The Porsche 550 Spyder, which was first exhibited at the 1953 Paris Salon and featured the four-camshaft-engine developed by Dr. Ernst Fuhrmann, a four-speed transmission and a differential lock, was not only an immediate success but was also admired for its harmonious shape. Its light-alloy monocoque body, a so-called integral body-frame with floor frame, flowed smoothly from the front end, over the wings and to the rear.
The flat frame consisted of welded tubing. Internally designated Type 547, the air-cooled 1,500-ccm four-cylinder engine was equipped with four overhead camshafts and had a power output of 110 bhp at 7,800 rpm. Thanks to ongoing further development, it represented the greatest trump card held by Porsche in motor racing until 1961.
This was demonstrated in the early 50s during the Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, a 3,000-km long-distance race across the country. This is where Porsche wrote a chapter in racing history — unintentionally at first. The main aim in 1954 was to prove the performance capability of the new 117-bhp engine with four camshafts in the 500 Spyder.
Sponsor logos from Fletcher and Telefunken, the companies supporting racing director Huschke von Hanstein for the event in Mexico, also appeared for the first time on a Porsche factory car. With the passenger seat covered, the Spyder achieved sustained speeds of more than 200 km/h (124 mph) on the long straightaways of the Carrera Panamericana. The vehicle’s low weight made it superior to most of its large-displacement rivals.
Hans Hermann came in third and Jaroslav Juhan came in fourth overall behind the two Ferrari factory cars, which was an impressive double victory in the sports-car class up to 1,500 ccm.