550A-0121 Looking For A New Owner
- June 27, 2018
- Posted by Marc Enger
The mystical spyder – rarely seen, rarely rivalled
With 2018 celebrating Porsche’s 70th year, we should revisit the humble beginnings of such an inspirational car manufacturer, to see how their early models shaped the company it is today. Porsche’s grass root racing endeavours, from the early 1950s, saw them form a strong bond with the Glöckler brothers, who dominated the European racing circuits, enabling Porsche to get their emblem blazoned across the front hood of their Glöckler racers, before Porsche had built a true race car to call their own.
Their first race car concept was the Porsche Type 550 spyder, which has been well documented with its racing successes on circuit tracks, road races, rallies and hill climbs as it was a very versatile race car that could adapt to any environment. Over time, the 550 spyder became a racing icon and an all-time worthy addition to any car collection, along with the likes of the Mercedes 300SL gullwing or the Ferrari 250 GT.
The mystical spyder in Porsche’s production was the 550A, built between the 550 and the 718 RSK and was the turning point in the way Porsche approached designing cars and racing them. With only 40 cars built, the 550A was seen as the design revolution which embedded Porsche into racing annuls around the world. Today they are rare to find, and one with a successful racing heritage along with a bare metal restoration to the highest calibre by one of the masters in Porsche coach building, is like finding a unicorn.
The design was refined, lighter and faster than anything Porsche had built previously and the racing greats like Stirling Moss and Jack McAfee pushed them hard around the world circuits.
Senior Porsche engineer Leopold Schmid played a pivotal role in the revolutionary structural design of the new 550A space frame chassis, which was composed of front and rear tubular boxes connected through a central box at the cockpit, by cross-bracing diagonals. The new frame was three times stiffer compared to the old ladder design, but in spite of this, it was 16 kg (35 lbs) lighter than the 550 spyder frame, weighing only 43 kg (95 lbs), as most of the tubes were only 1mm thick.
Another major improvement to the Type 550A was a fully independent rear suspension designed by Porsche engineer Wilhelm Hild. A new front anti-roll bar reduced the car’s oversteer and combined with a static negative camber, it resulted in better grip in the corners and improved control at higher speeds. The development of a new 5 speed synchronized gearbox was also adopted as the spyder’s standard gearing from 1956 onwards.
Besides the frame and mechanical upgrades, the 550A was also given a new aluminium body with a lighter, more aerodynamic design. For a more balanced centre of gravity, the spare tyre was removed from the mount over the transmission, as found in the 550, and positioned under the front hood in front of the fuel tank which had been shaped to accommodate it. The rear body shell was further lightened by removing the hinged rear tilt feature, with the rear shell now removable by manually lifting it off in one piece. To compensate for accessibility to the engine bay in the pits, the inclusion of small hinged louvered panels on its flanks gave quick access to the carburettors and spark plugs. The rear grills were also positioned lower towards the tail, allowing better airflow and cooling to the engine. Both front and rear beehive running-brake lights were of a smaller design, and instead of the damper flap used ahead of the oil coolers of the 550s, the 550As had a thermostat in the oil piping to shunt the lubricant away from the cooler until the engine was up to temperature. With the new FIA rules introduced during the 1957 season, driver roll bars became a mandatory safety requirement, which was concealed by a headrest fairing as a standard feature in the 550A design. Each 550A also came with a convertible canvas top to meet regulations.
The 550As were not displayed on the dealership showroom floors in any countries for sale, they were all on consignment for allocated drivers. The 550A spyder was the first true purpose built car designed solely for racing by Porsche, unlike the 550 which was designed for both road and track. With the success of the 550 on the track and the latest offering of the 550A being released so shortly after the final production of the 550, drivers were promised a new car designed from the frame up, that would exceed all their racing expectations.
The new Type 550A spyder was more than an evolution of the 550 spyder, it was a revolution in car design for Porsche. The ladder type chassis design of the 550 was created by racers, but the new space frame chassis of the 550A was designed by engineers.
Its success started with the Targa Florio in June 1956 where Italian ace Umberto Maglioli, in a hand painted white 550A-0101, single handedly took the chequered flag outright. Hailed as ‘Porsche’s greatest victory’, Maglioli won overall with a margin of 12 minutes 58 seconds over a distance of 447 miles, ten laps of the little Madonie circuit in Sicily.
This put the Porsche 550A centre stage for the world to see, and desire. It wasn’t long before the small spyder was racing out the doors of the Werks factory in Zuffenhausen to every corner of the world, with at least a third of them reaching the shores of the US. All but two were delivered in the Porsche signature colour of silver.
One of these 550A spyders was destined for a cooler climate, landing in the up and coming racing culture found in Denmark. It was the only Porsche 550A spyder to make it there and was ordered by Preben Andersen, a wealthy Dane with a passion for racing. He owned a team named Scuderia Palan, which consisted of a garage of track cars including Coopers, a Mercedes 300 SL, a Porsche 356 Carrera plus its latest acquisition, the Porsche 550A spyder.
550A-0121 was delivered early April 1957, where Andersen was keen to test the car on the local Danish track, the Roskilde Ring. Adorned with a red and white Danish flag painted across the front hood, which was the trademark livery for the team, it was entered into the Roskilde Ring race at the end of the month with Danish racing legend Julius Voigt-Nielsen at the wheel, against the more nimble Cooper and Lotus cars.
Voigt-Nielsen was known as an aggressive but competent pilot who pushed his cars to the limit, often spinning out on the track in the process, but his driving ability often saw him back in contention for a podium finish. He was victorious in his debut race in the 550A and with the other half a dozen races in the spyder over the next five months, he consistently finished in the leading field each time. 550A-0121 became part of Danish racing history as the car to beat before Scuderia Palan went into financial difficulty and the race cars were sold off in 1958.
The spyder was bought by experienced rally driver Lucille Cardwell and made its way to Kenya in Africa to race. Cardwell became the East African track driving champion behind the wheel of 550A-0121 in 1960. By the late 1960s the spyder was sold as part of a race car deal struck by Gordon Crow, who had recently reopened the Nairobi, Kenya Porsche dealership, where he swapped a race ready Lotus he owned for the 550A. Crow’s wife Di was more than eager to get behind the wheel of the spyder on the local track. Both Di and Gordon raced 550A-0121 at the Nairobi and Nakuru race tracks in Kenya. German ex-Werks Porsche driver, Jürgen Barth, visited Crow in 1969 and inspected the car, then painted blue, which was in good racing condition.
Over the years, the spyder returned to the UK for restoration before being sold to a private museum in Italy. It was then sold to a collector in Brescia Italy, the home of the Mille Miglia in the late 1970s. The new owner Giuseppe Freschi entered the spyder into a number of the modern day Mille Miglia races up to 2010. The Porsche 550A was one of the last models to be accepted in the original Mille Miglia, which stopped after the 1957 race, similar to the LeMans race, where concerns for spectator safety forced racing committees to review the viability of these road races.
In 2011, the spyder was sold to Pierre Asso of France who after two months, sold it to the current owner in Monaco. In 2012, it was decided to do a full body of restoration, where all the body imperfections from its racing days were corrected to return the 550A back to the original condition when it left the factory in 1957. It is not common to find a classic race car today with complete matching numbers, from engine and transmission to all the correct identification plates from Porsche and body builder Wendler, but 550A-0121 is one of them.
Jürgen Barth who inspected the restored spyder and researched the provenance, reported “I can confirm that the car is the original 550 A spyder with the VIN No. 550A 0121. It has been nicely restored and it’s back to its original look.”
Although 550A spyders are seen as an endangered species, 550A-0121 is now available for private sale. With a full race history plus ownership documents and in immaculate condition, there is no additional work needed to enjoy this investment car. It qualifies for most vintage and classic car events from Goodwood and LeMans Classic to the Mille Miglia and is truly the mystical spyder for any collection. For more information, contact Andrew Hosking at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.550A-0121.com.
Report by 550a-0121.com