The Porsche Spyder 550 for 1955 was soon to become known as the “giant killer”. The Spyder was first seen by the public at the Paris motor Show in 1953 with production starting shortly after. The car is built low to the ground for cornering, so low in fact, that a German Formula One racer drove his under a closed railway crossing gate during a race. A later version, the 550A, sporting a lighter, rigid space-frame chassis gave Porsche its first major win in 1956 at Targa Florio.
A successor of the Spyder is the Porsche 718 which also had great success on the sports car circuits in the’50’s and ‘60’s. Released in 1996, the Porsche Boxster is a car that owes many design characteristics to the Spyder 550 and is considered to be a resurrection of the giant killer by some.
“Rebel Without a Cause” star and 1950’s teenage heart throb, James Dean purchased one of the first 90 units, number 55 to be precise, of the Spyder 550 built and his car is perhaps the most famous Porsche vehicle ever made. Jimmy Dean was a hero to the youth of the early to mid ‘50’s and well known to be a bit of a rebel-with no cause- to many. His “little bastard” 550 Porsche, with the number 130 the VIN 550-0055, and James Dean have both become the stuff legends are made of.
The story goes something like this:
In September 1955 as James was finishing up his latest movie “Giant” he quietly decided to trade in his Porsche 356 on a new Spyder 550 with red leather bucket seats. The one he chose had red trunk stripes done by the factory in Stuttgart. James promptly took it his new roadster to Dean Jones paint shop and had a pin stripper paint the number “130” on the hood, trunk lid, and sides of his new car. Jimmy then had the painter script the words “Little Bastard” on the trunk lid. Jimmy then took “little bastard” to sign up for a road race in Salinas on October 1st and 2nd 1955 –racing cars was something his movie contract said he could not do.
The reason he had the name scripted was in a showing of contempt directed towards his employers. A Warner Brothers Studio stunt driver, fellow race driver, and friend had nick named Jimmy “little bastard”, jokingly, because he was continuously was giving Warner Bros. a problem. The latest fiasco is James had been living on studio grounds in a trailer he had used while filming months before and just never left it; he had been asked to vacate many times. The “Lil Bastard” moniker was picked up by management and it stuck. Jimmy left for Salinas on September 30, 1955 and on California route 46/41 at Cholame Junction was where James Dean crashed his new 550 into a 1950 Ford Custom and Jimmy, a giant to some, never finished his movie “Giant”. He died on the spot and the giant became a legend.
The 550 is powered by a 1498 CCM flat 4 cylinder mid-mounted engine producing 137 bhp and 129 Nm of torque at 6200 rpm. Equipped with the factory installed four speed standard transmission it will do 0-97 km/h (60 mph) in 8.2 seconds and the standing quarter mile in 16.1 seconds
The original Porsche 550 was available from the factory as a two door coupe and as the two door Spyder convertible. Of all the classic cars this particular design is one of the most common models to be reproduced. Some of these custom built cars are close to exact original specifications and in a variety of materials from fiberglass to aluminum.