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CATEGORIES (articles) > Cars we emulate > Porsche > Porsche 550 overview and history

Porsche 550 overview and history

Porsche 550 Spyder
Porsche 550 RS

The Porsche 550 was a sports car automobile produced by Porsche during the 1950s.

Inspired by a small Porsche 356 Spyder which was created and raced by Walter Glöckler in 1951, the factory decided to build such a car, being its first designed specifically for use in auto racing.

The 550 became known as Spyder or RS, and 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, was even more successful, scoring points in Formula One as late as 1963.


Introduced in 1953 at the Paris Motor Show, the 550 featured a two-seat, open top aluminum body wrapped over a tubular ladder chassis with a MR layout mid/rear mounted, 1.5 litre, air-cooled flat-4 engine.

Although 2 units were produced with a modified OHV Volkswagen engine, Porsche's "Type 547" engine (designed by Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann) was standard fare for all other 550s. The Fuhrmann unit was very advanced for its day, as it had four camshafts that were all driven via a Königswelle by the crankshaft, helping provide 110 bhp (very strong for a vehicle of such light weight). With the quad-cam engine powering it, the 550 was capable of performance very comparable to—and in many cases better than—Ferrari and Jaguar models with larger engines. The particularly rare 356 Carrera model was the Porsche's only standard production vehicle to feature this powerplant.

Although Porsche had raced with the 356 for several years already, the 550 was distinct in that it was the company's first purpose-built racecar. The factory successfully campaigned the 550 in international auto racing, headed by the vehicle's premier win at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it won its class. Lake Underwood raced the 550 Spyder in the United States.

Later that year Porsche began a production run of customer cars, building 90 units in total before replacing the original 550 with the extensively reworked 550A in 1956.

The 550A variant sported various improvements over the outgoing model, including a spaceframe chassis, the latest version of the Fuhrmann four-cam engine mated to a five-speed transmission, and a multi-link rear suspension setup which reduced oversteer and improved handling.


The 550 is among the most frequently reproduced classic automobiles, like the Shelby Cobra and Lotus Seven. Several companies have sprung up in the last 25 years, some of which build near-exact replicas from the ground up, including spaceframes built to exacting specs from Porsche blueprints. Some of the companies that make replicas are Boulder Speedster Chuck Beck Motorsports, Chamonix do Brasil, Thunder Ranch, and Vintage Spyders.

[[http://]]== Trivia ==

  • The 550 is so low that Hans Herrmann drove under closed railroad crossing gates during the 1954 Mille Miglia
  • With Herrmann's manoever becoming famous in the 1950s, the 550 is said to have been used for helping persons to escape from former East Germany in similar style (not very effective with only one passenger, though)
  • This was the car that James Dean was driving when he crashed and was killed.
  • The modern Porsche Boxster is considered a descendant of the Porsche 550.
  • This car can be found in Microsoft's Project Gotham Racing 2, Forza Motorsport, and Need For Speed: Porsche Unleashed.

Chuck Beck 550 and 356 Porsche replicas are now sold by

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911/997 | Boxster | Carrera GT | Cayenne | Cayman | Panamera

1940s–1950s: 356 | 550 Spyder | 718 RS / F2 / F1
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