One of the most iconic classic cars around is James Dean’s famous Porsche Spyder 550, his beloved “Little Bastard,” as he famously named it.
Only 90 Porsche Type 550s have been documented as built, with production lasting from 1952 and 1956, making each one that much more special. The type 550 became known as “Giant Killer” when their speed, aerodynamic design, and sporty exterior and interior alike gained respect in the racing world, beginning with a win at the season opener race at the Nurburgring in 1953 and continuing to come in first and second place (build 01 and 02 were entered) in their 1500 class in the Le Mans race only a month later.
Since each car was built by hand, some say no two Spyder 550s are the same, and each has a unique quality which made it ideal for different races. Indeed, many of those who purchased the car found it irresistible to race. Needless to say, their rarity has made this model highly coveted and many owners keep this car hidden away in their private collections, making the odds of spotting one quite slim.
Built with a four-cylinder engine, the Spyder 550 topped out at a measly (by today’s standards) 140mph with 110 HP at 6200 RPM, but in the early and mid 1950s, that was quite impressive. The car featured four forward speeds, as well as one reverse speed. Its list price in 1955 was $6,800, which today amounts to a cool $55,820.87.
James Dean built a career on being a “troubled youth” who loved to live fast and have plenty of fun. His prized Porsche Spyder 550 is among the most famous, and legendary, cars of his day. It is said that his car was cursed, and there are more than a few tragic accidents associated with his car’s salvaged parts. For Dean, his love for speed and this particular car meant his end, and he died suddenly when he was involved in a crash while driving his Spyder 550 on the way to a race in Salinas. His sudden death came not long after filming an interview in which he discussed safe driving, eerily concluding in a plea to drive safe because “the life you might save might be mine.” The crash solidified his status, as well as that of his car, as nothing short of a legend surrounded by myth and controversy, and captivating generations.
For more information about the Spyder 550, check out this fan site.