Hub leak

If you’ve arrived here from my ad in Hemmings, welcome. This is my 550 Spyder and it’s for sale, and while it’s for sale I’ll be maintaining it as one does any car, and reporting what I find and any fixes or upgrades. This one’s gonna be a fix. [Update—see below—it is fixed].

On Sunday I rolled the Spyder off the lift for its spring startup. Disconnected the trickle charger, pumped the tires up a little (22 front, 26 rear), checked the oil, which I’d changed just before I parked it in November, climbed in, turned on the key and pulled the fuel pump switch. It whined to life so after a few seconds I pulled the Accusump switch and watched the oil pressure light go out, pumped the pedal twice, pressed the starter, paused, heard the fuel pump’s whine get a third lower, pressed again and we had liftoff.

After about 20 seconds, the engine settled into a nice idle at about 900 RPM, and I got out and walked around the car, poked my head under it in search of oil drips (none), then got back in and eased her up the road.

I ran about 10 miles in the warm spring sun, taking it easy as the oil temperature slowly climbed toward 80C. Shifts were clean and trouble-free, the engine revved and pulled fine to the leisurely 4,000 RPM shakedown speed. No smoke, no weird smells or sounds greeted me, clutch felt normal (with that very slight chatter it has), brake pedal firm. I revved her to 5000 in second once on the way back and got a taste of that glorious “on cam” sound.

All went perfectly, except for one thing. Turning left onto my main road in the home stretch, a hit the brakes a little harder and heard—thought I heard—the left rear wheel lock up.

Once home I checked for drips again, noting nothing on the ground, lifted the clam and saw some spots in the driver’s fender well. Oil. Looking down I could see more of it on the inside of the wheel. It’s that thick, greasy 90-wt gear oil we all love so much.

Welp, we can’t have that.

The swing axle hubs are the bane of VW hobbyists. Leaks here are incredibly common, both as a result of normal assembly errors, poorly-manufactured seal kits, and it is even said one of the culprits is the imprecise machining on the aftermarket disc brake mounting brackets. Perhaps I was lucky this hadn’t happened previously.

Tonight I finally got after it, jacking the car, pulling the wheel and “drum skin” off, then taking apart the hub.

Man, that’s nasty.

I might, while I’m at it, replace these big goofy accordian-style axle boots with the more svelt ones I have.

Update (April 2): Finished up, refilled the transaxle and test-drove. Seems good, no leaks. I’ll take out out again this week and thrash it to make sure.

Update 4/5/23: Longer test drive indicates the leak is fixed.


Buy this Spyder

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.

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Here are the Road Scholars explaining their choices in a 550 restoration.

“After the finished metalwork was sealed in epoxy primer, it was sanded and prepped to show as many of the original construction details as possible once the GT Silver paintwork was laid down.

“Historically, these cars have been over-restored and these imperfections have been smoothed and filled. We chose to leave the hammer marks, gas welds and slight deviations in the cabin, door jams and front trunk after studying the construction and finishes of the last 550 Spyder and most original example in existence, chassis 550-0090.”

I built the blue car in the same spirit, leaving in hammer marks and even creating simulated weld fillets to better ape the original cars as they really were, and not necessarily how they were rebuilt and restored in the 1990s and 2000s. I hope these guys’ expertise converts a few Porsche people to the merits of my choices.

(From Roads Scholars Instagram)

Annapolis 4/24/22

Ran the Spyder about 40 miles down to The City Dock at the state capital this morning for the cars & coffee they have there every Sunday. The car took a bit of coaxing to start cold; not sure why exactly other than it had not been started in a couple weeks. Then it ran well, although with ambient temps in the low 50s I was a bit chilly driving over the Key Bridge.

I got there just at 8 am and backed in next to a Lamborghini. Then this lovely, just refurbished 356 C Cabriolet parked across from me.

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Cold Start

Nice day today so I rolled the Spyder off the lift and into the sunlight and fired her up for a short jaunt around town. She started easily, idled smoothly and ran well. After she came up to temperature I ran her to 5800 RPM or so through first and second gear and that was as fun and undramatic as always. I wanted to see if any oil would drip from the oil pressure and temperature sending unit, and I expected some would. But none did, according to the paper towel I wiped around and under those fittings on my return.

Here’s the initial start, unedited. My phone was just propped on a trash can and that’s why it shifted after the car started.

This car is still for sale.

Addendum: I’ve heard enthusiasts wax poetic about the sounds Porsche engines make, in contrast to those of lowly VW engines. There are men who claim they can tell a Super 90 from a hopped-up Type 1 at 50 paces, whether at trackside or from across a crowded concourse. And the sound of a Four-Cam? It’s an otherworldly thing, Mythical and seldom heard but then easily distinguishable from a CB Performance VW engine by almost anyone.

Or so I am told.

So here is a startup video of the ex-Jean Behra 550-0067 from its appearance at The Quail several years ago. Worth hearing, and contrasting, imho.

This car is indeed for sale

UPDATE (11/19/2021) The car is still available! My prospective buyer put down a non-refundable deposit, drove 2000+ miles from Utah with a trailer, inspected the car intently (he’s a former insurance appraiser), pronounced it very good, lowered himself in the driver’s seat for half an hour, discussed adjusting the pedals to get more leg room (can be done, I think!) agreed to meet at the bank this morning to consummate the deal, then called last night with misgivings: his hips hurt; he doesn’t fit comfortably in the driver’s seat. This morning he canceled the sale.

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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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