The Porsche 550 Spyder was inspired by the Porsche 356, which was created by Ferry Porsche. The factory wanted to build a car that was specifically built for racing. In order for the Porsche 550 Spyder to be efficient for racing, it was very built low to the ground.
The three first hand built prototypes were coupes with a removable hardtop and raced as a roadster at the Nürburgring Eifel Race in May 1953 winning its first race. The Werks Porsche team raced and evolved the 550 over the next few years with outstanding success and turned heads wherever it appeared. Porsche was the first manufacturer who was sponsored through Fletcher Aviation and was provided with its different painted fins to aid recognition from the pits.
The Porsche 550 was always a winner and mostly in the top 3 positions of its class. It was also a very flexible car as you were able to drive it to the track and back; it was designed to be both a racecar and a road car. Each Porsche 550 was individually designed and customised to identify the one from the other. These customisations were usually colouring tail spears, splashes of red, blue green and yellow on the tail spears making the Spyder palette on the circuit.
Each Spyder had gumballs on the doors, rear, and front and was assigned a number for the race so that the vehicle could be seen from any angle. Vehicles who raced the 1000 mile usually had the higher numbers such as 352. The number also represented the start time of the race (3:52 AM). In most cases, the number would change for every race the car entered which today assists to identify each Spyder by the driver and the chassis number in the period.
James Dean’s “Little Bastard” was perhaps the most famous of the 90 Porsche 550 Spyders built. In September 1955 as James Dean was ending a huge film, he traded his 356 Porsche Super Speedster for a new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder. According to Lee Rasking, James Dean asked for pin stripes and a custom car painter to paint “Little Bastard” on the car. James Dean then earned the nickname “Little Bastard”.
In 1995 James Dean was killed at the age of 24 when he collided his Porsche 550 with a Ford Tudor sedan at an intersection. His film “East of Eden” was only released after his death.
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