Carole Nash
Content Writer
Published: 30th October 2018

Over the years, Porsche have created some amazing machines, such as the 908 and 917K. Another significant car came in the form of the Porsche Spyder 550, a race-built motor that dominated the competition. The 550 was developed for speed and elegance, with the model being immortalised in pop culture by the likes of James Dean. We’re looking into the history of the 550 to see how it was designed.


The creation of the 550 was inspired by the Porsche 356. The company wanted to build a racing car, so they designed a vehicle that came with a 1498 cc air-cooled four-cylinder boxer engine that became known as the Fuhrmann Engine. The car was built low to the ground in order to make it more efficient on the race track. The engine was also mounted in such a way that helped to balance weight distribution, allowing for neutral handling.

The 550 debuted at the 1953 Paris Auto Show and it wasn’t long before it was put on the track. The 550 raced in the Nurburgring Eifel Race in May 1953, earning first place. More success followed, with 550s winning several more races. Each 550 was provided with different marks to add to individual recognition. For example, Hans Hermann’s ‘red-tail’ car No 41 became one of the most successful models.

A versatile vehicle

Only 90 550s were built, yet the car was always in a winning position. The car was highly adaptable, able to be driven on a track and then be driven home. The 550’s flexibility as a road and track car made it even more popular with the public.

The 550 became ingrained into pop culture, thanks to James Dean. Owning a 550 numbered 130, Dean had racing ambitions. He entered the 1955 Salinas Road Race, though he never got the chance to compete. On September 30th, Dean fatally crashed into a 1950 Ford Custom.

Over time, the 550 was upgraded, with the 1956 version featuring a lighter and more rigid chassis. It went on to win the 1956 Targa Florio. The 550 laid the groundwork for a major triumph, as future Porsches followed in its greatness. The successor to the 550 became the 718, also known as the RSK.

Classic Car Insurance»

By Sicnag (1955 Porsche 550-1500 RS Spyder) [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons