1955 Porsche 550 Spyder by Wendler
Documents: Bill of Sale
- The 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show car
- One of just 75 factory-built ‘customer’ 550 Spyders
- Period US racing history with Mike Marshall, including 1956 Sebring 12 Hours
- Freshly serviced by renowned Porsche specialist Prill Porsche Classics
- Highly eligible for vintage tours and rallies, including the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival, Monterey Historics, and Monaco Historic Grand Prix!
‘Design is not simply art, it is elegance of function’ – Ferdinand Porsche
THE GIANT KILLER
The 550 Spyder put Porsche firmly on the map as a serious competitor on the world’s racing tracks; indeed, the diminutive mid-engined roadster generated the nickname ‘Giant Killer’ for its ability to defeat much more powerful rivals. Introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show, the 550 and its second iteration, the 550A, remained in production through February of 1959, and a total of 130 chassis were constructed before the 718 RSK Spyders appeared. A large proportion of 550 production was destined for the United States.
Built on a frame of seamless mild steel tubing, the 550 utilised a front suspension of double trailing arms and transverse-leaf torsion bars. After the first few examples, the rear suspension was redesigned from leading control arms to trailing arms with swing axles and tubular transverse torsion bars. Porsche’s engineers had planned an all-new engine to power the Spyder at the gruelling Carrera Panamericana, but early testing determined that Dr Ernst Fuhrmann’s Type 547 advanced 1.5-litre air-cooled four-cylinder Boxer engine was not quite ready. Thus, the first few chassis were fitted with conventional pushrod Porsche engines. Soon, however, reliability was ensured and the new ‘Four-Cam’ would be installed in all the 550s, 550As, RSKs, 356 Carreras, and 904s that were to follow.
This marvellous but complex engine, called the ‘Drawer motor’ because its engineering drawings were quickly hidden in Fuhrmann’s desk whenever Dr Porsche walked into his office, was an all-alloy unit displacing 1,498 cubic centimetres. Its camshafts were driven off the Hirth-patent built-up roller-bearing crankshaft by a series of shafts and crown wheels. Cam timing took dozens of man-hours to properly establish, but once all the clearances were correctly set, the high-revving motor was very reliable. It featured dry-sump lubrication and two spark plugs per cylinder. With compression of 9.5:1 and breathing through a pair of Weber downdraft carburettors, this engine produced a strong 110 brake horsepower. In a chassis that weighed barely 590 kilograms, 550s were capable of top speeds approaching 210 km/h (140 mph), dependent on gearing. Because these little roadsters were ostensibly required to be street driven, they were fitted with a token canvas tonneau that met the letter of the rulebook but were otherwise better left folded away in the garage.
CHASSIS NUMBER 550-0068
This beautiful 550 Spyder left the factory at Zuffenhausen on 19 September 1955, to be eventually delivered to an American customer, but first, there would be an intermediate stop: Porsche’s stand at the 1955 Frankfurt Motor Show. There, it shared the company’s display with a 356 Speedster, a coupé, and a cabriolet. Chassis number 550-0068 was shown in semi-racing form; that is, there was a small racing windscreen to protect the driver and an alloy half tonneau covering the passenger side of the cockpit. Suggesting, perhaps, that this was a dual-purpose sports car, it was also fitted with moon hubcaps, which were standard fitment to cars delivered in street trim. Adding to the sporting impression that Porsche wanted to convey, the rear fenders were topped with painted ‘darts’, or flashes. Today 0068 has been restored to its original silver paint with light blue darts, a very attractive combination.
The factory build sheet specifies that 0068 was to be shipped to ‘1 kunde/customer USA’ following the Frankfurt show. That customer was a gentleman named Mike Marshall, a Porsche/Volkswagen dealer and amateur racer of Miami, Florida. Mr Marshall wasted no time in putting his new 550 to the task for which it was intended. Just two months after the car starred on Porsche’s display at Frankfurt, Marshall gave the new Spyder a victory in its first outing, an SCCA race at Waterboro, South Carolina. Next up was December Speed Week at Nassau in the Bahamas, where Marshall finished 6th in the preliminaries, dropped out of both the Governor’s Cup and All-Porsche contests, but came back to score a respectable 4th place in the Under-Two-Litre Production race. In February 1956, Marshall won a pair of SCCA Regional races at Punta Gorda, Florida; a 1st and 2nd at Waterboro; and then, sharing the wheel with Porsche’s racing chief and occasional driver Huschke von Hanstein, managed a creditable 14th overall and 3rd in class at the Sebring 12 Hours. Von Hanstein was quite familiar with 0068; he had posed with it at the Frankfurt Motor Show.
Through the remainder of 1956 and early 1957, Marshall ran numerous other amateur races including Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin; Montgomery, Alabama; Chester, Carolina; Gainesville, Florida; the 1956 Nassau Speed Week; and then a race weekend at the very difficult 2.4-mile circuit at New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Unfortunately, in a preliminary event, Marshall had an off, side-lining the Spyder for the weekend. Fifteen months later, 0068 was sold to Joe Sheppard, a very talented amateur who’d picked up the nickname ‘The Tampa Hotshoe’ and who drove the car at Chester and Gainesville. The car’s racing history then lists Sheppard’s friend Duncan Forlong, who borrowed the car for two races at Dunnellon Park, Florida.
It is believed that 0068 then remained in Florida. When recently quizzed about the car, Joe Sheppard could not recall exactly when it was sold; it was a deal put together by his father. The new owner is believed to have been Bob Ross, who made a regular appearance at the Sebring track with racing friends in his new Spyder. In the mid- to late-1980s, the Porsche was bought by Lynn Larson, who almost immediately sold it on to his friend Phil Bagley, who then sold the car to its new owner who shipped it to Italy.
The car was inspected on 12 November 1989, by a Mr Parigi, prior to issuance of FIVA license number 0120620 by the Automotoclub Storico Italiano. That registration process was not completed until 21 April 1997. Italian registration number BG-B67015 was assigned 28 August 1997 in the name of Pierluigi Bartoli of Riva di Solto, who had acquired the car in July of 1993, per the Estratto Chronologico, copies of which are included in the car’s history file. In 1999, the current owner, an Italian businessman and enthusiast, purchased this historic racer.
Today, 550-0068 is offered having been maintained regardless of cost and ready to be used in any of the many events for which it is eligible, including the Mille Miglia, Tour Auto, Le Mans Classic, Goodwood Revival, Monterey Classics, and Monaco Historic Grand Prix, amongst others.
Simply put, no comprehensive collection of vintage Porsches is complete without a 550 Spyder, and this example would surely be one of the most enjoyable.
Please note that this car has been accepted by the FIA and will its receive competition papers in the coming weeks.