The Porsche was one of the stars at the Villa Erba Auction at the end of May with its impeccable restoration, and well-documented ownership chain that was recounted in two private reports by Porsche experts.
550A was Porsche’s first purpose-built competition model. It offered a new lightweight space frame chassis, a fully independent suspension, a five-speed gearbox, and revised coachwork. It differed from its predecessor in a number of ways. The ladder-type frame was replaced by a steel-tube space frame which was both stiffer and lighter, savings 16 kg. The weight of the complete body was reduced by 27 kg, and higher mounting points were added, eliminating many of the predecessor’s body reinforcements. Torsional stiffness of the frame was tripled, and the overall stiffness was five times that of the previous type ladder frame. Overall, the 550A barely weighed 530 kg, excluding fuel, but including the compulsory spare wheel.
The normal rear swing axle was replaced with a low pivot swing axle, and a front anti-roll bar was added. These modifications considerably improved the car's handling. The 550A’s basically unmodified engine was increased to 135 bhp at 7,200 rpm with the compression ratio raised from 9.5 to 9.8:1. The Solex carburetors were replaced by Weber 40 DCM twin-choke downdraft carburetors.
The car sold at the auction, with chassis number 550A-0121 is the 15th 550A built. In March 1957 it was sold to Danish racing patron Preben Andersen, the principal of the Scuderia Palan. Driven by local racing legend Julius Voigt-Nielsen, who triumphed in his first outing at the Grand Prix at Roskilde Ring in April. Voigt-Nielsen earned two more victories with the car, in June and August, and two 3rd-place finishes to end the 1957 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 with Lucille Cardwell as his navigator. After Manussis had an unrelated accident leaving him unable to drive, Cardwell took the wheel alone and twice drove the 550A to victory at the Nakuru Park Motor Circuit in December 1961.
In 1962, the Porsche was bought by 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. He repainted the car blue and entered numerous local events. In 1978, the Porsche was acquired by an Italian collector, Giuseppe Freschi from Brescia. He retained possession for 31 years while entering the Spyder in the Mille Miglia several times, driving the event as recently as 2010.
In 2011, the 550A was acquired briefly by Pierre Asso of France, before selling to the auction consignor. In 2012, the consignor commissioned a specialist for a comprehensive four-year restoration, that returned the car to its original factory appearance in every detail. At the time of the auction, the breathtaking Porsche had only accrued 100 km since its restoration.
The Porsche 550A was one of the highlights at RM Sotheby’s auction at Villa Erba where it was sold for €3.380.000 ($3.8 million).