The Porsche 550 Spyder initially evolved from the 356, as well as from the sports racers modified by Walter Glockler as early as 1951. The first factory 550s were introduced at the 1953 Paris Auto Show with the idea of being so light, simple and reliable that they could win their class and squeeze by the bigger cars on tight tracks. A famous story has Hans Herrmann driving under closed railroad crossing gates on the 1953 Mille Miglia, showing just how low these cars truly were.
Journalist and racer Paul Frère won the 1,500-cc class during the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans, leading the class by 10 laps at the 18-hour mark, and the 550s subsequently became known as giant killers. In the hands of Umberto Maglioli and Hushke von Hanstein, Porsche scored its first outright win at the 1956 Targa Florio after the second generation 550A was introduced with a lighter, stronger space frame and better rear suspension. The 550 was also immortalized as the car in which James Dean was killed in 1955, when his car was hit by John Turnipseed at an intersection on his way to a race in Salinas, Calif.
Chuck Beck of Bremen, Ind., began building his replicas of the 550 Spyder in 1982, faithfully following the original space-frame design but using a fiberglass body built in Brazil. He offers an engine choice between a 1915-cc version that produces 125 bhp and a 2,160 cc unit that generates 155 bhp for an extra $6,800—reducing the 0-60 acceleration time to 5.1 seconds. The 1,250 lb. roadster’s motor is a Brazilian Volkswagen unit rather than the original’s four-cam Porsche motor, but Beck’s car is actually faster by two seconds. Beck built the space frame out of 3-inch diameter tubing and stretched it by two inches to accommodate modern drivers.
In 32 years, Beck has built several thousand Spyders along with Speedsters and 904s. While prices for original Porsche 550 Spyders have skyrocketed beyond the reach of most enthusiast, the a good Beck Spyder is still quite attainable, in part because new ones continue to be manufactured for less than $40,000. The investment upside certainly isn’t the same as a Porsche, but either is the worry associated with driving the car. Furthermore, the build quality of a Beck is high and the driving enjoyment is tremendous, with the car being an immediately responsive and a complete sensual overload. Best bet is to find one with an enthusiastic owner and solid paperwork, and enjoy.
1989 Beck 550 Info
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