Courtesy of Bonhams

Offered directly from 50 years of devoted custodianship by a renowned Porsche collector and enthusiast, this 550 Spyder, chassis no. 5500036, benefits from an exciting period racing career at major European outings, and fastidiously well-documented history and provenance.

According to copies of the original factory build sheet and letters between Porsche in Stuttgart and the current owner, 550 Spyder no. 5500036 was completed at the Porsche Works during the latter part of April 1955. It was finished in white, with blue accents treated to the top of the fenders, and was fitted with type 547 4-cam engine number 90035 and transaxle number 10027.

The first owner was Mr. Theo Helfrich of Frankfurt, Germany, an accomplished racing driver with several triumphs to his name, including a 2nd overall finish at the 1952 Le Mans 24 Hours, Formula 2 Champion of 1953, and three impressive seasons in Formula One. According to various period race records on file, Helfrich, along with teammate Mr. Peter Nöcker, would campaign 5500036 right out of the gate in 1955, competing at major racing events that year.

Ludwig Fisher is recorded as having purchased 5500036 in 1957 and would continue campaigning the lithe and powerful Porsche Spyder at various races throughout Europe, including the 1958 Nürburgring GP in Germany, where he finished 11th.

By 1958, 5500036 was acquired by an American military man stationed in Germany and brought with him to the U.S. in 1960. The 550 was sold to a North Carolina resident in 1964 and later went through two owners in Florida, until it was purchased there by the current owner in 1972.

Many photos are available of 5500036 when acquired by the current owner, showing a largely complete car retaining original bodywork, suspension and transaxle, but missing its engine. Through his many Porsche connections and enthusiast friends, a correct Type 547 4-cam engine was found. This engine, no. 90034, is just one single digit off the original engine for the car (no. 90035) and has been rebuilt by legendary 4-cam engine builder Billy Doyle. The original transaxle (no. 10027) remains in the car and has never been separated from 5500036.

A slowly started restoration occurred during the 1980s. A more comprehensive restoration was started in 1998 and finished in 2003, by the Porsche experts at Willison Werkstatt of Lake Park, FL. Once the fastidious restoration was completed, 5500036 made its debut and last large public appearance at the 2003 Rennsport Reunion and has since been tucked away in a climate-controlled facility.

SCM Analysis

Detailing

Vehicle:1955 Porsche Type 550 RS 1500 Spyder
Years Produced:1953–56
Number Produced:90 complete cars, 7 spare chassis (some now complete “bitsa” cars)
Original List Price:$6,000 in the U.S.
SCM Valuation:$3,466,500
Tune Up Cost:$3,000 ($10,000 for major service)
Chassis Number Location:Metal tag on right front inner fender in passenger’s footwell, stamping on right rear side frame member
Engine Number Location:Horizontal boss to the left bottom of the fan housing
Club Info:Porsche 356 Registry
Website:http://www.356registry.org
Alternatives:1953–55 Jaguar D-type, 1955–58 Maserati 300S, 1953–56 Aston Martin DB3S
Investment Grade:A

This car, Lot 250, sold for $4,185,000, including buyer’s premium, at Bonhams’ Amelia Island auction on March 3.

This was a big price, but only the fourth-highest among the eight 550s sold at public venues in the past 10 years. It was about $1 million above the lowest and $2 million below the highest.

The market

In the 1980s, 550s were $100,000–$200,000 cars. By the late 1990s, the best of them were $500,000–$600,000. In the aughts, 550s moved to $1,000,000 with two public sales in 2005 and 2008. In the teens, the collector-car market started to move and Spyders did well, topping out at over $6,000,000.

Overall, from 2009 to ’19, Spyder values quadrupled. But in the past three years, 1950s Spyders have started to lag behind modern Porsche supercars when it comes to appreciation. Porsche’s first purpose-built pure racing Spyder, built 90 strong (plus seven spare chassis), is no longer heading up in value. The weakening price trend also encompasses successor Spyder models — the 550A (40 units built), RSK (39 built) and RS60/61 (32 built), although the data points on the RS60/61 are few.

It seems 1950s race cars might be caught up in the generational shift we all read about. Witness: Porsche’s “youngtimers” such as 959s, GT1s and Carrera GTs have had a bull market over the past three-plus years, with values doubling. Both public sales and private sales that we have witnessed reinforce this conclusion.

$6m high

The teens saw a number of Spyders change owners. First came s/n 5500062, sold at Gooding & Co. Amelia Island on March 9, 2012. It had been modified to be a street car in the 1950s, then lightly restored around 1990. At auction, it had two engines including the original, about 10,000 miles showing, a complete historical file and plentiful paperwork including the MSO and original bill of sale. It sold for $3,685,000, including buyer’s premium (SCM# 196877).

Next, Mecum sold Spyder 5500077 in Monterey in 2013 for $4,125,000 (SCM# 227491). It had been raced in the 1950s and 1960s in Europe and the U.S. Three owners later, Peter and Cheryl Dunkel used the best available craftsmen to restore the Spyder after acquiring it in 1989.

The next significant public sale came in 2016, when Gooding & Co. sold 5500060 at Amelia Island. It was delivered new through SonAuto in Paris to the first of two French owners, thus its French Blue paint. Largely original, the car was repainted in the 1970s and showed wear; it had been purchased by Jerry Seinfeld in 2007. The auction result was a strong $5,335,000 (SCM# 271305).

Our favorite Spyder, s/n 5500090, was sold by Bonhams at the 2016 Goodwood Revival. Owned by friend Gerry Reilly for decades, it was totally original, down to the paint, vestigial canvas roof, spare-tire cover, toolkit and lift jack. It had won originality awards at the Louis Vuitton Classic at Rockefeller Center and at Pebble Beach. It sold for a premium price: $6,121,188 (SCM# 6804556; also see German Profile, December 2016).

Two years later, Gooding & Co. sold 5500053 at its Pebble Beach auction. Raced extensively in California during 1955–56, it was bought in 1986 by Lew Markoff, who undertook a full and sympathetic restoration with known experts. With only about 10,000 miles and an original rebuilt drivetrain, it was a stellar car, selling for $4,455,000 (SCM# 6877160).

At its 2019 Rétromobile auction in Paris, RM Sotheby’s sold 5500082. This Spyder was used extensively in road races and hillclimbs but was later rebodied with a fiberglass Apal coupe body. Having lost its engine and gearbox, it then came to be stored. Peter Ludwig purchased the frame in 2000 and had it rebodied and restored with an appropriate period drivetrain. Considering this assemblage-of-parts history, the car was well sold at $3,466,625 (SCM# 6891378).

All things considered

Our subject car was a project of the late Gary Quast. He purchased it in 1972 as a largely parted-out roller and began to acquire original parts. Among those was a correct Type 547/3 engine. (The car did have its original gearbox.) Quast had the car restored in the 1980s in Nebraska, and then again by a shop in Florida.

Careful reading of those Florida invoices indicated several purchases of sheet aluminum and labor charges for forming it, meaning the car was partially rebodied. The car was attractive, with gleaming and smooth exterior panels, unlike an original Spyder that would show ample evidence of being hand-formed. The car had a color change from white to silver, and the interior was bright red vinyl rather than the tan weave vinyl used originally.

Quast’s son Greg was at the auction to discuss the car, a boon to its presentation. Against an optimistic pre-sale estimate of $4.5m–$5.5m, the car hammered sold for $3.8m, bringing the final price after buyer’s premium to $4,185,000. Although below estimate, the car achieved a higher price than many in attendance had predicted.

This result compares favorably with the 1959 Type 718 RSK Spyder sold for $2,975,000 the next day by Gooding & Co. (Lot 27). The RSK was more original, had a more-sympathetic restoration, was a rarer car and is a better Spyder to race if that’s your intent. Many of us thought it was the better buy. ♦

(Introductory description courtesy of Bonhams.)

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