Introduced in 1953 at the Paris Motor Show, the 550 featured an aluminum body wrapped over a tubular ladder chassis with a mid/rear mounted, 1.5 litre, air-cooled flat-four engine.
Although 2 units were produced with a modified OHV Volkswagen engine, Porsche’s "Type 547" engine, designed by Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann was standard fare for all other 550s.
The unit was very advanced for its day, as it had four camshafts that were all driven by the crankshaft, helping provide 110 bhp (very strong for a vehicle of such light weight). With the quad-cam engine powering it, the Porsche 550 Spyder was capable of performance very comparable to—and in many cases better than — Ferrari and Jaguar models with larger engines. The particularly rare 356 Carrera model was the only other Porsche vehicle ever to feature this powerplant.
Although Porsche had raced with the 356 for several years already, the 550 was distinct in that it was the company’s first purpose-built racecar. The factory succesfully campaigned the 550 in international auto racing, headed by the vehicle’s premier win at the 1954 24 Hours of Le Mans, where it won its class.
Later that year Porsche began a production run of customer cars, building 90 units in total before replacing the original 550 with the extensively reworked 550A in 1956.