The Porsche 550 was a sports car produced by Porsche from 1953-1956.
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 Porsche with racing in mind, and its successes through the years provided a foundation on which the frame of the Porsche marque spread around the world.
Inspired by the Porsche 356 which was created by Ferry Porsche, and some spyder prototypes built and raced by Walter Glöckler starting in 1951, the factory decided to build a car designed for use in auto racing. The model Porsche 550 Spyder was introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show.The 550 was very low to the ground, in order to be efficient for racing. In fact, former German Formula One racer Hans Herrmann drove it under closed railroad crossing gates during the 1954 Mille Miglia.
The 550 / 1500RS or Spyder became known as the “Giant Killer”. The later 1956 evolution version of the model, the 550A, which had a lighter and more rigid spaceframe chassis, gave Porsche its first overall win in a major sports car racing event, the 1956 Targa Florio.
Its successor from 1957 onwards, the Porsche 718, was even more successful, scoring points in Formula One as late as 1963. A descendant of the Porsche 550 is generally considered to be the Porsche Boxster S 550 Spyder; the Spyder name was effectively resurrected with the RS Spyder Le Mans Prototype.
The Porsche 550 “Little Bastard” numbered 130 (serial number 550-0055) is best known for being the car in which James Dean was killed on September 30, 1955.
One year before Porsche started production of the legendary RS Spyder, they experimented with a Coupe design. These were quite successful on faster circuits, but the roadster was later preferred as a more saleable car. It also became the first mid-engine car win a major endurance race.
In late 1953, Porsche showcased a more definitive version of the 550 with a quad-cam engine and simple roadster body. Despite these upgrades, the Coupes were retained by the factory to contest the Carrera Panamericana race. Outfitted with sposors, they were raced by Jose Herrarte and Jaroslav Juhan to victory in the 1500cc class.
After their appearance at the Carrera, both Coupes were retired and little seen at pubic events. 550-01 was eventually discovered in the mid 2000s and restored by Cavaglieri Restorations for the Collier Collection. In its 1953 Carrera Panamericana specification 550-1 won a Best of Show award at the 2005 Amelia Island Concours.
The Porsche 550 is among the most frequently reproduced classic automobiles, like the AC Cobra and Lotus Seven. Several companies have sprung up in the last 25 years, some of which build near-exact replicas from the ground up, including spaceframes built to exacting specs from Porsche blueprints. Some of the companies that make replicas are Boulder Speedster, Chuck Beck Motorsports, Chamonix do Brasil, Auto Classics, Thunder Ranch, Holmes Motor Company, Le Mans 550 Spyder, Vintage Spyders, and Alloycars, which specializes in exact aluminum re-creations from blueprints