Porsche 550

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Porsche 550 Spyder)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Porsche Spyder" redirects here. For the RS Spyder, see Porsche RS Spyder.
Porsche 550
Manufacturer Porsche
Production 1953-1956
Assembly Stuttgart, Germany
Body and chassis
Class Sports car
Body style 2-door coupé
2-door spyder
Layout MR layout

The Porsche 550 was a racing sports car produced by Porsche from 1953-1956.



Design 4 cylinder air cooled horizontal opposed 4 overhead camshafts
Power Approximately 110ps (81 kW) at 6200rpm
Bore 3.35in (85mm)
Stroke 2.59in (66mm)
Piston displacement 1498cc (91.4cu in)
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Crankcase Aluminium
Cylinders Aluminium hard chromed walls
Cylinder head Aluminium
Valves per cylinder An intake and an exhaust
Valve operation 2 camshafts per head driven by vertical shafts
Crankshaft Full roller bearing and built up
Pistons Aluminium
Air blower drive V-belt and crankshaft to generator shaft
Crankshaft to blower ratio 1:1
Air volume 1100ls at 6200rpm
Lubrication Dry sump with oil cooler and filter in main current
Firing order 1-4-3-2
Distribution drive Camshaft
Sparkplugs Temperature valve 260-80
Carburettors Solex 40 PJJ or Weber 40 DCM
Muffler 2 of them leading to an exhaust pipe
Clutch Fichtel & Sachs K12 Porsche Special
Transmission 4 forward speeds, helical gears, synchronised, 1 reverse

Gear ratios:

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
Reverse 1:3.56
Rear axle Spiral level pinion, 2F lock tyre differential
Gear ratio 8:35-7:31-7:34
Top speed Approximately 140mph (220kmh)


Frame Seamless steel tubing
Front springs 2 transverse, 4-leaf adjustable torsion bars
Rear springs A round torsion bar on both sides
Shock absorbers Fichtel & Sachs, telescopic hydralic
Front 26X90
Rear 36X140
Steering ratio 1:14.15
Operation brakes Oil hydraulic foot brakes to all 4 wheels
Brake drums 11.0236in (280mm)
Rims Aluminium
Front tyres 5-16
Rear tyres 5.25-16


Wheel base 83in (2100mm)
Front tread 50in (1290mm)
Rear tread 49in (1250mm)
Overall length 11ft 9in (3600mm)
Overall width 5ft !in (1550mm)
Unloaded height 3ft 4in (1015mm)
Minimum ground clearance Approximately 6in (150mm)
Minimum turning circle Approximately 36ft (11m)


Dry weight Approximately 1300b (590kg)
Empty weight (DIN) Approximately 1510lb (685kg)
Service weight (FIA) Approximately 1410lb (640kg)
Axle weight 992lb (450kg)
Permissible total weight Approximately 1984b (900kg)


Interior of a 1955 Porsche 550 RS from the Ralph Lauren car collection.
Porsche 550 RS

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.[1] The model Porsche 550 Spyder was introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show.[2] 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.

Racing history[edit]

The first three hand built prototypes came in a coupé 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.

For such a limited number of 90 prototype and customer 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 green in the tail spears 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 each 550 by chassis number and driver in period 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"[edit]

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 Rte. 46/41 Cholame Junction on September 30, 1955.[3]

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.[4]

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."[5]

Purportedly, James Dean had been nicknamed "Little Bastard" by Bill Hickman, a Warner Bros. stunt driver who became friendly with him. (Previous references to Hickman say he was Dean's dialogue coach on Giant, though 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 origin story of the "Little Bastard" monicker has been corroborated by two of Dean's close friends, Lew Bracker and photographer Phil Stern. They believe Jack L. 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.[6]


Technic 550 Spyder, fibreglass panels on custom chassis. Powered by VW, Porsche or Alfa Romeo flat-4 engine.

The 550 is among the most frequently reproduced classic automobiles. [7]

Several companies have sprung up in the last 25 years that offer kit and turnkey cars, including:

  • Beck Special Edition (Indiana)
  • Le Mans 550 Spyder (Out of business)
  • Vintage Spyders (Stanton, California)
  • Seduction Motorsports (Chandler, Arizona)

A few other companies build near-exact replicas from the ground up, fabricating 550 turn-key cars to the buyer's exact specifications, including:

  • Alloycars, which specializes in exact aluminum recreations from blueprints.
  • 502 MotorworksOnly builder of FIA homologated alloy Spyders to date.


  1. ^ Leffingwell, Randy (2002). Porsche legends. Osceola, WI: MBI Pub. Co. p. 35. ISBN 0-7603-1364-4. 
  2. ^ "Porsche History - Milestones". Retrieved 2009-05-05. 
  3. ^ Raskin, Lee (July 1984). "Porsche Panorama". Little Bastard: Search for James Dean's Spyder. Porsche Club of America, Inc. pp. 12–16, 19–20.  ISSN 0147-3565.
  4. ^ Raskin, Lee (2005). James Dean: At Speed. Phoenix, Ariz.: David Bull. pp. 101–102. ISBN 978-1-893618-49-7. 
  5. ^ "'Little Bastard': The Silver Spyder Porsche/Dean Mystery Revisited". The Selvedge Yard. December 27, 2009. Retrieved 2013-02-05. 
  6. ^ Raskin, p. 106.
  7. ^ "The Most Commonly Replicated Classic Cars". Hagerty Magazine. 2014-02-21. Retrieved 2016-02-06. 

External links[edit]