Don't be fooled by its Lilliputian stature. A giant killer in the mid-1950s, the 550 was Porsche's first purpose-built racecar. It's singular reason for existence was to win races. Constructed with a curvaceous aluminum body wrapped around a tubular steel ladder chassis that had a mid/rear mounted 1.5-liter air-cooled flat-4 engine, the 550 weighed 550 kilograms (1,213 pounds). With its 110hp engine in such a lightweight, superb handling machine, the 550 beat every other vehicle within its own class and could run with much higher-powered (but heavier) machines. Spectators of the 1954 Mille Miglia witnessed driver Hanns Hermann and navigator Herbert Linge race the low slung Porsche under a railroad gate milliseconds before an approaching train. At the 1954 Le Mans, a 550 won its class. Also known as a Spyder or RS, the 550-placed first overall at the '56 Targa Florio contest in Palermo, Sicily, giving Porsche its first overall victory ever.
The most infamous 550-serial No. 0055-belonged to actor and amateur sports car racer James Dean. His untimely demise was in this car, which he nicknamed Little Bastard. Dean's fatal crash was at the intersection of Highways 46 and 41, in Central California, on September 30, 1955.
In total, Porsche produced 90 550 Spyder RS models, 78 of which were for the general public-the remaining 12 were raced by Porsche factory drivers. The 550 is significant, as it ushered in Porsche's illustrious racing history. Porsches became bigger, faster, and better in successive years. But, especially in terms of racing dominance, the diminutive 550 started it all.
We recently discovered that the renowned Porsche 550 replica manufacturer, Vintage Spyders, in Stanton, California, had completed another fresh 550-S. The "S" designates a most spectacular powerplant for the little Goliath-killing Porsche. Vintage Spyders customers can take delivery of a turnkey minus car that's set up to accommodate a 2.5-liter, 210hp normally aspirated and water-cooled Subaru four cylinder engine. With 160 hp to the rear wheels, one can image how the VS 550-S performs.
KIT CAR wanted to do more than simply imagine, so we contacted VS' owner, Greg Leach, and arranged to see, hear, photograph, and ride in the little baby. In a pursuit vehicle, we followed Greg jamming down Beach Boulevard to Surf City, also known as Huntington Beach, and grabbed as many driving shots as we could. It was mighty tricky keeping up with the roadster, what with Greg's ability to dice around in heavy beach traffic.
When the photo shoot was complete, KIT CAR was graciously offered a ride back to the Vintage Spyders shop. Had we not just met Greg for the first time, we might have been so bold as to request the keys. Clad in the ever-present Teutonic Porsche silver with flying Mobilgas Pegasus logos on its front flanks, the Subaru-powered machine had amazing quickness and speed. The car felt tight and responsive. We didn't notice any cowl shake, and were astounded that we could carry on a conversation without shouting when going upwards of 50 mph. Some young Huntington Beach dudes gave us the thumbs up and yelled at Greg to light 'em up. Without getting cited for exhibition of speed, Greg did provide the potential surf cats with a most rapid display of acceleration from dead stop. The boys were impressed. But, we didn't hear from them again, as they were in our wake.
We arrived back at Vintage Spyders shop after sunset with me having but one regret: I didn't get a turn behind the Porsche-emblazoned Banjo wheel to see how swift this little beauty feels from the driver seat. Maybe next time Greg will let me have a go. If so, you may rest assured KIT CAR will give all the thrilling details.
Subaru's 2.5-liter, normally...
Subaru's 2.5-liter, normally aspirated four-banger makes 210 hp at the crank, or 160 horses at the rear wheels. That's almost twice as much horsepower as the original 550s made in the '50s. A K&N air cleaner and Magnaflow mufflers were added to the all-business powerplant.
Vintage Spyders supplied the...
Vintage Spyders supplied the black leather trimmed original style 550 seats. As an option, customers may select racing harnesses, as opposed to the standard lap racing belts.
Wired in by Vintage Spyders...
Wired in by Vintage Spyders with an Outback Motorsports harness, VDO Instruments fill the Porsche's elegantly Spartan dash panel. A banjo wheel enhances the '50s Porsche racecar's vintage appeal.
In the foreground, a Jamar...
In the foreground, a Jamar shifter stands ready to take some short throw shifts from the driver. The drilled aluminum pedals are OMP Pedals from www.motorspot.com.
Under the front hood, a Griffin...
Under the front hood, a Griffin aluminum radiator keeps the Subaru water-cooled engine supplied with plenty of coolant/water.
All four wheels are 15x5-inch...
All four wheels are 15x5-inch Boyd Coddington polished aluminum Wide 5 Porsche style wheels.
Compared to Porsche's first...
Compared to Porsche's first factory 550 racecars, the Vintage Spyders 550-S is perfectly civilized, with windshield wipers and a full windscreen.
On August 21, 2005, a 1954...
On August 21, 2005, a 1954 Porsche 550/1500RS Spyder was auctioned off for $1,034,000 at the Gooding Pebble Beach sale. Genuine 550 Spyders are valued from $800,000 to $1.2 million, depending on condition, race history, and provenance. Owning and driving a replica for a fraction of the cost that has almost double the horsepower sounds like a great way to grin your way into the kit car hobby.
A car that recently came out...
A car that recently came out of Vintage Spyders paint booth awaits final assembly, while Mr. Schnepf's 550-S is halfway through its photo shoot.
Configured to accept a Subaru 2.5L, 210hp engine, the Vintage Spyders 550-S sells for approximately $30,000 and includes:
Four-wheel, five-bolt disc brakes
Choice of powder or non-powdercoated rims
Powdercoated chassis (black or silver)
Jet coated exhaust system
Base coat, clear coat paint in your color choice
German square weave carpeting and leather seats
Coilover rear suspension
Adjustable front suspension
3:88 freeway flyer four-speed transmission
Nardi or Banjo steering wheel
Choice of Rennsport or standard body
Choice of push button or standard starter
| Facts Box || |
| John Schnepf || |
| Roche Harbor, Washington || |
| Vintage Spyders 550-S (www.vintagespyders.com) || |
| Chassis || |
| Frame: || Custom tubular steel |
| Wheelbase: || 85" |
| Rearend: || Swing axle VW with coilover shocks |
| Rear Suspension: || Bilstein coilover shocks |
| Rear Brakes: || Five-bolt disc |
| Front Suspension: || VW |
| Front Brakes: || Five-bolt disc |
| Steering: || VW |
| Front Wheel: || Boyd Coddington Wide 5 Porsche style aluminum |
| Rear Wheel: || Boyd Coddington Wide 5 Porsche style aluminum |
| Front Tire: || Dunlop radials 195/60/15 |
| Rear Tire: || Dunlop radials 195/60/15 |
| Engine & Trans || |
| Make: || Renewed 2002 Subaru 2.5-liter, SOHC water-cooled four-cylinder with 9,000 miles ($6,000) |
| Induction: || Subaru EFI |
| Radiator: || Griffin aluminum |
| Air Cleaner: || K&N |
| Ignition: || EMS Computer from Australia and Outback Motorsports |
| Engine renewed & supplied: || Outback Motorsports, Buena Park, California |
| Headers: || Vintage Spyders |
| Mufflers: || Magnaflow |
| Engine Mods: || Oil pan shortened 2 inches, intake manifold smoothed and polished at Outback Motorsports, all AN fittings and braided aluminum hoses used |
| Transmission: || VW four-speed swing axle from Transmissions West |
| Shifter: || Jamar |
| Trans Mods: || 3:88 freeway flyer ring & pinion set |
| Body || |
| Manufacturer: || Vintage Spyders 550 Rennsport |
| Paint Type: || PPG |
| Painter: || Vintage Spyders |
| Interior || |
| Gauges: || VDO |
| Wiring: || Outback Motorsports wiring harness installed by Vintage Spyders |
| Steering Wheel: || Banjo |
| Seating: || Vintage Spyders |
| Upholsterer: || Vintage Spyders |
| Material: || Leather |