Rebel Without a Cause: Porsche 550 Spyder
Porsche wanted to make a bigger mark in the world of motorsport, their first attempt with the 356 showed great promise and begun the mission to take on the world one race at a time. So they set out to design their first purpose built racecar that’ll set a benchmark for not just Porsche but motorsport in general.
The 550 Spyder named for being the 550th design project commissioned by the company debuted at the 1953 Paris Auto Show. The car consist of an aircraft derived frame design made of seamless mild steel tubing. Powered by a 1.5-litre air-cooled boxer four cylinder engine also known as the “Fuhrmann Engine” designed by former Porsche chairman Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann. Although tiny compared to the competitors but was super advanced. The engine block is completely made of alloy so its light and the boxer design made its center of gravity low. It features four camshafts so its very high revving and dry sump lubrication like today’s race cars and some exotics for further weight savings and optimize engine durability.
The initial development of the engine was so secretive it got the nickname “Drawer Motor” because Dr. Fuhrmann’s hides its engineering drawings in his desk everytime Ferdinand Porsche walked into his office.
The engine produced 110hp but with total weight of the car just a little over 1000lbs complete with fluids. It's a serious track weapon that was capable of reaching a top speeds of an impressive 140 mph.
The 550 Spyder proved to be an instant success for Porsche winning its debut race and several class wins afterward. The 550 Spyder placed Porsche on the map of motorsport as a serious competitor and earned the respectable nickname: “Giant Killer” for its ability to defeat the competition with bigger engines.
Porsche designed and advertised the 550 Spyder as a racecar that can be driven to a race event to compete and then be driven back home afterwards, a first of its kind. It may have some features that makes it a considerable road worthy car such as lights, indicators, windscreen, and even an extra seat for passenger, but the low and lightweight racer is probably better to just be trailered to the racetrack as famous actor and speed demon James Dean learnt the hard way.
Today, an authentic piece of this motorsport history can fetch over $1.5 million.