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|Body and chassis|
|Body style||2-door coupe
1955 Porsche RS550
List price (1955): US$6,800.00
Design: Four cylinder air cooled, horizontal opposed, 4 overhead camshafts.
Power: Approximately 110 PS (81 kW) at 6200 rpm.
Bore: 3.35 in (85mm).
Stroke: 2.59 in (66mm).
Piston Displacement: 1,498 cc (91.4 cu in)
Compression ratio: 9.5:1.
Cylinders: Aluminum hard chromed walls.
Cylinder head: Aluminum.
Valves per cylinder: 1 intake, 1 exhaust.
Valve operation: 4 camshafts driven by 2 vertical shafts.
Crankshaft: Full roller bearing, built up.
Air blower drive: V-belt, crankshaft to generator shaft.
Crankshaft-blower ratio: 1:1.
Air volume: 1100 ltr/sec at 6200 RPM.
Engine lubrication: Dry sump, with oil cooler and oil filter in main current.
Firing order: 1-4-3-2.
Distributor drive: Camshaft.
Spark plugs: Temperature valve 260 – 280.
Carburetors: Solex 40 PJJ or Weber 40 DCM.
Muffler: 2 mufflers leading into 1 exhaust pipe.
Clutch: Fichtel & Sachs, K 12 Porsche Special.
Transmission: 4 forward speeds, helical gears, synchronized, 1 reverse.
1st gear, 11:35
2nd gear, 17:30 – 16:31 – 18:29
3rd gear, 23:26 – 22:27 – 24:25
4th gear, 27:22 – 25:24 – 26:23
Rear axle: Spiral bevel pinion, ZF lock type differential.
Gear ratio: 8:35 – 7:31 – 7:34
Top speed: Approx 140 mph (220 km/h).
Frame: Tubular, seamless steel tubing
Front springs: 2 transverse, 4-leaf adjustable torsion bars
Rear springs: 1 round torsion bar on each side
Fichtel & Sachs, telescopic hydraulic
Front: 26 x 90
Rear: 36 x 140
Steering ratio: 1:14.15
Operating brakes: Oil hydraulic foot brakes to all four wheels
Brake drums: 11.0236 in (280mm)
Front: 5.00 – 16
Rear 5.25 – 16
Wheel base: 83 in (2100mm)
Front tread: 50 – in (1290mm)
Rear tread: 49 – in (1250mm)
Length overall: 11 ft 9 – in (3600mm)
Width overall: 5 ft 1 in (1550mm)
Height: (unloaded) 3 ft 4 in (1015mm)
Minimum ground clearance: Approx 6 in (150mm)
Minimum turning circle: Approx 36 ft (11m)
Dry weight: Approx 1300 lbs (590 kg)
Empty weight: (DIN) Approx 1510 lbs (685 kg)
Service weight: (FIA) Approx 1410 lbs (640 kg)
Permissible total weight: Approx 1984 lbs (900 kg)
Front: 992 lbs (450 kg)
Rear: 992 lbs (450 kg)
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 first three hand built prototypes came in a coupe with a removable hardtop. The first (550-03) raced as a roadster at the Nurburgring Eifel Race in May 1953 winning its first race. Over the next couple of years, The Werks Porsche team evolved and raced the 550 with outstanding success and was recognized wherever it appeared. The Werks cars were provided with differently painted tail fins to aid recognition from the pits. Hans Herrmann’s particularly famous ‘red-tail’ car No 41 went from victory to victory. Porsche was the first car manufacturer to get race sponsorship which was through Fletcher Aviation, who Porsche was working with to design a light aircraft engine and then later adding Telefunken and Castrol.
The Porsche 550 spyder became an active participant around the European and US championship circuit between 1953 and as late as 1965 starting in over 370 races. With approximately 95 overall wins along with an additional 75 class wins, the spyder dominated against more powerful cars not even in its class. With a mix of international drivers from Jack McAfee, Ken Miles and Wolfgang Seidel to legends such as Huschke von Hanstein, Helmut Glöckler, Hans Herrmann and Richard von Frankenberg, the spyder was well represented at famous circuits around the world. From the tracks of Avus, Nürburgring, Le Mans and the Targa Florio in Europe to the more active competitive circuits found in the US at Sebring, Palm Springs and Lime Rock, the spyder which became the race car of choice for privateers, soon earned the reputation as the ‘Giant Killer’.
For such a limited number of builds, the 550 spyder was always in a winning position, usually finishing in the top three results in its class. The beauty of the 550 was that it could be driven to the track, raced and then driven home, which showed the flexibility of being both a road and track car. Each spyder was individually designed and customised to be raced and although from the pits it was difficult to identify the sometimes six 550s in the race, the aid of colouring tail spears along the rear wheel fenders, enabled the teams to see their cars. The racing spyders were predominantly silver in colour, similar to the factory colour of the Mercedes, but there were other splashes of blue, red, yellow and white making up the Porsche palette on the circuit.
Each spyder was assigned a number for the race and had gumballs positioned on doors, front and rear, to be seen from any angle. On some 550s owned by privateers, a crude hand written number scrawled in house paint usually served the purpose. Cars with high numbers assigned such as 351, raced in the 1000 mile Mille Miglia, where the number represented the start time of 3.51am. On most occasions, numbers on each spyder would change for each race entered, which today helps identify the 550 by chassis number and driver in these classic black and white photos.
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, commonly known as the RSK was even more successful. The Spyder variations continued through the early 1960s, the RS 60 and RS 61. 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.
James Dean's "Little Bastard"
Perhaps the most famous of the first 90 Porsche 550's built was James Dean's "Little Bastard" numbered 130 (VIN 550-0055) which Dean fatally crashed into Donald Turnupseed's 1950 Ford Custom at the CA Rt. 46/41 Cholame Junction on September 30, 1955.
As Dean was finishing up Giant’s filming in September, 1955, he suddenly traded in his 356 Porsche Super Speedster at Competition Motors for a new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder on September 21st and immediately entered the upcoming Salinas Road Race event scheduled for October 1 and 2.
According to Lee Raskin, Porsche historian, and author of James Dean At Speed, Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint Little Bastard on the car:
- "Dean Jeffries, who had a paint shop next to Barris did the customizing work which consisted of: painting '130' in black non-permanent paint on the front hood, doors and rear deck lid. He also painted "Little Bastard" in script across the rear cowling. The red leather bucket seats and red tail stripes were original. The tail stripes were painted by the Stuttgart factory, which was customary on the Spyders for long distance endurance racing identification."
Purportedly, James Dean had been given the nickname "Little Bastard" by Bill Hickman, a Warner Bros. stunt driver who became friendly with Dean. Previous references to Hickman say he was Dean's dialogue coach on Giant. Bob Hinkle, a Texan, was actually Dean's Giant dialogue coach. Hickman was part of Dean's group driving to the Salinas Road Races on September 30, 1955. Hickman says he called Dean, "little bastard." And Dean called Hickman, "big bastard." Another version of the "Little Bastard" origin has been corroborated by two of Dean's close friends, Lew Bracker, and photographer, Phil Stern. They believe Jack Warner of Warner Bros. had once referred to Dean as a little bastard after Dean refused to vacate his temporary East of Eden trailer on the studio's lot. And Dean wanted to get 'even' with Warner by naming his race car, "Little Bastard" and to show Warner that despite his sports car racing ban during all filming, Dean was going to be racing the "Little Bastard" in between making movies for Warner Bros.
The 550 is among the most frequently reproduced classic automobiles.
Several companies have sprung up in the last 25 years who offer kit and turn-key cars, including;
- Boulder Speedster
- HJRkitscars from Argentina
- Chuck Beck Motorsports
- Chamonix do Brasil
- Auto Classics
- Holmes Motor Company
- Le Mans 550 Spyder
- Vintage Spyders.
There are a few companies that build near-exact replicas from the ground up fabricating 550 turnkey cars to the buyers exact specifications;
- Alloycars, which specializes in exact aluminum recreations from blueprints.
- Leffingwell, Randy (2002). Porsche legends. Osceola, WI: MBI Pub. Co. p. 35. ISBN 0-7603-1364-4.
- "Porsche History - Milestones". Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- Porsche Panorama, Porsche Club of America,Inc; Little Bastard: Search for James Dean's Spyder, July, 1984, Lee Raskin, pp. 12-16, 19-20. ISSN 0147-3565.
- Raskin, Lee (2005). James Dean: At speed. Phoenix, Ariz.: David Bull. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-893618-49-7.
- ""Little Bastard": The Silver Spyder Porsche/Dean Mystery Revisited". The Selvedge Yard. 2009-12-27. Retrieved 2013-02-05.
- Raskin, p. 106.
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