This car is indeed for sale

The time has come to set 550-00B1 free. I’m asking $75,000. This has been a gratifying journey no matter the final sale price.

If you’re arriving here from my ad in Hemmings, welcome. This blog documents the build pretty completely going back to my initial purchase of the kit in 2017. If you’re really interested in what I did and how, jump back and read from the beginning. This is a warts-and-all account or a three-plus-year project, so if you’re seriously considering buying this car it might be worth your time.

Heck, if you’re seriously considering buying any plastic 550 replica, it’s probably worth your time.

The car is running beautifully and gets exercised every couple weeks. I was hoping last week to drive it to the Air & Auto Classic in Virginia Beach but a bad weather forecast scuttled that trip. Yesterday I drove it to the cars & coffee show at Hunt Valley Horsepower and it got a lot of positive attention as always.

One admirer told me he was looking to see if he could fit in it, so I notched the seat back two clicks (I’m 5’7) and showed him how. He lowered himself into the car and exclaimed “wow, I could actually drive this thing!”

He was 6’4, trim—probably 210 lbs. Should’ve taken a picture.

So, about my asking price….

This is a special car requiring a special buyer. Anyone looking for one of these knows the market is crazy hot these days, with run-of-the-mill used Becks and Vintage Spyders changing hands for north of $60,000. Five years ago they were half that, and a new build was mid-high 40s depending on options.

Things have changed. For whatever reason (I suspect bubble…but then I always do), prices are up and waiting lists for new builds are long—two years out, last time I checked with Carey at Beck.

So it’s understandable for any potential buyer of this car to assume (as I would in their shoes) that my pricing is simply about greed. Making hay while the sun shines, right?

But that ain’t it.

My asking price represents my money in plus about $15.75 per hour of my labor.

See, it turns out that taking a decade-old, unbuilt early Beck/Thunder Ranch kit and gussying it up to look as much as possible like a real 550 requires a huge expenditure of time and effort. The list of non-kit custom details on this build runs for pages (see below) and, as I’ve often said along the way, matters little if at all to most people who will ever encounter the car.

Most people have no idea what it is, so they also don’t have a clue how it differs from the real deal.

But, if you’re that rare person who does know, and that even more unusual specimen who cares, then all these details do matter. If the reaction the car gets is any indication, even normal people do appreciate the details.

The other thing about these cars generally is they’re loud and clunky and prone to trouble. And this car is somewhat unlike most, in that I have made the necessary modifications to minimize problems. The CB Performance carb linkage is heim-jointed, for example, preventing the slop that typically develops in this part and plays havoc with drivability. The 009 distributor is locked out, used only to send a pulse for a tiny computer, which includes a MAP sensor and is set with what I regard as a very good (perhaps not yet perfect) ignition curve. There’s no off-idle stumble or hesitation. The car just goes.

The engine is a 1915cc Type 1, built by Jake Raby in 2007. If you don’t know, you can look Raby up on the innerwebs. He stopped building Type 1 engines shortly after this run of motors, which he made for Beck/Special Edition, because reliable parts were getting too hard to source. People in the air-cooled hobby know what I mean. Bottom line: Raby made them right until he felt circumstances prevented it, then he stopped. In 10 years, this motor traveled about 1200 miles in a Beck Speedster before its owner wanted more power, and contracted Carey Hines to replace it with a Subaru mill. That’s when I got it from Beck. It’s a stout street engine made to last: Autolinea case, balanced 69mm crank, 8.5-1 compression pistons, Bugpack 044 heads, Engle W125 cam (.460 lift, 260 duration or so), dual valve springs, HD rockers, Weber 44s. The engines in this series all made a little over 120 horsepower at 5500 rpm on Jake’s dyno, with about 125 ft-lbs torque at 4000, and I have no doubt it still does. Given the vehicle weight and torque differentials (7 percent heavier, 50 percent more torque), this car is probably a little faster than an original 550, but not so much as to terrify you. You can drive this car.

The gearbox was gone through by a long-time builder of VW drag boxes, James Sartwell Jr. (his late father was well-known in the Porsche world as well). It features hardened keys, welded 3rd and and 4th synchro hubs, a 3.44 ring and pinion, Super Diff and a stronger aftermarket side cover. The gear ratios were chosen to yield the same speeds at the top of each gear as in the original cars: near 40mph in first, 60 in second, 100 in 3rd and 140 in 4th—but at this engine’s 6000 rpm redline instead of the 4-cam’s little-used 7500.

The alignment and ride height are right. The brakes grab hard (though pedal travel is a bit long). The parking brake works and looks right; it’s not a line-lock like you see on some builds. The clam latches work as they should and don’t pop off while underway (and of course you have the original style turn-key latches to back you up if they did). The gauges work properly. The headlights are properly aimed.

In short, all the details—both aesthetic and functional, have been seen to. The car is sorted.

If you’ve ever owned a hand-built replica, or even known someone who did, you may have an idea of what that’s worth.

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Compare and contrast

As I’ve slowly been sorting the car over the past few months, I’ve taken to amusing myself by trying to replicate some of the pictures of the real 550s I took as inspiration for this build. The hardest part so far is getting the focal length right. Second hardest is the variabilities within the exposures—the way shadows and highlights play. A couple of examples:

This is a photo of 550-0060’s dashboard. That’s the ex-Seinfeld car that was never raced and hardly touched since Max Hoffman moved it along back in the day.

My car:

The interior clamshell detail with the spare tire. I don’t know which car this is, but suspect it’s 550-0090:

And my car:

I’ll keep trying as I gather up pictures and video for the sales effort.

Building T (part 2)

Drove the Spyder the 100 miles or so to Mechanicsburg and then to the Carlisle Import and Performance Nationals last weekend, and the car pleased the crowds in Building T and elsewhere as expected—though not without a few complications.

We started out a few days before with an oil change and a chance to clean up some minor issues.

This sump plate had been dripping just a bit for years—the farthest right stud was short and its acorn nut was missing the copper washer. I bought a new gasket set and changed it out, adding that center drain plug while I was at it. The result? No “marking of the territory” for the first time since I’ve owned the car.

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502 Motorworks is currently auctioning off its second Spyder build on Bring a Trailer [Update 11/3: the $160,000 high bid did not meet reserve]. It is a stunning replica, in all aluminum, of an original 550 late production low-rail car—accurate enough to have received an FIA historic race passport, meaning it is cleared to potentially campaign against real historic race cars including original 550 RS Spyders.

The car, equipped with a Porsche 1500 “Super” pushrod engine, reportedly cost most of $300,000 to build. This puts it in the stratosphere of the replica world. The kind of thing the owner of a real 550 would buy so he’d have something to drive on the road—or the track.

Which is to say, it’s far beyond comparison to my modest home garage effort.

But let’s do it anyway.

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Oil cooler added (and sway bar improvements)

Testing the Spyder on public roads brought new data: she was running too hot. Even on a cool morning, ambient temps 80F, driving easy (30-45mph) on flat roads, the oil temperature gauge crept up past 80, past 100 (i.e. 212F), up near 110C. That’s close to 230F, and at that temp VW gurus say you better shut ‘er down and investigate. Good modern oils like the Brad Penn we’re using don’t really mind those temps, and racers run long-term with oil over 260F.

But 230F in a Type 1 means the heads are probably too hot. Hot heads on a Type 1 engine are bad for longevity.

I ran the car for over an hour one morning, took video, and shut down when the gauge got up over 105C.

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