For Porsche and Ferrari, these 1950s four-cylinders sell for big money

Porsche and Ferrari, two of the biggest names in the game, are not known for making four-bangers (and certainly not for winning races with them). But turn back the clock to the early days of both companies (the 1950s, to be specific) and fours were among the most important on-track weapons for both companies.

While Porsche exclusively used flat-fours in its early racing days with the 550 and RSK, Ferrari also ran the Aurelio Lampredi-designed four in both Grand Prix cars and in the Monza series of sports racers. The cars themselves were beautiful, successful, and built in tiny batches, so naturally they’re worth million-plus-dollar prices these days.

Case in point, the RM Sotheby’s auction over the weekend at Villa Erba on the shores of Lake Como in Italy. The two biggest cars of the sale were freshly restored examples of a Porsche 550A and a Ferrari 500 Mondial. Both sold for well into the millions, and in the Ferrari’s case it cost the new owner about $1 million per cylinder.

1957 Porsche 550A Spyder

1957 Porsche 550A Spyder by Wendler front 3/4
1957 Porsche 550A Spyder by Wendler RM Sotheby's

Sold for €3,380,000 ($3,771,270)

The 550 Spyder was already known as a giant killer when Porsche introduced the new-and-improved 500A in 1956. Not simply an evolution of the 550, the 550A featured a new tubular space frame that was both lighter and more rigid than the traditional ladder chassis of the old car. The aluminum bodywork was a little lighter as well, and total weight savings was about 95 pounds. Between the wheels, the rear suspension was revised and a rear anti-roll bar added, as were dual circuit brakes. That wonderful engine, though—the Fuhrmann-designed four-cam Carrera flat-four, mounted behind the driver—was largely the same, aside from a bit more power with Weber carbs.

With less than 1200 pounds to push around, 135 hp was more than enough to scoot the Spyder to high speed, but it was in the corners where the 550A really polished Porsche’s reputation. It dominated the small displacement classes, and on tighter circuits it was capable of embarrassing the much larger and more powerful Ferraris, Maseratis, Astons and the like.

Given the 550A’s on-track resume, including an overall win at the Targa Florio, you might be surprised to hear that only 40 of the cars were built. This car is #15. It sold new in Denmark and won three times there, along with two podium finishes, before being sold to a Kenyan buyer in 1958 and raced in East Africa into the 1960s. It was then meticulously restored from 2012–16, and according to RM Sotheby’s, it has been driven just 100 kilometers since work was completed.

A freshly restored, event-eligible, and seminal model in Porsche’s history, this was always going to be a million-dollar car when it crossed the block in Villa Erba. That said, the result is actually on the low end among recent 550A sales, because when it comes to high-dollar race cars, provenance counts for a lot—in this case, another one or two million. A factory-raced 550A in sold for $5.17M in January 2019, and another 550A with a stellar period race history on the West Coast went for $4.9M in Monterey last August.

1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider

1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider by Pinin Farina front 3/4
1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider by Pinin Farina RM Sotheby's

Sold for €3,717,500 ($4,147,840)

If the golden age of sports car racing was the 1950s, then it was certainly the golden age of Ferrari sports cars too. While the large V-12 cars contested for overall wins on both sides of the Atlantic, there were also smaller four-cylinder Ferraris racing in the smaller displacement classes, as well as larger-displacement fours hoping to score on reliability. The 500 Mondial, 750 and 860 Monzas, and 500 TRC were just some of the Ferraris powered by Lampredi-designed fours to grace the track in the ’50s. And while they may have had four-bangers, they lacked none of the style of the 12-cylinder cars. This 500 Mondial, for instance, certainly looks the part.

It raced on the West Coast during the 1950s as part of Tony Parravano’s “Scuderia Parravano” team. Parravano was rumored to have mafia connections, and he disappeared without a trace in 1958 before the IRS could catch up with him. His race team included some sweet cars (mostly Ferraris and Maseratis) that were repossessed and auctioned by the government after he skipped town. Before that debacle, though, this car sold to a racer in Mexico, who drove it there briefly.

Represented as one of five bodied by Pinin Farina with the attractive covered headlights and fitted with a neat single taillight, this car sold at Monterey for $3,850,000 two years ago. Since then, though, it went back home to Maranello for a refurbishment by Ferrari Classiche that included brakes, suspension, fuel tank, radiator, paint, interior, and red-book certification. That explains the nearly $300,000 difference but, like the 550A, other 500 Mondials with more serious provenance have sold for more recently, including a 1955 Scaglietti-bodied Mondial for $5,005,000 at Pebble Beach last year and another 1954 car with different Pinin Farina bodywork that went for $4,455,000 in Scottsdale last year.

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