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Porsche 550-01 Spyder, the prototype Giant Killer

In the very early 50s the Porsche Factory was turning out actual production Porsches and at the same time having success on the racetrack. Both Werks cars and private drivers were winning and placing in races in Europe and The Americas but Porsche had yet to build a purpose built racecar. Until now the race cars put forth had been production cars or the modified SL Aluminum Gmünd models. While Porsche was dragging its feet on building a real racecar a man named Walter Glöckler was not. He built the cars that would light the fire in the Porsche Factory to build a car that was to be named Type 550, later coined the 550 Spyder. In fact, when they looked for a shop to build the car they didn’t look far, they used the same builder that Glöckler used, Wilhelm Hild and Crew.

The 550 was modeled after the Glöckler specials and had some truly racing characteristics like a ladder steel tubed frame and an external oil cooler in the nose. The engine was a 1500 super pushrod motor that put out 98 hp while running on alcohol with a compression of 12.5:1, utilizing the Solex 40 PII downdraft carburetors. The aluminum bodies were built by Weidenhausen, again a true link to the Glöcklers. In the end 550-01 weighed in at only 1200 lbs, making it one very light race car, just what Porsche was hoping for.
550-01 was first driven by Helm Glöckler and Hans Herrman (who will be at the upcoming Porsche Race Car Classic on October 16th). The car was raced in Europe and than sold to Jaroslav Juhan in Guatemala. Before the car shipped, however, the Factory tuned it for the upcoming races that Juhan had planned, most important the Carrera Panamericana, a five day hell race. It ran in the now famous Carrera race on November 19, 1953 but failed to finish, though it made some fast waves in the first few stages. From there 550-01 bounced around South America popping up in races with different drivers and new owners until it eventually fell off the radar. It didn’t resurface until the late 1990s when the prototype Spyder showed up, of all places, at a Shoe Factory in Guadalajara, Mexico. There was to be a closed bid auction to buy what was left of 550-01. The car had been modified over the years and bore little resemblance to the aluminum racer that left Germany in 1953. What was now Spyder number one had a fiberglass body, later model 356 A brakes, no engine, and no gearbox. But it was rumored to be 550-01. One of the potential bidders named Manfred Lipmann wanted an expert to look at the car in person before he placed a bid, so he sent the best he could find, Factory trained 4-cam expert Gerry McCarthy. I sat down with Gerry a while back and he told me how he went to Mexico to see what there was to see of 550-01.
“I went to Guadalajara to bid on it for a client,” Gerry recalls. “It was up for auction, a sealed bid auction and a client had me go down and look at it.”

When asked if what he was looking at was really 550-01 Gerry said, “There is not much there, I told him, but what is there I believe is real.”
He described a couple of things that gave the car authenticity, even the fiberglass body told a story.
“You could see the rivets where the mold had been lifted off the original body,” remembers Gerry. “What happened was the body was cracking up and Mr. Lopez knew no one in Mexico who worked with aluminum, but he had a friend who built boats, fiberglass boats. They made a fiberglass duplicate of the aluminum body.”
Gerry’s client ended up not being the high bidder, he advised him that,
“I don’t think you are young enough to see this thing to fruition. The roof is gone completely, the frame looks right. There is no engine, no gearbox, no brakes, all A stuff on it.”
The initial buyer changed his mind about a year into the restoration and the restorer arranged to sell the car to Miles Collier, who saw it through to the end of the award winning restoration of the car.

550-01 is still in the famed Collier Collection and will be on display at the Porsche Race Car Classic on October 16th in Carmel, California.
Like a lot of things in life, there is only one number one.

550-01 was the prototype of the great Giant Killers that would make the name Spyder and Porsche almost one word. The journey that this car took is a testament to the fact that just because a Porsche is lost, doesn’t mean it won’t be found.

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For more information on the 2011 Race Car Classic go to:

—Adam Wright


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One Response

  1. […] is a brilliant little story about the first Porsche 550 Spyder–one of the cars Bridget was raced against back in 1953. (There’s a picture of it near […]

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