By the early fifties Porsche found that modified production cars would no longer win races. The Gmünd coupes had begun the marque’s sporting tradition. Frankfurt VW distributor Walter Glöckler and friend of the house of Porsche had followed with his eigenbau (homemade) specials. It was time Porsche themselves designed a car specifically for racing.
The 1498cc production car engine was “improved” for higher power and fitted with twin-choke Solex 40 PII downdraft carburetors. An external oil cooler in the nose joined the wet-sump lubrication system. Like Glöckler, Porsche contracted Weidenhausen of Frankfurt for the alloy bodies of the two cars being readied for the 1953 season. With Le Mans in mind, a coupe was planned, but the first car finished competed as a roadster in its initial race at the Nürburgring. Because it rained, Helm Glöckler (Walter’s cousin) would have preferred the display car to have had its hardtop but he fought the wet weather, Borgward and EMW, as well as carburetion problems – and won. Victory the first time out for any race car is a good thing.
At Le Mans, Hans Hermann joined Helm Glöckler in 550-01 and two driver-journalists –Richard von Frankenberg and Paul Frère – took 550-02. During practice with coupe tops fitted, the Porsches realized 124 mph on the Mulsanne straight but at a hellish price for the drivers. Still, claustrophobia, the lack of ventilation, and an almost unbearable noise level were inconveniences grudgingly endured for the speed advantage. The two cars were within a lap of each other for the entire 24 hours and crossed the finish line at the same interval at which they started. Le Mans scorers abhorred a tie, so a little more distance was found for 550-02, and the journalists took both the 1500 cc class and a new record. Season’s end found the cars on their way to Guatemala and a group of Porsche enthusiasts headed by Jaroslav Juhan who raced them in the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico (550-02 took its class) and the 1000-Kilometer Race in Buenos Aires (550-01 won) as well as at Sebring, among other races. “These incredible Porsches,” Autosport said. “Potent Porsches” headlined Autocar. The 550 showed three continents Porsche was serious about racing.
Photos – Peter Harholdt
Most race cars were non-competitive after their first campaign — the 1927 Vauxhall was competitive for 23 years (1927–1950) and you can see it in person. Learn more