.5-litre air-cooled flat-four (featuring double overhead camshafts, Solex carburettors and a twin ignition system), the 108bhp 550 Spyder was unveiled at the Paris Auto Show in 1953. Designed first and foremost as a race car, the sleek sports machine’s mid-engined layout allowed for optimised weight distribution, a low ride height and nimble handling, as demonstrated by immediate success at the 1953 Nürburgring Eifel Race and class wins at the same year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and Carrera Panamericana. The 550 is also notable for Porsche’s pioneering adoption of race car body sponsor graphics.

The 550 A of 1956 (the model’s last year of assembly) featured a lighter chassis, encouraging further success, including an important win at the year’s Targa Florio open road race. Only ninety 550s were manufactured, making the model one of the rarest and most valuable air-cooled Porsches today.

Above The 1955 550 RS 1500 Spyder was a major leap forward from 356 race cars Below (L-R) Herbert Linge, Hans Herrmann, Huschke von Hanstein and Jaroslav Juhan at the 1954 Carrera Panamericana

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