The factory figured on 120 man-hours to create one of these engines. Setting the cam timing took between eight and 15 hours.

Porsche's giant-killer Spyder series of four-cylinder, four-cam sports racing cars ruled small bore international racing for a full decade, beginning in the early 1950s. Since a powerful multi-cylinder engine was not available, Porsche's racing car designers concentrated on "free horsepower" in the form of lightweight chassis and running gear fitted with streamlined alloy bodies. These provided excellent acceleration, handling, braking, fuel efficiency, and tire wear.

This sports racing car theme-a highly developed air-cooled four-cam alloy engine, mid-rear mounted in a lightweight tubular chassis, with four-wheel independent suspension (at first with torsion bars, later with coil springs), streamlined aluminum body paneling, five-speed gearboxes, and huge alloy-finned drum brakes, was to serve Porsche well through the 550A, 1500 RS, the 1957 RSK, and on to the RS 60 and RS 61 series.

The RS 60 and the following year's RS 61 was a unique marketing concept for the company-for the first time, they offered a select group of private owners a racing car identical to the ones raced by the factory. Still known as the Type 718, these cars had a tubular space frame similar to the 1959 RSK, but with an extra four inches in the wheelbase and a wider cockpit.

SCM Analysis


Years Produced:1961
Number Produced:14
Original List Price:N/A
Distributor Caps:(2) $700 each
Chassis Number Location:Welded tag on rear chassis cross tube
Engine Number Location:Stamped on front top of case Club: Porsche 356 Club
Investment Grade:A

This 1961 Porsche RS 61 Sports Racing Spyder sold for $880,000 at RM’s Phoenix, Arizona, auction, January 19, 2007.

One of the fun things about writing these Profiles every month is that there always seems to be something surprising or interesting in the backstory surrounding a sale.

For years, my primary focus has been to explain why the market has been valuing various cars so highly. This time it’s different. The big challenge for me and for most of the people I’ve been discussing the situation with has been to figure out why this car didn’t sell for more.


Like Ferrari, early Porsches were all about the engine, with the cars themselves almost an afterthought. In 1952, Ferry Porsche and his engineer Fuhrmann designed and built one of the most complicated, labor-intensive small displacement engines in history, a DOHC, flat-four with a Hirth roller bearing crankshaft, dry sump lubrication, and twin ignition. If you’re thinking Volkswagen, think again. The factory figured on 120 man-hours by an experienced builder to create one of these units. The cam drives alone utilize nine shafts, 14 bevel gears, and two spur wheels. The factory acknowledged that just setting the cam timing took between eight and 15 hours.

It is a marvelous little jewel of an engine, originally making 120 hp at 6,400 from 1,500 cc and weighing something like 310 lbs. Now Porsche needed something in which to put it. Their first true racing car was their project number 550, which eventually became the formal designation of the car. These were based on a series of homebuilt racers built by Walter Glöckler in Hamburg. Within a few years, the 550 Spyder had become a near-legendary giant killer, utilizing light weight, low frontal area, and incredible balance to nip at the heels of and occasionally just flat beat much larger machinery. In the 1954 Carrera Panamericana, a 2,178-mile open-road race with everything from mountain passes to flat-out desert, the finishing order was as follows: a 4.9-liter Ferrari, a 4.5-liter Ferrari, and two 1.5-liter 550 Spyders.

The early 550s were not particularly sophisticated, with ladder frames and basically Volkswagen suspension front and rear, but they worked extremely well. For 1956, Porsche upped the ante. The new car was called the 550A (also 1500 RS) and had a proper tubular space frame and an “almost five-speed” transaxle, with the engine kicked up to an honest 130 hp. The new chassis was lighter and far stiffer than the earlier ladder frame.

The next iteration was the Type 718 RSK, and it was first seen as a works car in mid-1957. As an interesting bit of trivia, the K had nothing to do with the body (in the Porsche 917K, it stands for “Kurz,” or short). The revised front suspension utilized torsion bar carriers that were shaped like the letter “K” laid flat, hence the name. The carriers were abandoned almost immediately in favor of a coil-spring arrangement, but the name stuck. In 1960, the final form arrived in the RS 60, four inches more wheelbase and a bit wider in the cockpit, with better suspension, frequently carrying 1,600- and 1,700-cc engines. The RS 61 was little changed.


All of the sports racing Porsches, from the 550 through the RS 61, were developmental variations on a theme, and the market pretty much sees them that way. With the exception of cars with specific history (Le Mans winners, etc.) the newer cars are worth more than the earlier ones, and my research suggests that they’re all in the range of $900,000 to $1.1 million or so. So why did this car show up at an auction with a published estimate of $700,000-900,000 and sell for $880,000? Am I missing something? A check of the records shows that the engine isn’t the original one for the car, but with Porsches that’s not a very big deal. The records show that the engine it has (P90403) was a 1962 “Spyder Replacement Engine,” so it’s certainly correct and probably was installed in the era. It apparently has a replacement transaxle and possibly some body panel replacements, but again, it’s not that big a deal on a car like this.

The 1961 RS 61 Sports Racing Spyder was European Hillclimb Champion in 1963 but was driven by a privateer and that’s nothing like a factory team car. Hillclimbs are five-minute sprints and while the car’s history might add cachet in Europe, I don’t think anyone in the States would assign additional value for it.


My best guess is that the price had something to do with the RS 61’s recent history and marketing. It sat for years at Brumos Porsche, painted an ugly black with over-polished interior panels, so most of the Porsche cognoscenti had dismissed it long ago. The guy who bought it did a very nice job of getting it back to silver with a proper interior, and had the engine checked out, but it never saw much public use. I know from personal experience that people are scared to death of four-cam Porsche engines (for good reason; if one goes bang, you’re looking at $30,000), so the fact that it hadn’t been seen proving itself on the track might have made people nervous about buying it.

There’s also a question of the published estimate, which was well below what I’d consider comparable values. Low estimates can get people to start bidding, but they can also create an expectation of what a car is worth, sometimes to its detriment.

I’ll also go out on a limb and suggest that I don’t think Phoenix was the perfect place to auction that car. Phoenix in January attracts buyers for middle-American muscle, more than it does for European cult cars. The RM events at Monterey or maybe Amelia Island might have seen a higher price. On the other hand, the market itself may be softening a bit, in which case we may look back at this sale and view it as a harbinger of a new era of values.

But from what I can discern, it was a very good car that didn’t accomplish what it might have in the marketplace. I’d say that whoever bought it did very well.

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