Michael May - Porsche 550 (chassis 550-031)

Porsche entered 2 works cars for the 1956 Nurburgring 1000 km.  Instead of the previous ladder-type tubular frame, the Porsche 550 Spyder now had a tubular space-frame. The body changed slightly too. The improved version of the Porsche 550 Spyder weight in at approximately 530kgs, with spare wheel and an empty fuel tank.  Hans Herrmann and Richard von Frankenberg teamed up in the Porsche 550 Spyder #20 (chassis 550A-0102). The new team member of the works team, Umberto Maglioli, shared the wheel of the Porsche 550 Spyder #21 ( chassis 550A-0101) with Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips.  One would expect that the eyes of the world focussed on the improved version of the Porsche 550 Spyder.

Michael May and his winged Porsche 550 Spyder

However, it was a young guy from Switzerland who drew the attention. May showed up at the training of the 1956 Nurburgring 1000 km in his Porsche 550 Spyder (chassis 550-031),with a huge reversed wing attached over the cockpit of the car.

Ttechnical drawings of the inverted wing.

Michael May realised he had quite a car at his disposal. But his ambition reached further. May remembered he once saw a picture of an Opel rocket-powered car that had inverted wings to generate downforce. And more downforce meant he could gain some speed. he elected to place a single large aerofoil above the cockpit of the car, being mindful of keeping the center of pressure in the middle of the mid-engined chassis. As you can see on both the drawings and the pictures, the inverted wing is placed right at the spot where the driver needs to get in the car. A fixed wing would make it quite difficult to get in. So May installed a set of hinges that allowed him to tilt the wing. That cleared the way for the driver to enter the car. 

While driving Michael May could manipulate the position of the wing. In corners he would position it in a way to create more downforce. At a straight line, May placed the wing in a more horizontal position to reduce resistance and gain more speed.

From disbelief to disqualification

Michael May- 1956 Nurburgring 1000km
Michael May- 1956 Nurburgring 1000km

As May suspected troubles to enter the race, he had his wing sanctioned months before. At his arrival, opponents look with great eyes to his winged Porsche 550 Spyder and shake their heads with disbelief. However, after the training,  May has proven the efficiency of his wing, achieving a 4th time overall, beating far more powerful opponents and professional drivers like Stirling Moss and the drivers of the Porsche works team From then on politics start. Huschke von Hanstein, the Porsche race leader, and Paul von Guilleaume, the race director, bring the bad news.

Michael May is only allowed to start the race when he removes the wing. The official statement was : “The wing would obstruct the view of the opponents behind him. On top of that, it would be too dangerous in case the wing brakes. Both drivers and spectators could get hurt. And with the disaster that struck in Le Mans the year before, they could take no risks. ”


Racing without a wing

 Michael May initially wanted to participate at the 1956 Nurburgring 1000 km with just one goal and that was to bring home victory.  Now, he realised that without the use of the wing that is impossible. However he decides to start the race. His only reason for doing so was to completie a few laps that would pay him his entry fee back. The Porsche factory team has more succes in the race. Wolfgang graf Berghe von Trips and Umberto Maglioli finish 4th overal and win their class, despite having lost 2nd gear. Richard von Frankenberg and Hans Herrmann cross the line in 6th position and take 2nd place in class.

In 2017, Michael May’s Porsche 550 Spyder showed up at the Techno Classica in Germany where it sold immediately. Later Porsche 550A-0101 made appearance at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, and at the GP Ice Race in Zell am See

Pictures courtesy unknown and Porsche AG