The Porsche 550 is a legendary car for many reasons. Most notoriously, it was a 550 Spyder that James Dean drove to his death at the young age of 24. The 550 was designed in the early 1950s and sold from 1953 to just 1956. It came in both coupe and spyder body styles and included elements to maximize its speed in racing events. In fact, it was to a racetrack to try out his new sports car that was James Dean’s destination on that fateful day in 1955.
Inspired by the earlier 356, Porsche designed the 550 with racing in mind. The 550 models were the first Porsche cars truly designed for competitive racing. Porsche unveiled the first official model at the Paris Auto Show of 1953, but a few prototypes of the Spyder were made as early as 1951. The 550 included a rounded, aerodynamic body that was very low to the ground and made of lightweight aluminum. They also had tubular frames, two seats, and the open top characteristic of a Spyder. The early 550s were powered by Carrera flat four-cylinder engines with 130 horsepower and five-speed manual transmissions.
With racing at the forefront of the 550’s design and development, it is unsurprising that this car became a legend on the track. Nicknamed the Giant Killer, the Porsche 550 regularly crushed the competition. The first major win for the 550 came at the 1956 Targa Floria when it surprised everyone by beating out such typical winners as Jaguar, Maserati, and Ferrari. The 550 won many races and was also raced in the streets and on local tracks by devoted owners of the model.
Porsche replaced the 550 with the 718, which proved to be even more successful on the racing circuit. Today the spirit and the design of the 550 lives on in such modern models as the Boxster S 550 Spyder. It has also become a desirable collectible item for fans of the German carmaker, and fans of classic sports cars in general. Replica models of the 550 are also very popular, especially among admirers who cannot afford to pay out for the real thing. The fact that James Dean died so tragically in his 550, nicknamed the Little Bastard, only adds to the mystique and the popularity of this legendary little race car.