Meet the Porsche 550one - The Two-Seater Time Forgot
This is Porsche’s tribute to James Dean’s 550 Spyder that never made it into productionby Ciprian Florea, on LISTEN 04:27
Porsche unveiled a handful of previous unseen concept cars back in November 2020, showing us that it considered a road-legal version of the 919 race car, a van, or a 904 revival based on the Volkswagen XL Sport.
The German company unveiled no fewer than 15 concepts, but the 550one isn’t one of them. A two-seater about the size of the Boxster, the 550one was just unveiled online by its creator, Walter de Silva, some 12 years after it was built. As the name suggests, it’s a tribute to the iconic Porsche 550 of the 1950s.
Affectionately called the "Little Bastard," the 550one was commissioned by former Volkswagen Group chief Ferdinand Piech. His idea was to deliver a modern tribute to the 550 Spyder owned by James Dean. The American actor had "Little Bastard" painted across the rear end of his Porsche, so that’s where the nickname of this modern iteration comes from.
Design-wise, the 550one blends styling cues from the older Boxster and design features seen on Porsche models from the 1950s, particularly the 550 Spyder. The front bumper is much cleaner than the regular Boxster, as are the side panels up to the rear fenders. The latter sports three angled vents, while the almost flat engine hood features a twin louver setup borrowed from the old 550. The taillights are unique to this concept and the way they extend on the upper fenders mimic the red stripes on Dean’s car.
The interior is also unique compared to other Porsche models from the era. It features a cleaner dashboard and minimalist door panels with pull loops instead of handles, a vintage-looking shifter, and plenty of exposed aluminum parts. There’s no word as to what lurks under the hood, but the 550one was likely a static full-scale model without a proper drivetrain. Word has it the 550one was originally considered for production, but Porsche eventually axed the project due to its similarity with the Boxster and a decision to invest into the development of the Macan crossover.
Needless to say, the 550one would have made a great limited-edition model for purists.
The 550 was introduced in 1953 as a lightweight, two-door race car inspired by the 356. Powered by small-displacement flat-four engines, the 550 became a successful race car in its first year on the track by winning the Nurburgring Eifel race, the Carrera Panamericana, and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (class win). Its success in the Carrera Panamericana introduced the iconic "Carrera" badge on the 911. The 550 Spyder also won the Targa Florio in 1956. Porsche replaced it with the 718 in 1957, after only 90 units built, but privateers continued to race the 550 toward the 1960s. Because the 550 was road-legal, it was common for privateers to drive it to the race track, race it, and then drive back it home.
Read our full review on the Porsche 550 Spyder
James Dean’s 500 Spyder
James Dean was arguably the most famous owner of a 550 Spyder. Dean got one of the first units built in 1955 by trading in his 356 Super Speedster at Competition Motors.
Dean purchased the car on September 21 and signed up to race at the Salinas Road Race event on October 1. On September 30, only nine days after buying the 550 Spyder, he crashed his Porsche while driving it to Salinas and died. The wrecked 550 was acquired by George Barris, the designer of the 1960s Batmobile, with a plan to rebuild it.
The project was eventually abandoned and the car was loaned to the National Safety Council and displays all over the U.S. in order to raise awareness highway safety. The 550 Spyder mysteriously disappeared in 1960s while it was being transported from Miami to Los Angeles. In 2005, the Volo Auto Museum in Chicago posted a $1 million reward for its purchase, but the car’s whereabouts remain unknown.