1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder

History

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 modified to run on alcohol, resulting in nearly 100 horsepower, and installed in the engine bay. 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 a 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 was 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
Automobile sport was part of the picture for the fledgling Porsche sports car firm from the first. The 356 quickly became popular around the world, in the hands of private drivers with sporting ambitions. New racesports cars were developed in Zuffenhausen at the beginning of the fifties: the1.5 liter 550 Spyder proved a shark in the goldfish bowl against larger-displacement competitors in major races. This Spyder used the first engine developed by Porsche for Porsche: the Type 547 with 1.5 liter displacement and four, shaft-driven, overhead camshafts.

Porsche had made the change from a floor pan to tubular space frame for racesport construction, established the five-speed gearbox, continued to increase performance and fitted larger drum brakes. These improvements, along with countless other modifications, kept the Spyder at the head of the ' small sports car class ' (up to 1500 cc) throughout the fifties.

But 1960 brought new regulations for racesports cars, leading to the Spyder RS 60 with displacement increased to 1600 cc, larger windshield, a 'functional' top and a regulation trunk in the tail, behind a four-cam engine which now produced 160 HP. This RS 60 brought Porsche its finest results up to that time, particularly in long-distance events. While an overall victory in the 44th Targa Florio in 1960 by Bonnier/Herrmann, with a lead of more than 6 minutes over a 3 liter Ferrari, was within the range of previous achievements - sports cars from Zuffenhausen had already captured overall Targa Florio victories in l956 and 1959 - a new Porsche chapter opened with the first appearance of the RS 60 at the 12 hours of Sebring in the USA. Olivier Gendebien and Hans Herrmann won outright while Holbert/Scheckter/Fowler drove a second factory RS 60 into second, ahead of Nethercutt/Lovely in a 3 liter Ferrari Dino. Swiss driver Heini Walter, at the wheel of an RS 60, secured Porsche's third and fourth European Hillclimb Championships in 1960 and 1961, following those from 1958 by Count Berghe von Trips and 1959 by Edgar Barth.

Source - Porsche

1955 Vehicle Profiles

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 4/1/550

The 550 Spyder, which took its name because it was the 550th design project undertaken by the Porsche company, made its international debut in October 1953 at the Paris Motor Show. The 550 Spyder was the first sports car specially designed by Porsch....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-041

In the mid-1950's, in races from Sebring to LeMans, Torrey Pines to Watkins Glen, the 550 Spyder was the car of choice among many professionals and wealthy amateur drivers for winning the 1500cc sports car class. Many of the greatest race drivers of....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550.073

The 550 RS Spyder, introduced at the Paris Auto Show in late 1953, was their first model designed specifically for racing applications. The lightweight aluminum body and remarkably powerful 1500cc, four cam power plant quickly earned them their reput....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-0031

Inspired by the Porsche 356 created by Dr. Ferry Porsche, Porsche decided to build a car designed specifically for racing. The Porsche 550 Spyder was introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show and 78 cars were produced in open and closed configuration. T....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-0075

The 550's most famous customer was perhaps the late James Dean. Its fame as a race car that could 'play above its pay range' was without question. Although only an air-cooled 1,498cc boxer-4, it was an all-aluminum, double overhead cam boxer with 110....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-018

This is the second production car of 1955. The car was initially a factory team car with serial number 550-018, driven by Kurt Ahrens. The car was also the original car used in European Porsche print ads and was just recently used in the newest &qu....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 718-034
Engine Num: 032

This car was driven in the 1955 LeMans and finished 37th. It is entirely original as raced in LeMans and is the only original Spyder in the world. The current owner is only the second owner of this 550 Spyder.....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

This 550 Spyder was the 1955 Paris Auto Show car. The car was sold to Sonauto in France and raced there, Sonauto apparently owned several 550s and raced them with different drivers. This car is pictured in the book, 'Porsche 356,' which states that i....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-0060
Engine Num: 90063

The 1.5-liter Porsche 550 Spyder, built in limited numbers, are among the most mythical Porsches of all time. They forged a legacy in competition, driven by legendary drivers, at many important road races. ....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-048

The first three Porsche 550's were hand-built prototypes and the first true sports racing Porsche. They were built as coupes with removable hardtops. Owners could drive it to the track, race, and drive home. Over the next several years, the Werks Por....[continue reading]

1955 Porsche 550 RS Spyder vehicle information

Spyder

Chassis Num: 550-0053
Engine Num: P-90049

The Porsche 550 Spyder, and its successors the 550A and 718, were true purpose-built race cars built to compete at motorsport's highest levels. They would score class victories and significant overall wins. Weighing just over 1,200 pounds and powered....[continue reading]

Spyder
Chassis #: 550-04 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-041 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550.073 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-0031 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-0075 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-018 
Spyder
Chassis #: 718-034 
Spyder
 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-0060 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-048 
Spyder
Chassis #: 550-0053 


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