With only 90 examples built between 1953 and 1956, the 550 is one of the rarest Porsches ever made. It was also the brand’s first purpose-built racing car, using an aluminum body and a steel tube frame (via RM Sotheby’s). From the standard 356, it inherits an air-cooled 1.5L boxer four-cylinder, first derived from the Volkswagen Beetle. This engine has been upgraded with dual overhead camshafts, boosting output to 110 horsepower, plenty for its lightweight 1,200-pound chassis (via the Type 550). It also featured a dry-sump oil system to keep the engine running during long endurance runs.
The 550 ran events at Le Mans, as well as the Mille Miglia road rally in Italy. The car is known for taking a class victory in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana, which spanned nearly 2,000 miles through Mexico. Since then, the Carrera name has appeared on many Porsche sports car models, starting with a twin-cam version of the 356 (via Bonhams).
A notable 550 racer is Ken Miles, who would go on to become a leading figure in Ford and Shelby racing (via Motorsport). Another car belonged to famous actor James Dean, whose life was tragically ended when he drove it to a track event in 1955. The vehicle is said to have been traveling down the California highway at 85 miles per hour when an oncoming car made a sudden left turn. The two collided and Dean died at the scene. The Porsche was destroyed and its remains have since disappeared (via Hagerty).