This 1955′ Porsche 550 Spyder will forever be etched in history.
James Dean, was a legendary actor in his day admired for his rebellious spirit and suave attitude. The cool aura exuded the actor on screen made him into a superstar but off screen, James and his recalcitrant nature, often got him in trouble. Dean, famous for being an actor, was also as famous for his driving antics and love of cars. In fact, racing was Jame’s first love and he saw Hollywood acting as a job, “Racing is the only time I feel whole”, he once said.
Dean frequently raced in tournaments across the country and had a dream that one day, he would go from one big stage to another, Hollywood to The Indy 500. He really was a talented racer and could’ve made it but unfortunately, his rebellious spirit and need for speed ended his life prematurely.
The ‘cursed’ 550
The actor had an affection for Porsches, owning a 356 before upgrading to a 550. The actor may have stole hearts on the big screen but the Porsche Spyder was the car that stole his, he had it customised to look more sporty by adding tartan bucket seats and the number 130 on its side and bonnet. As he was on his way to a race in southern California, Dean was driving 10 miles over the speed limit and crashed into an oncoming vehicle, in fact, a cop pulled James over an hour before to warn him about his speed.
Actor Alec Guinness warned him a week before, “if you get in that car, you’ll be dead in a week”, little did James know that Alec’s premonition was right. This Porsche 550 had a cursed label on it too. The previous owner nicknamed it “The Little Bastard” and painted it on the rear cowling, as it injured a few people who worked on it and after the death of Dean, many coined the vehicle as cursed.
It was easy to resonate with Dean’s affection with this car, it was simply a thing of beauty. Fellow Actor, Alec, said the car had a sinister appearance to it, which only added to its mystique and infamy. The Spyder is as iconic in autophile circles as James was in actor circles. It was bred to be a pure sports car and it truly was. The car has an impressive trophy rack with its domination in roadster class races and with only 90 ever made, the ’55’ Spyder is one of the most storied and exclusive races cars in history. This makes these models highly sought after and valuable. Comedian, Jerry Seinfeld, owned and sold one for over $5 million.
“Overall, the 550 Spyder was exhilarating to drive, which is to be expected with such a successful race car.”
As race cars often were, the rear drive racer had a very low centre of gravity and was mounted with its engine in the middle, giving it better handling and balance. The 110-horsepower, 1.5 litre flat four cylinder mid-engine gave the lightweight roadster the power and thrill it needed, reaching speeds of 220 km/h. Like many Porsches that came before and after the Spyder, the handling of these cars could always be relied on for its precision and responsiveness. Overall, the 550 Spyder was exhilarating to drive, which is to be expected with such a successful race car. Its history reflects that.
The Spyder was an engineering masterpiece, built intelligently and purposefully for the car lover. 1955 was a period in which competition for sports car manufacturing was fierce. It was a time when passion, vision and craft combined to make cars as brilliant as the Spyder. It was a wild car by nature and could only be driven by drivers who could tame it. To some, the Spyder is cursed, to others, a legend. That is left to the interpretation to each of their own but the ’55’ Spyder is without a doubt, one of the more fascinating cars in automobile history.