- A hugely important piece of Porsche’s American racing history
- Driven in period by leading West Coast racing personalities
- Extensively documented with period photos and race programs
- Comprehensively restored in Germany by marque experts
- Class winner at the 2014 Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance
- Includes original mechanics seat and driver’s manual
- Highly eligible for vintage racing and international concours
THE GIANT KILLERS
The 550A was based on Porsche’s first purpose-built racing car, the mid-engined RS 550 Spyder. Appearing at the end of 1956, the 550A differed from its predecessor by use of a full tube spaceframe with several rear supportive cross-members, rather than the heavier welded-up sheet steel internal structure of the 550. The rear swing axles of the 550 were replaced by a new low-pivot arrangement that made handling much more predictable. The complex 1.5-liter four-cam boxer-four designed by Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann had been teased up to about 135 hp at 7,200 rpm with 107 foot-pounds of torque in full racing tune. The close-ratio four-speed transaxle now included an additional “semi-first” gear for starting purposes. Its large finned brake drums were drilled laterally for additional cooling effect, and were easily capable of hauling these agile and featherweight cars down from their factory-claimed top speed of nearly 150 mph.
Construction of the curvaceous and sleek hand-beaten aluminum alloy body shell was outsourced to Karosserie Wendler of Reutlingen. While visually similar to the 550, the 550A could be identified by new louvered access panels behind the doors. There were small air intake ducts in the nose. Most 550As offered a small molded windshield in front of the driver and a headrest fairing, and a metal tonneau cover closed off the passenger side of the spartan cockpit. The finished car weighed just over 1,200 lbs.
The 550A made its first appearance at the 1956 Nürburgring 1000 KM race, where it won its class. That success encouraged the factory to venture into foreign territory. At the 1956 Targa Florio, the Italian ace Umberto Maglioli scored a brilliant overall victory in a solo eight-hour effort. Most of the earlier 550s had been sold to customers in the U.S., and the new “A” derivative also found an eager customer base in North and South America. Teams which had enjoyed steady success with the early cars snapped up the new ones.
Among those was suburban Los Angeles Porsche dealer and racer Jack McAfee. McAfee already had a great deal of experience at the wheel of much more powerful but temperamental Ferraris, driving for the John Edgar stable. But recognizing the 550 Spyder’s superior handling and reliability, he urged Edgar to buy several, including the ex-Works 1956 Sebring 12 Hours class winner that had been driven by Hans Herrmann and Wolfgang von Trips. By then, the little Porsches had already become known as “Giant Killers.”
McAfee used this machine to win the 1956 SCCA Modified F Class championship. When the 550A with its new chassis and improved suspension appeared, McAfee urged Edgar to acquire chassis 0104 from the factory. McAfee, writes Edgar’s son William, had trouble adjusting to the A-model. McAfee chose instead to keep racing his older 550 in spite of a horsepower deficit, but when Phoenix, Arizona, homebuilder and racing enthusiast Stanley Sugarman purchased the Edgar team’s Porsche 550s, McAfee came along, bringing in four-cam whiz Vasek Polak to turn the wrenches.
CHASSIS NUMBER 550A-0116
On 18 February 1957, 550A-0116 was delivered new to Jack’s dealership in Burbank, California. The two good friends took it racing, with Sugarman listed as the entrant and the car carrying at various times variations of McAfee’s usual racing no. 88, such as #188 or #288. The latter number may have also been used for other guest drivers. Spyder 550A-0116 is shown as having entered an SCCA contest at Riverside in March, but is listed as not starting. The weekend of 19–20 October found Sugarman in the 550A at Hourglass Field near San Diego carrying #288. He finished decently in all three races entered. A week later he ran at Pomona and then at Palm Springs in early November. Then, at the Riverside National on 17 November 1957, McAfee came to terms with the A’s quirks and gave the diminutive Porsche its first victory, capturing the F-G-H Modified class with little effort. It is thought that wherever an SCCA race was scheduled in California, he and Sugarman would be on hand, frequently finishing well.
By February of 1959, 550A-0016 in its distinctive red-over-white livery had been sold to Elden Beagle of Sacramento. This car is often seen in period photographs taken at road and airport circuits throughout California. After a brief ownership, Beagle sold the car to Porsche dealer and devoted racer Don Wester of Monterey, California.
By 1962, the 550A had been effectively outdated by Porsche’s newer RS-60 and -61 Spyders. Chassis 550A-0116 passed into the hands of a series of collectors, including Irwin Schueback of Spokane, Washington; Chuck Woodward of the Seattle area; Bill Perrone in Huntington Beach, California, who performed a restoration in the early to mid-1980s; then to William Zunkel and South African racing enthusiast David Cohen in the late 1980s; and then famed Porsche racer and collector Dick Barbour circa 1989–1993.
Chassis 550A-0116 was acquired by Japanese collector Hui Takahara in 1993, and he subsequently shipped the car to Germany for a complete overhaul and restoration at the shop of Manfred Friesinger. The car was restored to period configuration with the updated and more aerodynamic version of the nose that was offered by Porsche and was installed in 1959. Carl Loch built a fresh four-cam motor to replace the original (no. 90109). The car was then sold to its current owner in 2013. This historically important Porsche was then displayed at the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in 2014, where it was awarded Best in Class.
This fine example is among the best and is an opportunity not to be missed. It is supplied with a large folio of documents and period racing photographs and its original engine case. A hand-written factory technical data sheet in German dated 18-2-57 and obtained from the Porsche Museum by the current owner lists in quite detailed fashion the specifications of 550A-0116, including its various included gearsets, and this document is included with the car. Furthermore, the file includes a large cache of period photos, race programs, and other historical documentation. Additionally, the original “mechanics seat” and driver’s manual remains with the car.
The 550 and 550A Spyders are among the most coveted and sought-after Porsche factory racers in the world. They sired an incredibly successful series of ever more sophisticated and powerful sports racers that would come to dominate the sport. Chassis no. 550A-0116 is among just 40 such chassis constructed by the brilliant German automaker, whose successes on the racetrack are unsurpassed. RM Sotheby’s is delighted to offer one of the best-documented Porsche 550A Spyders in existence.