Porsches From the Past – The 550 Spyder at LeMans 1955

The 550 Spyder at LeMans 1955

Introduced at the Paris Auto Show in 1953, the 550 RS Spyder, was Porsche’s first model designed specifically for racing. The 550 wore a lightweight aluminum body and held a powerful 1500cc, four cam power engine.  Their successes lead to the moniker of “giant killers”.

The 550 first arrived at Le Mans in 1953 and returned en masse in 1955. The Spyder was awarded The Index of Performance for the car with best combined speed and economy in the entire race field in the 1955 race. There was a combination of factory or “werks” teams and several privateers at the race. To the great Italian marques, Porsche was a threat.  Their results of 4th, 5th and 6th positions overall and first in class against a field of more powerful cars won them respect and a bit of angst from the Italian giants.

The 1955 race was a tragic race.  It’s famous for one thing, the crash where Pierre Levegh’s Mercedes crashed into the crowd, killing more than 80. Mercedes Benz retired and quit racing for years as a result.  In this video you see the smoking wreckage in the background as shot from the Porsche garage.

The incident led to the widespread introduction of safety measures to protect both drivers and spectators, not only at the circuit but tracks worldwide.

We in the USA know the Porsche Spyder as the car actor James Dean was driving when he collided with a station wagon and died.  It’s a great car with a great and storied heritage.  Hopefully you can see one in person at the 59th Porsche Parade in Monterey this June.