1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
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The history of the model
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 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.