Mid-engine, lightweight design and styling, and added to these powerful and efficient four-cylinder engines: that is what characterises the philosophy of the legendary Porsche Spyder with type designations 550 and 718. Built for circuit track, road and hill climb racing, the Porsche factory team and numerous customers successfully used these race sports cars from 1953 to the mid-1960s.
Countless individual drivers and exceptional drivers like Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips, Hans Herrmann, Graham Hill, Ricardo Rodriguez and Joakim Bonnier brought home more than 1,000 race victories with the fast and agile Porsche race cars. They really caused a sensation in motorsport. Despite their small four-cylinder flat engines, they continually won races overall against a competition that had superior engine power.
The history of the Spyder is one of stepwise development – which is typical of Porsche. As the first purebred race sports car from Zuffenhausen, the type 550 (89 units), which was built starting in 1953, marked the beginning of an evolutionary series of mid-engine race cars. In 1956 it was followed by the 550 A Spyder (40 units) which had a tubular space frame and a more powerful engine. In 1956, the Italian driver Umberto Maglioli raced to sensational victory in a 550 A at the Targa Florio, which was the most challenging road race at that time. Today, the engine known as the “Fuhrmann engine” is nearly as legendary as the vehicles themselves with its four overhead camshafts.
718 RSK celebrates global success and wins manufacturers world championship
The successor to the 550 A made its debut in 1957 as the 718 RSK (34 units). Motorsport and technology were closely intertwined in its name. While the “RS” stands for “race sport”, the “K” referred to the newly developed front torsion bar springs. They were arranged in the form of a capital “K” on its back. The 718 was further improved to address all concerns compared to its predecessor. A frame made of seamless steel tubing gave it high strength and an ideal lightweight design. The engine, chassis and drum brakes were also further optimised.
The 718 RSK celebrated successes across the globe, e.g. at Le Mans, the Nürburgring, in Argentina, Riverside in California and at numerous hill climb races. The 550 A Spyder and the 718 RSK both proved the enormous potential of their Porsche designs in Formula-2 racing. Further developed into a monoposto, the 718/2 even won the Formula-2 manufacturers world championship in 1960.
718 RS 60 immediately becomes the benchmark of its class
When new FIA regulations for race sports cars demanded greater similarities with production street cars, Porsche responded with the 718 RS 60 (19 units) for the 1960 season. The car quickly became the benchmark in the 1.6-litre class. Its greatest sport successes were overall victories at the Targa Florio, the 12 Hours of Sebring and the European Hill Climb Championship in the years 1960 and 1961. The 718 RS 61 Spyder (13 units) was built starting in October 1960. It was primarily raced by individual drivers. Its technical highlight was a new rear suspension with wishbones.
In order to also exploit the potential of the 718 Spyder at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the 718 RS 61 was further developed into a coupé version. In 1961, the 718 GTR – which still had a four-cylinder engine – went to the starting line. For the 1962 season, it was equipped with a two-litre eight-cylinder and disc brakes. Also using these two engine types was the 718 W-RS Spyder that raced from 1961 to 1964. Mechanics gave it the endearing nickname “Grandmother” during its multi-year race career. The one-off car won the European Hill Climb Championship in 1963 and 1964 and proved once again the potential of the Porsche mid-engine concept.