Feb. 29th 2012 – Auto of the day – THE AUTO OF THE DAY
Formerly the Property of Frank Rand, Wayne Coursey and David Draper
1955 Porsche 550/1500 RS Spyder
Coachwork by Wendler
CHASSIS NO. 550-0062
ENGINE NO. 90066 (Original Unrestored Engine)
Engine Installed: 90546
$2,200,000 – $2,600,000
- Porsche’s Legendary Four-Cam Sports Racer
- One of the Most Genuine 550s in Existence
- Delivered New to Hoffman Motors of New York
- Well-Documented Provenance and Restoration
- Accompanied by Unrestored Matching-Numbers Engine
- Offered with Original Owner’s Manual, MSO and Comprehensive History File
- Successful Colorado Grand and California Mille Participant
- A Welcome Entrant at the Finest Historic Gatherings and Concours Events
Twin Weber 40 DCM Carburetors
Estimated 125 BHP at 6,500 RPM
4-Speed Type 519 Manual Gearbox
4-Wheel Hydraulic Drum Brakes
Fully Independent Torsion Bar Suspension with Trailing Arms and Shock Absorbers
The 550 Spyder is a Porsche that needs little introduction. Produced in extremely limited numbers between 1953 and 1957, Porsche’s first purpose-built racing car was instrumental in establishing an enviable sporting reputation for the up-and-coming German marque. Throughout the 1950s, the petite four-cam Spyders dominated the small-displacement classes in both Europe and the US, earning a loyal band of followers as well as Porsche victories at leading international venues. Contributing to the legend of the Porsche 550, as most enthusiasts will know, the famous actor James Dean was driving Spyder 550-0055 when he met his demise on his way to a race in September 1955.
The 550/1500 RS Spyder presented here, 550-0062, was completed at the Porsche factory in Fall 1955 and initially sold to the Hoffman Motors Corporation of New York on September 8th of that year.
According to Porsche of America records, Fred Schraegle of Lansing, Michigan, is believed to be the first owner of the Spyder. As Mr. Schraegle never titled or registered the Porsche for street use, it is thought that the car may have been used for occasional competition outings.
During the late 1950s, the 550 Spyder was sold to Frank Rand of Chicago, Illinois. A passionate sports car enthusiast, Mr. Rand had abandoned his family’s lucrative shoe business to become one of the youngest Volkswagen and Porsche dealers in the US. Although he raced a similar 550 Spyder – and actually owned three of them at one time – 550-0062 became his preferred method of daily transport.
In an attempt to make the featherweight Porsche more suitable for regular road use, Mr. Rand had the Spyder equipped with a full interior and, for improved weather protection, the factory-optioned low laminated glass windshield. In addition, the car was completely undercoated, the front turn signals and brake cooling ducts were covered and the taillights were replaced with more visible units sourced from a 1951 Pontiac. Mechanically, the engine was upgraded to the optional Weber 40 DCM carburetors and a dual-exhaust system was fashioned using two Austin-Healey mufflers.
Better adapted for Chicago traffic, Mr. Rand made good use of the 550 Spyder. Like Mr. Schraegle before him, Mr. Rand never titled or registered the Porsche, instead electing to run the car on his Illinois dealer plates.
After enjoying the road-going Spyder for several years, Mr. Rand consigned the car to Loeber Motors, Inc., a local Mercedes-Benz dealership with a reputation for selling high-end sports cars.
On August 24, 1963, Wayne and Eileen Coursey of Dubuque, Iowa, purchased the Porsche sports racer for $3,500. Interestingly, famed luxury car dealer and sports car enthusiast Harry Woodnorth is listed on the purchase agreement as the salesman.
After the Courseys purchased the 550 Spyder, Eileen penned a charming letter titled, “The Lady and the Spyder,” which provides a fascinating insight into the family’s latest acquisition.
“In 1963, our family grew. A beautiful 550 RS 1955 vintage was added to the clan. I had been told that the next Porsche that we bought would be my very own. We didn’t know that it would turn out to be a silver 550 RS. We had talked about owning a Spyder for a long time and we had looked at several (most of them race worn and in bad shape). When a friend told us that Frank Rand’s 550 was for sale, we made a quick trip to Chicago and after one look we said ‘yes.’ Frank Rand had spent a considerable amount of time, effort and money restoring this car. It was in the showroom of his VW Agency in Chicago. The interior was upholstered by Clifford Biel who did a very nice job of installing carpets, bucket seats and upholstery. A windshield, mufflers and taillights were installed making it possible to drive on the street. The engine had been repaired and tuned by Glen Carroll. The body was painted Mercury Silver. 1957.”
￼￼￼￼￼For the next few years, the Courseys, who owned PAM Imports (Porsches and Motorcycles), used the 550 Spyder for various Porsche club events and races, including outings at Elkhart Lake. However, by the mid-1960s, the demands of the BMW motorcycle dealership and service work on their clients’ Porsches left the Courseys with little time to enjoy their beloved Spyder.
For some time, the 550 Spyder was carefully stored away in the family garage, admired by only those fortunate enough to see it. Among the select few was David Draper, a resident of Charlevoix, Michigan, who caught his first glimpse of the 550 Spyder in 1976. Hoping to return the 550 to the road, Mr. Draper began a respectful but consistent campaign to buy the car. Finally, in June 1988, his efforts paid off.
Not only did Mr. Draper purchase 550-0062, but he also acquired an impressive collection of spare parts that Mr. Coursey had accumulated over the years. Among the components was a spare Carrera engine (90879) that had been purchased from Jim Scott in September 1965, as well as a damaged, incomplete Carrera engine, a spare set of heads and a set of original Solex PJJ carburetors.
Remarkably, after 25 years with the 550, Mr. Coursey had still not titled or registered the car. With the original Importer’s and Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin in hand, Mr. Draper became the first titled owner of 550-0062.
Between 1988 and 1989, after a visit to the Porsche archives collection to gather essential information and historical documents, Mr. Draper completed a comprehensive restoration.
After the Porsche was completely disassembled, the first step was to remove the tar undercoating from the chassis and body panels. When the body was dipped, it was discovered that some of the flatter sections of aluminum still retained the original mill’s ink-printed identification.
The Spyder was then restored to its original specifications, mindful of preserving the car’s tremendous originality and integrity. Fortunately, the aluminum did not require any significant repairs and, after being carefully prepared, it was refinished in its original shade of silver. While this work was being carried out, every mechanical component was refurbished as needed before being detailed, painted and plated to the highest standards. As the interior had been reupholstered decades earlier, original material samples were sourced and the seats were recovered in the factory-correct tan vinyl.
To preserve the irreplaceable original engine, the spare Carrera engine was rebuilt and installed in the Spyder. However, after two years of use, that engine was traded for a Type 547 unit (90546) that had been rebuilt by renowned four-cam expert Bill Doyle.
When completed, the freshly restored 550 Spyder was successfully displayed at concours d’elegance throughout the Midwest. During that period, 550-0062 won its class at Eyes on Design, Bay Harbor and Meadow Brook. When Porsche released the Spyder-inspired Boxster in 1997, 550-0062 was used as a reference point for the new car. That year, Porsche borrowed the 550 for the SAE Engineering Seminar in Detroit, and Automobile magazine featured it in their review of the new Boxster. Not only did the Spyder receive an impressive number of trophies and accolades, it also participated in rallies such as the Colorado Grand in 1989 and 1990, and the California Mille in 2001 and 2002.
In 2005, the 550 Spyder was sold to East Coast collector Peter LeSaffre and later passed through three prominent US collections before settling in its current ownership. Last year, the 550 Spyder again took part in the Colorado Grand, where it delivered an exhilarating experience. As was the case in the 1950s, the Spyder kept pace with cars of much larger displacement and maintained triple-digit speeds for hours on end.
Today, 550-0062 remains in exceptional condition throughout and displays an inviting patina from its recent use in rallies. When so many Porsche Spyders have been completely rebodied or over-restored, it is a rare pleasure to find a genuine car that still retains its beautiful hand-formed alloy panels and original badging. Not only are the chassis and body original, this Spyder is complete with its original gearbox and, most importantly, its unrestored matching- numbers engine (90066).
In addition, 550-0062 is offered with a comprehensive historical file that includes various correspondence, restoration records, a copy of the factory build sheet and copies of the 1963 purchase agreement from Loeber Motors, Inc. Furthermore, this file is complete with an original owner’s manual and the original Importer’s and Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin, exceedingly rare and important artifacts.
All told, Porsche built fewer than 100 production 550 Spyders. Due to their competitiveness in period, the vast majority of these magnificent sports racers were campaigned, damaged, modified and reconstructed to varying degrees. As a result, few of the remaining Spyders exist with their original chassis and bodies intact, let alone their complex four-cam engines.
Because 550-0062 never suffered the punishing effects of a serious racing career, it retains its transmission, engine and, perhaps most impressively, its original aluminum coachwork. Beyond its inherent quality, this Spyder possesses a complete ownership history from new and exceptional supporting documentation.
In the eyes of many Porsche experts, 550-0062 is among the very best 550 Spyders in existence. Considering the legendary status and mystique maintained by Porsche’s first production racing car, the appearance of this Spyder at auction represents an exciting opportunity to acquire one of the greatest sporting automobiles of the 1950s.