Dr Ing F. Porsche KG: 1957 Formula One Season
By the mid-1950s Porsche was beginning to really assert itself in sportscar racing. The introduction of the 550 in 1953 would signal the beginning of success in sportscar racing that continues to this very day. However, Formula One was something else entirely, but, in 1957 an opportunity would present itself.
Porsche would really begin to gain traction in sportscar racing when it introduced its 356 in 1950. The model would be popular with a number of customers and, by sheer numbers, the model began to dominate its class. But there was more the company believed it could do and one of its next models would prove that over and over again.
The 550 Spyder would be immediately successful for Porsche. One of the intriguing aspects to the car was the simple fact it didn't necessarily fit any particular category. Though powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cam engine, the car achieved performance that exceeded its class quite easily. However, the car didn't quite have the performance to compete with the bigger sportscar prototypes. Nonetheless, that is where the model would do most of its fighting.
Heading into the 1957 season Porsche was on the verge on some very important decisions. Porsche was beginning to show interest in Formula 2 and Formula One in addition to his sportscar aims. Therefore, the 1957 would be an important one as the Formula 2 category would be the perfect place in which he could contest using an evolved version of the 550RS sportscar.
At the time, regulations in Formula One were not so well defined as to prohibit a sportscar from taking part in a race. Formula 2 would have even fewer restrictions. Therefore, Porsche 550RS sportscars would begin making appearances in Formula 2 races all throughout the 1957 season. The cars would be updated to make them more competitive in the open-wheel formula. All unnecessary weight would be stripped from the car to help it increase its handling and top speed. Still, the car was bigger than the rest of its Formula 2 rivals and this brought it competitiveness into question.
However, Christian Goethals would enter his own Porsche 550RS at the 1st Coupe Internationale de Vitesse held at Reims, France on the 14th of July. Using the power of the 1.5-liter engine, Goethals would come away with a 5th place result. This would encourage the Porsche factory team to look to an event coming the following month.
The Porsche 550 RS had proven itself in tortuous events in the past. Umberto Maglioli and Huschke von Hanstein shared the drive to take the win in the 1956 Targa Florio. A similar 550 RS would go on to win the 12 Hours of Reims a couple of months later. Then there were class victories at Sebring, Nurburgring and Le Mans in 1957 that would prove the abilities of the car. Therefore, the 550 RS would not be a car easily beaten in Formula 2. Furthermore, the opportunity that presented itself in early August of '57 would be rather similar to the arduous tests of Le Mans and Sebring. The event would be the German Grand Prix and it would be held on the 4th of August at the infamous Nurburgring circuit.
Porsche had some reason to be confident coming into the race. Edgar Barth and Umberto Maglioli had partnered to win the 1000 Kilometer race held at the circuit earlier in the year. The lap times would be similar to the other Formula 2 cars entered in the race, and they certainly had proven their reliability having dominated to take the victory in a 1000 kilometer race.
In many ways, the Porsche 550 RS had been built for races like the German Grand Prix precisely because of the nature of the circuit. The Nurburgring would be the closest Formula One would come to the Mille Miglia, Le Mans or even the Targa Florio. These events were Porsche's main focus. He had designed and built cars intended to dominate at such events that featured nothing but twisting and turning, diving and climbing. And this would more than adequately describe the nature of the Nurburgring. Even its sheer size fit the narrative. At 14 miles in length, just a single lap felt as though car and driver were taking part in the Mille Miglia or Targa Florio.
In total, there would be nine Formula 2 entries in the field for the German Grand Prix. Out of those nine, three would be Porsche 550 RS Spyders. The Porsche KG factory team would enter two of them. Umberto Maglioli would drive one of the spyders while Edgar Barth would be behind the wheel of another.
Umberto Maglioli had made his Formula One debut back in 1953 driving for Scuderia Ferrari in the Italian Grand Prix. At the wheel of the then new 553, Maglioli would come away with an 8th place finish.
The only appearance for Edgar Barth in Formula One would come at the very track he would be attempting to tame in the 550 RS. Back in 1953, Barth would take part in the German Grand Prix in an EMW, the East German equivalent to BMW. At that time Formula 2 regulations were enforced in the World Championship and this enabled a number of privateer Germans to take part in their home race.
Following the race in 1953, Barth would find himself, rather unwillingly, embroiled in the ever-worsening political situation. Able to move to West Germany, Barth's racing career would begin again.
Though Porsche would be readying to take part in its home race, it was far from the main attraction. Coming into the race, Juan Manuel Fangio was but a win away from his fifth World Championship. What's more, Vandervell had just come through to take the first victory for a British manufacturer in Formula One. So there were a lot of story lines heading into the weekend. Nonetheless, amongst the Formula 2 field, the Porsche entries would draw more than novel interest from spectators.
Brilliant weather would greet the teams heading into the weekend. In addition to the weather, the track surface would also be redone ensuring lap times would be far below the lap record broken by Fangio the previous season.
Fangio would demonstrate his championship-winning qualities in practice as he would absolutely destroy his lap record from the previous season. Posting a best lap time of 9:25.6, the Argentinean would end up being some 16 seconds faster than his previous fastest lap. Faster than Mike Hawthorn by nearly three seconds, Fangio would have an easy pole. Jean Behra would barely miss cracking the nine minute and thirty second barrier but would be more than quick enough to capture 3rd place on the grid. Peter Collins would round-out the front row in another Ferrari.
Amongst the Formula 2 field, the Porsche 550 RS sportscars would be quite impressive. Lapping the circuit as fast as he had during the 1000 kilometer race, Edgar Barth would end up being the fastest of the Formula 2 entries with a time of 10:02.2 around the 14 mile circuit. Overall, Barth would find himself on the fourth row of the grid in the 12th position. The other factory Porsche driven by Maglioli would start right behind Barth in the fifth row of the grid. Posting a lap time of 10:08.9, Maglioli would end up 15th overall. It would be an impressive performance in practice by the factory Porsches. Barth would be fastest. However, Maglioli's time would ensure the team had its two cars in the top three of the Formula 2 field.
Brilliant sunshine and an overwhelming descended upon the circuit on the 4th. The cars and the drivers would make their way to their positions on the grid. The start of the 22 lap race was drawing nearer. When the flag dropped to get the race underway, it would have been next to impossible to prophecy just what a special day it would be.
Powering down the shallow hill to the Sudkurve, it would be Hawthorn and Collins leading Fangio and the rest of the field. Further back in the field, the two factory Porsches would get away well and would be in good position heading into the first turn. While Hawthorn and Collins led the way, the Porsches would give way looking toward the whole of the race instead of just the run to the first corner. Both of the factory 550 RS Spyders would be running right around the 15th position overall.
At the end of the first lap it would be Hawthorn and Collins still leading Fangio by more than a couple of seconds. Barth's experience and speed in the Porsche would come through as he would complete the first lap in 13th position while Maglioli would be a second or so behind in 14th. Within the Formula 2 category, it would be Salvadori leading the way ahead of Barth and Maglioli.
Fangio would finally find his footing and would be right up behind the Ferraris of Hawthorn and Collins at the end of the long straight. Heading into the 3rd lap of the race Fangio would finally make his move and would be in the lead of the race. Fangio needed to be in the lead and pull away as he would start the race with half-full fuel tanks. Hawthorn and Collins would be fueled to go the distance. Fangio would trust in his ability to distance himself from the two Ferraris so that he would be able to refuel and take on new tires and still fight for the victory.
While Fangio began to pull away at the head of the field, the circuit began claiming its victims; most of which would be Formula 2 cars. Dick Gibson, Paul England and Jack Brabham would all fall prey to mechanical problems and would be out of the race before the halfway point. Salvadori would lose ground gained at the start and would be running just ahead of Barth and Maglioli out on the circuit. They would be embroiled in their own battle for victory.
Just prior to the halfway mark of the race Stuart Lewis-Evans would crash his Vanwall and would be out of the race. At the same time, Barth would make his move on Salvadori for the lead in Formula 2. Hans Herrmann would loss some positions at the same time and this would result in Barth jumping from 13th up to 10th by the 11th lap. Maglioli would find himself up to 13th, struggling to make the same kind of progress as his teammate.
While Barth was jumping up the running order, Fangio was finding his race coming undone. Stopping with a 30 second lead, he would return to the circuit 45 seconds behind Hawthorn and Collins as a result of problems during the pitstop. With a championship on the line, Fangio would begin to rattle off record laps that would absolutely astound and enthrall the crowd.
At the same time Fangio began to click off record laps, Maglioli would find his race slowing dramatically as his engine was beginning to give up the fight. This was rather surprising given the fact the car had dominated in its category at the same circuit just months earlier.
Fangio's performance would be nothing short of magnificent. Breaking his lap record just about each and every time around the circuit, the Argentinean would be closing in on the Ferraris taking seconds out of the lead each and every time around. It was clear Fangio could draw the Ferraris in with his fresher tires, but would there be enough laps remaining to take the lead and win the race?
Fangio would have more than enough time. Posting what would end up being the fastest lap of the race and a new lap record, Fangio would have the Ferraris directly ahead of him with two laps remaining; plenty of time. The fastest lap would be truly remarkable as it would be 8 seconds quicker than his own lap time from practice.
Further back, Barth continued to hold onto the lead in the Formula 2 field. Shuffled backward by Giorgio Scarlatti and Bruce Halford in Formula One machines, Barth would have a lap in hand over Brian Naylor and Carel Godin de Beaufort, his main challengers in Formula 2. Therefore, he just needed to make it to the end of the race and Porsche would secure a class victory in the German Grand Prix.
Waved home by a truly appreciative crowd, Fangio would go on to win the race having three seconds in hand over Hawthorn at the end. Collins had given up the fight once Fangio had passed him with two laps remaining. Well ensconced in 3rd place, Collins would finish the race 35 seconds behind. The only race left to reach its climax would be the battle for Formula 2 honors. Relying upon the reliability of the 550 RS, Barth would cruise to victory finishing the race 12th overall and a lap up on Brian Naylor and Godin de Beaufort.
Different class of racing, same story. Porsche would come away with a class victory, yet again, but this time it would be away from the familiar sportscar classes. Given Porsche's dedication to building superior automobiles it seemed only fitting the team would come away victorious in its very first attempt.
Given the success achieved in the German Grand Prix, Porsche would be encouraged about the future and about the notion of stepping into grand prix racing. It well and truly was a different mode of thinking. Porsche had never felt all that comfortable in grand prix racing but the Stuttgart factory would become a rather familiar sight in Formula One over the next half-dozen seasons. Sources:
'Germany 1957', (http://statsf1.com/en/1957/allemagne.aspx). Stats F1. http://statsf1.com/en/1957/allemagne.aspx. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
'Constructors: Porsche', (http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-porsc.html). GrandPrix.com. http://www.grandprix.com/gpe/con-porsc.html. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
'1957 World Drivers Championship', (http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1957/f157.html). 1957 World Drivers Championship. http://www.silhouet.com/motorsport/archive/f1/1957/f157.html. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
'History: Type 550', (http://type550.com/history/). Type 550 Spyder. http://type550.com/history/. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
'Race Index: Formula 2 1957', (http://www.formula2.net/F257_Index.htm). F2 Register http://www.formula2.net/F257_Index.htm. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
'Cars: Porsche 550 RS', (http://www.racingsportscars.com/suffix/archive/Porsche/550/RS.html?page=3). Racing Sports Cars. http://www.racingsportscars.com/suffix/archive/Porsche/550/RS.html?page=3. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
Williamson, Martin. ''Incredible' Fangio Takes Title with His Greatest Drive', (http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/story/14102.html). ESPN F1. http://en.espnf1.com/f1/motorsport/story/14102.html. Retrieved 5 September 2013.
1957 German GP. Video. (1957). Retrieved 5 September 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUcyO9K4EU0
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By Jeremy McMullen
After World War II, Walter Glockler of Frankfurt was one of the first to own a Volkswagen dealership. He was an amateur motorcycle racer that had ventured into auto racing once he had financial backing from his successful dealership. One of his engineers working at the dealership had worked on prewar Adler sports cars and had amassed a wealth of racing knowledge and expertise. In 1948 they modified a Hanomag engine and placed it mid-ship creating a very competitive racer. In 1950 they continued with their mid-engined configuration but switched to an L1-liter Porsche engine. The rear suspension was reversed and mounted to a tube-frame chassis with the driver sitting in the center of the vehicle to optimize weight distribution. The body was created by C. H. Weidenhausen and constructed of aluminum and weighed less than 1000 pounds. The combination was enough to gain Glockler the 1100 cc Sports Car Championship. For the following season, Glockler had the engine converted to run on alcohol which improved the horsepower output and kept it competitive for another season. These were the beginnings of the highly successful Glockler specials.
Collaboration between Porsche and Glockler began. Porsche was seeking publicity and recognition for his products to further stimulate sales while Glockler enjoyed the latest engine development and new products. This partnership continued for a number of years before Porsche began building his own series of racing cars. Ernst Fuhrmann was given the task of creating an engine suitable for competition; the project was dubbed 547, while Wilhelm Hild was tasked with creating a new chassis, dubbed Project 550. The resulting design was similar to the mid-engined Glockler, consisting of a steel tube ladder frame with six cross members. The drivetrain from a 356 was modified and placed behind the driver but in front of the rear axle. The suspension was basically a stock 356 unit with minor modifications to accommodate the extra weight and demands of racing.
Hild completed two chassis but the engine development was still not ready. Instead, an engine from a 356 1500 Super was placed in its place. It was modified to run on alcohol which resulted in nearly 100 horsepower. It was then slightly detuned to achieve an optimal compression of 9.0:1 which lowered the horsepower to nearly 80 but increased its reliability.
The first Porsche 550, outfitted with a Roadster body, had its racing debut at the Eiffel Races at Nurburging. Piloted by Helm Glockler, the Porsche immediately proved its capabilities. Unfortunately, the weather was poor and there were problems with a carburetor but it was not enough from keeping Glockler and the 550 from winning the race. Even with strong competition, its first race had been victorious. Porsche turned his sights onto the grueling but prestigious 24 Hours of LeMans endurance race.
LeMans is a high speed track and manufacturers often build custom bodies for their cars to take advantage of better aerodynamics to achieve higher speeds. Two cars were prepared by Porsche for the race, both with coupe bodies. They were entered into the 1101-1500 cc class and by the end of the race had easily beaten the competition. Overall, they had finished 15th and 16th. Porsche 550-02 driven by Richard Frankenberg and Paul Frere were awarded the class victory. The cars were later raced in two German competition events.
Ernst Furhmann continued on his engine development project, under strict direction to stay in the 1500 cc limit. He borrowed from one of his previous designs; a flat-12 engine used in the Cisitalia Grand Prix car. It had a large bore and a small stroke. Instead of using the overhead valve configuration of the 356's, he went with an overhead camshaft design where each set of two cylinders had two overhead camshafts driven by shafts. When the new engine was complete, it was placed in a new 550 chassis which had continued the evolution of design, strength, rigidity, and weight reduction. It was still a tubular frame but had been modified through knowledge gained from testing and racing. A new body was created, designed by Erwin Komenda and in similar fashion to the original bodies of the other 550's.
This newly developed 550 was first shown to the public at the 1953 Hockenheim Grand Prix where it was unable to match the speeds of the 550 Coupe. It was raced a week later at a hillclimb where it scored a respectable third place finish. A month later a fifth 550 was on display at the Paris Motorshow where it was accompanied by news that the 550 RS Spyder would soon enter production and be available in 1954. The show car had a few luxurious that were void on the other racers, such as a full windshield with wipers, seating for two, convertible top, and the convenience of a lockable glove-box. Porsche worked hard on getting the 550's ready for racing during 1953 and 1954. Near the close of 1954, the vehicles were ready. In the hands of capable privateers, the 550's quickly began amassing many victories often beating the larger engine competition. One of the owners of a 550 Spyder, serial number 550-0055, was the legendary James Dean who nicknamed his machine 'Little Bastard.' On September 30th, 1955 at the intersection of Highways 466 and 41, James Dean's life came to a close while driving the 550 Spyder.
The original two 550's were prepared for the Carrera Panamerica race in 1953. Adorned with sponsor stickers and livery the two cars easily dominated the 1500 cc class. Jose Herrate's 550-02 emerged victorious though 550-01, driven by Jaroslav Juhan, was the faster of the two but forced to retire due to mechanical difficulties. The following year 550-04, outfitted with the Fuhrmann quad-cam engine, was entered into the Carrera Panamerica race where it finished third overall and first in class. In honor of these accomplishments, the 356 models outfitted with the Fuhrmann engine were now dubbed 'Carrera'.
In total there were around 90 examples of 550 RS Spyders created with 78 being sectioned for public use. In 1956 Porsche introduced the 550A which looked nearly identical to its predecessor but featured many mechanical improvements including a spaceframe chassis coupled to a Fuhrmann four-cam 547 engine capable of producing over 130 horsepower. It featured a five speed manual gearbox and multi-link suspension which greatly improved the handling while reducing over-steer.
The Porsche 550 was a very successful car that showcased the capabilities and creativity of Porsche. Throughout the years to come, new Porsches were created that were bigger, better, and faster, and continued the tradition on the racing circuits of this historic pedigree.
By Daniel Vaughan | Mar 2006