1,498cc DOHC Flat 4-Cylinder Engine
2 Weber 40 DCM Carburetors
135bhp at 7,200rpm
4-Speed Manual Transaxle
4-Wheel Independent Suspension 4-Wheel Drum Brakes
The 550 Spyder was Porsche's first genuine racing car design. But when launched at the 1953 Paris Salon, the model had much about it than being a mere weapons-grade on-track warrior. As a June 1971 Road & Track article emphasized: "The 550 had full road equipment, with lights and so forth, and a top, and enough stamina and ground clearance to compete in rallies – which it did. The bodywork and weather gear qualified the 550 for international sports car races – and Hans Herrmann took first in class and sixth overall in the 550's first race, the 1954 Mille Miglia.... Herrmann was third overall in that year's Carrera PanAmericana. There were 75 cars with bigger engines in that race, and Herrmann beat 73 of them..."
The cars were built by Porsche in exclusive numbers. In the US the model did not qualify as a production sports car, even with its top and road equipment. There weren't enough of them to be a real road car, according to the governing SCCA. Unofficially, the same rule makers would cheerfully confess they kept the Porsche 550s out to give other makes a chance.
The 550a that came about in 1956 was not just a mere evolution of the preceding model, but more a revolution. Early Spyders employed a ladder frame for its proven design and rugged simplicity, but with Porsche opening its new dedicated competition shop, limited resources were no longer a concern. Leopold Schmidt brought the 550 to new levels of performance with his design of a space frame serving as the new core of the racer. The benefits from this upgrade permeated just about every metric of the vehicle. Chassis mass was down 95 pounds while 65 pounds were cut from the aluminum body, resulting in a feather-like 1170 pounds of weight in total. All the while rigidity was massively increased compared to the ladder frame of old. This in turn made the suspension, complete with a newly designed low pivot swing axle in back, work much more efficiently now that the mounting points were rock solid.
At first glance the body on the 550A appears identical to the older models, but a keen eye will pick up on several distinct clues demarcating it as the upgraded type. The most easily spotted of which is the rear engine cover, which lost its rear hinges and instead was simply lifted off the frame all in an attempt to save weight. The two grills were repositioned further rearward and small louvred hatches were also added in front of the rear haunches to maintain easy access to the motor for quick inspection. Additionally, the spare tire was stored up front for more ideal weight distribution. Smaller lighting treatments front and rear, again, make the 'a' model identifiable, while the subtlest change of all occurred up front with a reprofiled nose for better aerodynamics. Porsche's Type 547 engine engaged in the all-important task of making the wheels rotate. Compact and intricate, this Dr. Ernest Fuhrman design featured dry sump lubrication, a roller bearing crankshaft and twin spark ignition. Most importantly, however, dual overhead cams sit atop both sides of the 4-cylinder boxer block. Unlike most motors that use pushrods or belts to run the valvetrain, the 547 relied on a series of shafts and bevel gears to keep things running smoothly. Piecing the whole unit together was said to have taken at least 120 hours with 8 of those spent just perfecting the timing. Despite the immense complexity, the motor proved to be reliable and served the car well in endurance racing across the world.
If the first generation of 550 Spyders were giant killers, the newly updated 'a' designation was nipping at the heels of leviathans. Although, success did not immediately come upon the model's first bout in competition. The 1956 debut at the Mille Miglia, driven by Hans Herman and Wermer Enz, unfortunately ended in a retirement. Victory would first be achieved at the most difficult of tracks, the Nurburgring 1000km. The legendary Wolfgang Von Trips and Umberto Maglioli attained a class win, crossing the line 4th overall. The Targa Florio in 1956 would see the first outright victory for the 550a. A lone entry was painted white and sent down to Sicily, accompanied by two mechanics, to be driven by Huschke von Hanstein. This would be Porsche's first of 11 victories at the famed road race. One of the most impressive showings by the little Porsches occurred later that year at the Reims 12-hour event in France. A one-two finish, impressive in its own right, is bolstered by the fact that the Von Frakenberg/Storez pairing managed an average speed of 164.6mph, just 14mph slower than the Jaguar D-type that would win the unlimited engine class for sports cars at the race the following day.
THE FLYING DUTCHMAN.
Carel Godin de Beaufort helped define the final era when gentleman racers of noble decent participated on the world stage of international motorsport. Standing nearly 6 ½ feet tall and weighing an impressive 260 pounds, De Beaufort was a far cry from the jockey like drivers of today. His imposing size and eccentric behavior led him to be a popular character in the paddock. He was known to drive his racecar without shoes, and at his last race in Germany was seen running practice sessions in a Beatles wig instead of a race helmet. His bright orange Porsches, representing his home in the Netherlands, initially served as a dangerous obstacle for his competitors, but over time, his dedication to the sport led to greater consistency and results.
As a supporter of Porsche, he spent a large portion of his racing career behind the wheel of Stuttgart's finest, sometimes as a privateer other times with factory support. His sportscar career reached its peak in 1957 with a first in class at the 24 hours of Le Mans in the little 550. The following year would mark his 5th place finish overall at the Circuit de la Sarthe, with subsequent entries in the race ending in unfortunate DNFs. Among Dutch Formula 1 fans, he is known as the first man to score world championship points for the country. 31 starts over 8 seasons made for an impressive run, considering the dangers of the era. His Ecurie Marrsbergen team, named after his hometown, would field the Porsche 718 for its formula entries. For the 1961 season, de Beaufort would enter into all but 2 races after spending the winter training to get into better shape. The results show his hard work and by 1962, he would be in contention for points. Most of his successes occurred within non-championship events, with the highlight being a 2nd place finish at the 1963 Rome Grand Prix. Like many racers of the period, de Beaufort would fall victim to the lack of safety experienced during the 1960's. Driving at the Nürburgring, his car suddenly lost control at the Bergwerk corner, flinging him out of the cockpit. He suffered massive head injuries and died at a neurological center in Cologne a day after the accident. Despite this tragic end, Carel Godin De Beaufort endures as an essential figure in Dutch motorsport history.
THE CAR SOLD.
This is 550A-0145, the 2nd to last Spyder constructed of the only 40 total examples. As a result of its later 1958 production, the Porsche benefits from all of the upgrades received by the final cars. The motor being in the 547/3 specification means higher compression, centralized distributor, and weber carburetors, resulting in 135 horsepower. A 5-speed gearbox with lower first gear allows for much quicker starts off the line was fitted when new. With these parts considered, this particular 550A is the best of the breed and one of the most enjoyable specimens to drive of an already delightful sports car family.
What makes 550A-0145 a truly standout example, however, is its racing pedigree under the Porsche works banner. The silver Spyder competed in many world championship FIA events in 1958 as a factory Porsche works entry. Belgian Nobleman-racer Carel Godin de Beaufort, who's on track success is marked in both sports cars and grand prix machines, fielded the 550A during this period after developing a close relationship with the Stuttgart firm. The car's first-class victory would come on the 1st of June at the 1000km Nürburgring race. Piloted alongside Von Frankenburg, 550A-0145 placed 6th overall. Quite possibly the mightiest achievement was a 5th overall, 2nd in class placement at the Le Mans 24 hours. A 550 Spyder had never been so far up the order, before or after. This Porsche also carries the distinction of the being the only 550 to have been entered and placed in a Grand Prix: 11th at the Dutch Grand Prix in Zandvoort.
In 1959 550A-0145 would continue to thrust its drivers atop the podium even after ownership was transferred from de Beaufort to Eglinton Caledonia motors of Ontario, Canada. Peter Ryan, together with Jim Muzzin continued to rack up wins and ultimately Ryan was crowned Canadian Sports car Champion in 1960 and 1961. Afterword's the vehicle was retried from contemporary racing, with Muzzin taking ownership. Throughout 1962, he would continue to field the car in various hill climbs and circuit events around the province. After 550A-0145's tenure in Canada, Bill Saddler of Belmont California took ownership in 1967, and later sold the car to Dick Werkman in 1974. The car is known to have been in complete and very original condition at this point, but with some attention needed to the original bodywork, which was repaired and re-skinned where needed. About a decade and a half later, Werkman sold 550A-0145 to Warren Eads of California. Mr. Eads sold the car to German collector Burkhad von Schenk, who would keep the car for more than 10 years, before selling it to Italian collector, Bruno Ferracin. While in Bruno Ferracin's ownership, 10 consecutive Mille Miglia retrospectives would be completed.
Noted Porsche specialist Andy Prill was given the opportunity to comb over the 550A-0145 from stem to stern and published a detailed inspection report in 2013. He concluded that given the race history, originality of the components, and overall good condition that 550A-0145 sits among the top 3 examples in the world. As it exists today, what is believed to be the original engine, installed in 1958, #P90127 remains amidships, making this one of the few 550s to have kept the same motor throughout their running history. Also original to the car is gearbox #690035. Although, this transmission is sitting in a crate and not currently fixed to the back of the car (it will be part of the sale). Instead a period correct 4-speed box has taken its place. Other rarities to stand the test of multiple owners are the factory jack, correct voltage regulator, glass fuel pressure bowl, and oil filter assembly. Wider 4.5 inch wheels from the RS60s were a common period upgrade and appear on the car in good condition.