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. Email me via the Hemmings ad or under the “Contact” tab above. Come and take a look. Make an offer.
My asking price is two percent of what a real one costs, for 98 percent of the look and feel.
If you want a new replica 550, it’s currently a two year wait to get one from Beck or Vintage [UPDATE 3/5/2023: Vintage has temporarily stopped taking orders for Spyders]. Those guys make amazing cars, worth the money, worth the wait.
Ask Carey at Special Edition or Greg at Vintage to make your car with the level of detail this one has. They can do it. It will cost you many thousands more than their base 550, and many thousands more than my asking price for this car. It’ll take a while.
Used ones can be had of course. There are always a few for sale here and there. Most need a little work. To make one comparable to this one would take a lot of work. And a lot of money. And a lot of time. If working on them turns your crank like it does mine then, by all means, that’s the way.
But if you really want a 550 tribute with features and details that make it look and feel like a real one, this car right here is a bargain.
If you want one with all that right now—not two or three or four years from now—this is it.
Compare what Stuttgart released in mid-1955 to this car’s interior.
The labels corresponding to the features in the diagram above—which is from the 550 owner’s manual—all correspond to the same features on this car, with the exception of the two small pull switches on the right side of the dash. On the original car, those turn on the dual ignition coils; on this car, the upper one is reserved for the (currently uninstalled) windshield wipers, while the lower one controls the Accusump accumulator and pre-oiler that lubricates the engine even before a cold start.
Compare this car with other replicas. Set them next to the real deal and see how closely they mimic the original cars.
Left: 550-0019, Sebring, March 1956; Right: This car at Mikey & Mel’s Deli Cars & Coffee, August 2022.
Left: 550-0018; Right: This Car.
Left: 550-0051; Right: This car.
Left: 550-0067; Right: This car.
Left: This car; Right: 550-0060
Left: This car; Right: 550-0036
Left: This car; Right 550-0036 (It sold in March, 2022 for a reported $4.2 million)
Compare to other Spyder replicas.
Compare to the real deal.
Compare to a real deal 550 that’s actually been driven as intended.
The engine is a 1915cc Type 1, built by Jake Raby for Beck/Special Edition in 2007—one of the last Type 1 engines he built. It traveled about 1,200 miles before coming into my possession, and in sorting it out and setting the tune I’ve driven it another 3,000 or so since then.
It’s a stout street engine made to last: Autolinea case, balanced 69 mm crank, lightened and balanced flywheel, 8.5-1 compression pistons, Bugpack 044 heads, Engle W125 cam (.460 lift, 262 duration), dual valve springs, HD rockers, Weber 44s. The engines in this series all made a little over 120 horsepower at 5500 rpm on Raby’s dyno, with about 125 ft-lbs torque at 4000. Given the vehicle weight and power differentials (this car is 7 percent heavier, with 40 percent more torque), it’s probably a little quicker than an original 550.
The gearbox is a fresh build featuring 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 set up for Le Mans: 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 race-only 7500.
Not only does this car look more legitimate than most—it also works correctly. The CB Performance carb linkage is heim-jointed, for example, preventing the slop that typically develops in this part and plays havoc with drivability after a few hundred miles. The 009 distributor is locked out, used only to send a pulse for a tiny computer to direct the spark, which includes timing adjustments for Manifold Air Pressure and is set with a very good (perhaps not yet perfect) ignition curve and a 6400 RPM limiter. So there’s none of the off-idle stumble or hesitation you’ll typically get with hot-rodded VW engines sparked by mechanical advance distributors. The car just goes.
The alignment and ride height are right. The brakes—4-wheel discs in lieu of the originals’ drums—grab hard. The parking brake works and looks right; it’s not a line-lock like you’ll 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 aimed.
In short, it’s sorted.
If you’ve ever owned a hand-built replica, or known someone who has, you may have an idea of what that’s worth. If you don’t, consider this video series in which a couple of Porsche mechanics work out the bugs in an older Beck Spyder. Months pass. It’s 10 episodes.Continue reading