Monterey | Lot 230
1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
$3,800,000 - $4,200,000 USD
| Monterey, California
13 August 2021
- 12% of the hammer price up to and including $250,000
- 10% of the hammer price in excess of $250,000
- One of just 90 550 Spyders constructed between 1953 and 1956
- Delivered new West Coast Porsche agent Competition Motors of North Hollywood, California
- Raced by successful long-term Porsche privateer Bob Donner in SCCA events from 1956–1959; subsequently owned by Porsche Club America luminary Laurie Leva
- Acquired by the vendor in 1983 and restored and retained by him ever since
- Eligible for events such as Le Mans Classic, Mille Miglia, and Monterey Historics
Ever since the company’s inception, Porsche and motorsport have been inextricably linked. Despite early success with the 356, however, Porsche would not introduce their first purpose-built competition car until 1953. The resulting model, the 550 Spyder, proved to be well worth the wait.
Featuring a potent 1500-cubic-centimeter four-cam engine, a simple yet effective tubular chassis, and torsion bar suspension, the Spyder’s weight of just 550 kilograms—a little over 1,212 pounds—afforded remarkable performance and agility, making it the car to beat in the up-to-1500-cc class of most contemporary sports car events. Indeed, by the end of 1954, class victories had been achieved in no lesser events than Le Mans, the Mille Miglia, and the Carrera Panamericana—not to mention numerous successes in national-level events on both sides of the Atlantic.
This example, chassis number 0054, left the factory on 14 July 1955, travelling via celebrated European Car importer Hoffman Motors of New York City to West Coast Porsche agent John von Neumann’s Competition Motors operation in North Hollywood, California. Its first owner, Coloradan amateur racer Robert “Bob” Donner Jr., had previously raced an MG TC and a Jaguar XK120 in local events and was an existing client of Competition Motors, having acquired his Porsche 356 from the dealership earlier that same year.
Donner raced both Porsches contemporaneously in 1956, his first race with the Spyder being at Bakersfield, California on 19 May. He would line up against no less than six other 550 Spyders, including those of emerging talents Ken Miles and Richie Ginther. Miles dominated proceedings in the preliminary race, with Ginther 2nd and Donner a creditable 9th, while the feature race the following day witnessed a repeat result up front (although on this occasion mechanical gremlins restricted Donner to a lowly 15th-place finish).
At Pomona, just over a month later, Miles once again led home Ginther in the preliminary race with Donner an encouraging 6th, while the feature race saw the top two placings reversed with Donner 6th once again. Interestingly, as a condition of purchase of his 356 from von Neumann, Donner received occasional driving tuition from Ginther through 1956, so unsurprisingly this—coupled with greater familiarity with the car—accounted for his increasing competitiveness in the 550 over the course of the year. Donner appears to have raced 0054 just once more in 1956, at Casper, Wyoming, where he took victory; regrettably, no further details as to any other competitors or their placings are known.
At the end of 1956, Donner, accompanied by 0054, moved back to his native Colorado, thereafter focusing primarily on SCCA-organized events in the Midwest. His 1957 season started strongly with a string of four outright wins at Coffeyville, Kansas and La Junta, Colorado, although the opposition—at least at the start of the season—was somewhat lower-key than had hitherto been the case in California. This said, from mid-season onwards some big names started to arrive; his valiant 5th place in the preliminary race at Eagle Mountain, Texas, behind the likes of Paul O’Shea’s Mercedes 300 SLS and Jim Hall’s Ferrari 750 Monza, and ahead of Jack Hinkle’s Maserati 300S and Loyal Katskee’s similar Monza, bearing testament to this. Meanwhile, with pacesetters O’Shea and Carroll Shelby eliminated in a first lap accident, Donner drove intelligently to finish 3rd in the feature race later that same day behind Dick Thompson’s Corvette and the similar 550 Spyder of John Max Wolf.
At the Road America SCCA round in late June, Donner further underlined his continued development as a driver by finishing 5th in a race won by Lake Underwood’s similar 550 Spyder, with his season concluding with a trip to Phoenix in December for the year-ending Arizona SCCA races in which he took a 3rd place in the preliminary and 2nd in the feature race behind Bill Moore’s Corvette.
Donner’s 1958 season would be a truncated one, encompassing just two race weekends. At La Junta on 31 May, he finished a fine 3rd in the preliminary race behind Ray Jones’ Ferrari 500 TRC and Jack Hinkle’s Maserati 200SI, although the weekend ended in disappointment with a rare engine-related retirement from the feature race the next day. His final outing in 0054 took place once again at Road America, in which he finished runner-up in the 20-lap SCCA Championship race to Don Sesslar’s similar 550 Spyder, albeit ahead of Chuck Dietrich’s Elva MkIII.
Having acquired a new Porsche 718 RSK for the 1959 season, Donner sold the by now aging 550 to Utah native and future Porsche Club America luminary Laurie Leva, who had himself campaigned a Porsche 356 in local Club events for some years. Leva is believed to have only competed in one event with 0054—at McCarran Field, Las Vegas in 1961, in which he finished 2nd—before selling it to Ed Hausserman of Columbus, Ohio, in 1963.
Hausserman kept the car only very briefly, selling it to Chuck Woodward of Lakebay, Washington in April 1964. It was in the latter’s custody that 0054 was damaged in a garage fire in June 1965, the car remaining in this state for the next 18 years—and passing through five further successive owners—before its acquisition by the consignor, himself a respected Porsche master technician, in 1983. Original photos of the damage and garage fire accompany the car and are available for review within the history file.
A SPYDER’S PAINSTAKING ROAD TO RESTORATION
An exhaustive restoration of 0054 ensued, with great care being taken to preserve its originality as far as practically possible. In 1987, the consignor commissioned New England Metal Crafters of Newburyport, Massachusetts to restore the damaged bodywork and while—inevitably—some new metal was required, the car is said to compare favorably with many other 550s in this respect.
Although the consignor purchased the car without an engine, he subsequently obtained another 550 unit numbered KD P90048, with its prefix being an abbreviation of Kunde Dienst—literally translating as “Customer Service.” Interestingly, according to factory records, the original engine fitted to 0054 was listed as 90048. It is therefore possible—although unconfirmed—that the “KD” engine is in fact an original period factory replacement item for this particular chassis. Nevertheless, it was subsequently fully rebuilt and bench-tested at Carrera Motors in Florida in 2000.
The remainder of the mechanical restoration work on the car was performed by the vendor himself, under the watchful eye of noted long-term 550 owner, racer, and model authority Dick Hyland; Warren Sandford of Newburgh, New York provided a repaint to its original racing livery. Throughout the process, considerable attention was paid to preserving and reinstating any original components or features, and several rare Porsche details—including the factory chassis plate, Wendler body, and Spyder emblems (still positioned on their fiberboard base plates)—remain original to the car, along with the hood and tail. A factory cloth top obtained by the consignor from a fellow East Coast enthusiast helps to make 0054 a very “period-correct” 550 Spyder.
The consignor returned the car to running and driving condition in the summer of 2021, and the engine has recently been fired for the first time since its rebuild in 2000, yet the car will require proper sorting before it is capable of being run in anger on-track or on tour. There can be little question that any enthusiast would be richly rewarded for undertaking such an endeavor, however: Eligible for some of the world’s most prestigious vintage racing events, the Porsche 550 Spyder remains a hugely versatile and capable performer—not to mention a landmark design from which all subsequent Porsche Sports Prototypes ultimately descend.
With known ownership from new, many period images of the car both pre- and post-restoration, and having covered barely a handful of miles in almost six decades, chassis 0054 occupies a unique place amongst the 90 Spyders constructed, and would undoubtedly be a worthy and highly significant addition to any serious Competition or Porsche-focused car collection.