1958 Porsche 550A Spyder, chassis 550A-0145. Photos by Pawel Litwinski, courtesy Bonhams Auctions.
Lighter in weight than the Porsche 550 Spyder it replaced and blessed with greatly improved handing, the 550A Spyder was once described by driver Ken Miles as “the greatest long-distance racer in the world.” Just 40 examples were built between 1956 and 1958, and on January 18, 2018, chassis 550A-0145, the second-to-last Porsche 550A Spyder built and a second-place finisher at Le Mans in 1958, crosses the block at the Bonhams Scottsdale auction.
The 550 Spyder was the Stuttgart brand’s first attempt at building a dedicated competition model, and its impressive success against larger and more powerful cars quickly earned the diminutive race car its “giant killer” reputation. As good as the 550 may have been, there was room for improvement: Its ladder frame design was heavier than it needed to be, and the swing axle rear suspension was known for its occasionally unpredictable handling at the limit. The car’s 1.5-liter, four-cam, air-cooled flat-four engine, designed by Ernst Fuhrmann, however, proved to be nearly faultless, delivering both sufficient output (as much as 135 horsepower in racing tune) and reasonable reliability.
In 1956, Porsche replaced the 550 Spyder with the 550A, which used the brand’s first space-frame chassis to shed weight – as much as 95 pounds – while adding stiffness. The aluminum body was lightened as well, dropping as much as 60 more pounds, and a torsion bar suspension with trailing arms delivered more predictable – and more forgiving – handling at the limit. While the 550 won its share of club races, it was the 550A that delivered Porsche’s first overall victory in a major international event, the 1956 Targa Florio.
Chassis 550A-0145 was constructed in early 1958, and sold to Count Carel Godin de Beaufort of the Netherlands in April of that year. On May 15, 1958, the car made its competition debut at the Vienna Aspern Airfield Race, though its day ended in a Did Not Finish (DNF). Its second event, the Dutch Grand Prix at Zandvoort on May 26, was far more noteworthy: de Beaufort finished in 11th place, but the 550A Spyder reportedly became the first – and last – example to compete in a Formula One Grand Prix race.
Though de Beaufort’s first two races in the car were as a privateer, his close ties to Porsche saw 550A-0145 as a factory-works entry at four events during the 1958 season, including the Nürburgring 1,000 Kilometers. There, with co-drivers Richard von Frankenberg and Edgar Barth, de Beaufort scored a class win and a sixth-place overall finish; the 550A even managed to beat its replacement, the Porsche 718 RSK.
Three weeks later, de Beaufort and co-driver Herbert Linge ran the car in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in class and a very respectable fifth overall. Two weeks after that, at Reims, France, chassis 550A-0145 finished first in class, and the same weekend saw de Beaufort capture another class win (and second place overall) at the Zandvoort NAV Race.
The Dutch nobleman raced the car for the remainder of the 1958 season, entering nine more events and regularly finishing on the podium. Following the Innsbruck Airfield Race on October 5, where he finished second in class, de Beaufort sold chassis 550A-0145 to a Canadian dealer, Eglington Caledonia Motors in Toronto.
For the next two years, the car was raced by Peter Ryan and Jim Muzzin, who continued to rack up class wins and podium finishes at local Canadian events. In 1961, Muzzin became the owner of record, running the car in events through the 1962 season. Five years later, circa 1967, chassis 550A-0145 was sold to an American owner in California, and it reportedly remained on the West Coast until 1991, when it was sold to Burkhard von Schenk and exported to Germany. It remained in von Schenk’s care until 2002, when the 550A Spyder sold to Italian collector Bruno Ferracin, who entered the car in 10 consecutive contemporary Mille Miglia events before it passed to the consignor.
The car’s four-cam engine was reportedly rebuilt in 2012, and in testament to the car’s overall condition, 550A-0145 earned second in class at the 2015 Salon Privé Concours d’Elegance. In August 2016, the Porsche crossed the block at the Gooding & Company sale in Pebble Beach, bidding to $4.2 million without reaching its reserve price. This time around, Bonhams is estimating a selling price between $4.5 million and $5.5 million.
The Bonhams Scottsdale sale takes place at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. For additional details, visit Bonhams.com.