From Denmark to East Africa

The 550A Spyder was Porsche’s first purpose-built competition model, introducing a new lightweight spaceframe chassis, fully independent suspension, a five-speed gearbox, and revised coachwork. The 550A differed from its predecessor in a number of ways. Most notably, the ladder-type frame was replaced by a steel-tube spaceframe which was both stiffer and lighter. The weight of the complete body was reduced by no less than 27 kg, care to the fact that the new frame provided higher mounting points that allowed for many of the body reinforcements to be eliminated. Torsional stiffness of the frame was tripled, and the overall stiffness was five times that of the previous type ladder frame. Overall, the 550A hardly weighed 530 kg, excluding fuel, but including the compulsory spare wheel.

The rear suspension was changed from a normal swing axle to a low pivot swing axle, while a front anti-roll bar was added. These modifications considerably improved the car's handling. The 550A was equipped with dual-circuit brakes while power from the basically unmodified engine was increased to 135 bhp. The Solex carburetors were also replaced by Weber 40 DCM twin-choke downdraft carburetors.

Umberto Maglioli’s overall victory at the 1956 Targa Florio commenced the model’s successful competition record, and just 40 examples were ultimately produced.

This example, chassis number 0121, is the 15th car built and benefits from a well-documented life, including fascinating period racing history and a recent four-year restoration. After finishing assembly in late March 1957, the 550A was sold to Danish racing patron Preben Andersen (principal of the Scuderia Palan) as the only example earmarked for Denmark.

With Denmark’s flag painted across the bonnet, the Porsche was driven by local racing legend Julius Voigt-Nielsen, and he triumphed in his first outing at the Roskilde Ring in late April. He earned two more victories in June and August, and two 3rd-place finishes to end the season.

In late 1958, the 550A was sold to John Manussis, a British racing driver residing in Kenya who won the East African Safari Rally several times, often employing Lucille Cardwell as his navigator. Following an unrelated accident that left Manussis unable to drive, Cardwell took the wheel alone and she twice roared to victory at the Nakuru Park Motor Circuit in December 1961.

By early 1962, the Porsche passed into the possession of Mrs. Cardwell and her husband, William J. Cardwell, and they continued to campaign the car from their home in Tanzania. Later in the decade, the spyder was sold to Gordon Crow, a dealer in Nairobi, and he repainted the car blue and entered numerous local events.

After two further owners, a comprehensive four-year restoration was commissioned in 2012 by its new and current owner. A specialist was appointed, and every attempt was made to utilise correct factory tools and techniques where necessary. Completed in 2016, the impressive refurbishment returned the car to its original factory appearance in every detail.

RM Sotheby's will be offering this special 1957 Porsche 550A Spyder at their upcoming Villa Erba auction held on the 25th May. For more information on this and other vehicles at the sale, click on the link below. Photos: Scott Pattenden ©2019 Courtesy of RM Sotheby's and period photos courtesy of Carsten Frimodt.