August 13, 2022

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Beyond Automotive

A 1956 Porsche 550 Spyder

4 min read
Porsche 550 Spyder Barn Find 1

This 1956 Porsche 550 Spyder has spent the better part of 35 years sitting in a barn somewhere in the Swiss countryside. Early in its life it was owned and driven by a number of well-known Swiss racing drivers including Rita Rampinelli, Heinz Schiller, and Formula 1 ace Jo Siffert.

During the 1960s the car was upgraded with a number of “werks” factory components including an engine upgrade and new Porsche RS60 bodywork – in order to ensure the car would remain competitive against more modern machinery.

Fast Facts – A Barn Find Porsche 550 Spyder

  • The Porsche 550 Spyder was introduced in 1953 and sold until 156, with just 90 examples produced in total. Values have been climbing steadily in recent years, a 1958 550A sold for $5.17 million dollars in 2018.
  • Unlike the Porsche 356, the Porsche 550 is mid-engined, with the engine in the rear but in front of the rear axle line. It was designed to be as low and aerodynamic as possible, and it racked up many wins in period 1.1 and 1.5 liter racing classes.
  • The 550 Spyder was powered by the legendary flat-four Porsche Carrera four-cam engine, with double shaft-driven overhead cams per bank, dual ignition, dry sump lubrication, and 110 bhp from a displacement of 1498cc.
  • The car you see here started out as a standard 550, it was then later upgraded with a new factory engine and an RS60 body in the 1960s to remain competitive. It was recently rolled out of a barn where it had been sitting for 35+ years and it’s now being offered for sale.

The Porsche 550 Spyder

The Porsche 550 Spyder is probably best-known today as the car that James Dean was driving in September of 1955 when he was involved in an accident and killed instantly.

Porsche 550 Spyder Barn Find 2

Image DescriptionThis 550 Spyder was rebodied in the 1960s with an alloy RS60 body, and it was given a new factory engine.

In some respects the tragic death of James Dean has overshadowed what would have otherwise been an entirely positive story about a small European automaker that built an innovative racing car, and went on to win countless David vs Goliath battles on the race tracks of Europe and North America.

The first production Porsche had been the rear-engined 356, it proved successful as a race car in its own right however it was clear that a newly developed racing model would be more competitive.

Some early experiments into mid-engined cars had been undertaken at Porsche, and of course Ferdinand Porsche had developed the iconic mid-engined Auto Union Grand Prix cars in the 1930s.

With all of the above in mind, Porsche engineers developed a flat-welded steel tubular frame onto which they affixed a lightweight and low-slung aluminum body. The car was so low in fact that racing driver Hans Herrmann once famously drove one under the boom gate at a railroad crossing during the 1954 Mille Miglia.

Above Video: This short film from Porsche gives a fascinating and fast-paced look back at the history of the 550 Spyder, including plenty of period racing footage.

In both 1.1 and 1.5 liter form the 550 Spyder would prove highly successful for the fledgling automaker, taking class wins in the 24 Hours of Le Mans and the Carrera Panamericana, and winning the Nurburgring Eifel Race, the Targa Florio, and a slew of other events.

Today the surviving examples of the 550 are among the most collectible vintage sports cars in the world.

The 1956 Porsche 550 Spyder Shown Here

The car you see here is a 1956 Porsche 550 Spyder, interestingly it was originally used for a promotional image outside of the Porsche factory to demonstrate the wide range of color options available for the model.

When it left the factory it was finished in red with white darts, its first owner was Rita Rampinelli, a highly-regarded Swiss racing driver who competed with the Spyder in period. The car was later sold to fellow Swiss racing driver Heinz Schiller who competed in the car in Switzerland and at notable circuits like Monza and Avus.

Porsche 550 Spyder Barn Find 9

Image DescriptionUnusually for a Porsche from this era the 550 was powered by a mid-mounted engine for optimal weight distribution. It would be the first of many successful mid-engined Porsche race cars.

The car would later be bought by Edouard Margairaz, who raced the car in Swiss hill climb events. Later in its life the car would also belong to Swiss Grand Prix winner and Formula 1 driver Jo Siffert.

At some point in the 1960s this car had its original body and engine removed, a Porsche RS60 body was fitted along with a new factory engine – most likely to keep the car competitive. For reasons unknown it ended up storage in a Swiss barn where it remained from the 1980s to the present day – over 35 years.

The car is now due to cross the auction block with Gooding & Company on the 3rd of September at their London Auction, due to be held at the prestigious Concours of Elegance at Hampton Court Palace.

If you’d like to see more about the car or register to bid you can visit the listing here, the price guide is £1,250,000 – £1,750,000 which works out to approximately $1.5 – $2.1 million USD.

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Porsche 550 Spyder Barn Find

All images copyright and courtesy of Gooding & Company. Photos by Mathieu Heurtault.

Porsche 550 Spyder Barn Find 1

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