One year before Porsche started production of the legendary RS Spyder, they experimented several unique 550 Prototypes. Two of these were fitted with removable hardtops that transformed the diminutive roadster into a sleek coupe. These were quite successful on faster circuits, but the roadster was later preferred as a more saleable car.
Approaching 1953, Ferdinand Porsche senior had already designed a multitude of impressive cars including the Lohner-Porsche Hybrid, Mercedes-Benz SSK, Auto Union V16 and Volkswagen Beetle. The later of these would help his son develop the first Porsche which used many VW parts.
Eventually, less parts were sourced from VW and Porsche had an interest in developing their first purpose-built race car. Competition prepared 356s had already achieved moderate success at the top level of motor sports, so a new design was welcome.
Motivated by the Porsche-based Glöckler specials which used a reversed 356 engine, the Porsche engineers at Zuffenhausen realized that a mid-engine layout was key to future success. This led to Project 550, a new chassis program executed by Wilhelm Hild.
The goal was to prepare two cars for the 24 Hours of LeMans. The first protype used a 356 1500 Super engine that was positioned between the driver and rear axle. This was supported by a simple ladder-frame that had six cross members and a 356 suspension. Fitted with a roadster body, the first 550 debuted at the Nürburgring in the hands of Helm Glöckler and won its class.
For LeMans, the first 550 and a second car were fitted with a coupe body designed by Erwin Komenda. It was better suited to the high-speed straights at Lemans. Drivers Richard Frankenberg and Paul Frère finished 15th overall, just ahead of Helm Glöckler and Hans Herrmann in the second car. This gave the Coupes both first and second in class.
In late 1953, Porsche showcased a more definitive version of the 550 with a quad-cam engine and simple roadster body. Despite these upgrades, the Coupes were retained by the factory to contest the Carrera Panamericana race. Outfitted with sponsors, they were raced by Jose Herrarte and Jaroslav Juhan to victory in the 1500cc class.
After their appearance at the Carrera, both Coupes were retired and little seen at pubic events. 550-01 was eventually discovered in the mid 2000s and restored by Cavaglieri Restorations for the Collier Collection. In its 1953 Carrera Panamericana specification 550-1 won a Best of Show award at the 2005 Amelia Island Concours.
The second Coupe 550-03, was also restored by Cavaglieri Restorations for Jerry Seinfeld. Sitting on original Dunlop Racing tires it debuted at the 2011 Porsche Race Car Classic after a five year restoration. Restorer Joey Cavaglieri said the most difficult part was restoring the hand-made aluminum body.