According to my research, the first time Porsche used the Spyder name was for the 550, a beautiful race car made between 1953 to 1956. The 550 had a mid-engine mounted air-cooled four cylinder engine. Mid-engine, meaning the engine was mounted forward of the rear axle, was in contrast to the 356 (and later 911s) with their rear engine layout. The 550 Spyder got off to a strong start for Porsche, winning the first race it entered, and continued to be a successful race car throughout its run.
The 550 is perhaps most well known for being the car that James Dean died in. He had nicknamed his car “the little bastard”. Dean had been ticketed for speeding just two hours before his fatal accident. The accident involved a collision with a Ford sedan…the little Spyder didn’t stand a chance. Thankfully, Dean’s passenger and the driver of the Ford survived although if you believe all of the stories, the little bastard was cursed and continued to wreak the kind of havoc that you will only find in a Stephen King novel. Dean’s passenger later died in a drunk driving accident and the driver of the Ford of died of lung cancer. The car body and the drivetrain were separated. When unloading the body, it rolled off the trailer and crushed a mechanic’s legs. A thief broke his arm trying to steel the steering wheel. A race car that had the engine of the 500 crashed killing the driver and during the very same race, a different car that had the transmission crashed, severely injuring the driver. While on display, the body rolled off a truck again and broke the hip of a nearby student. After that, during transport, a truck driver lost control of the truck and was thrown from the vehicle, only to have the 550 fall off and kill him. Apparently while in storage, the building burned down and the only thing left was the car, untouched by the fire somehow. It is likely that some, maybe even all of this is nothing more than legend, but it makes for fun research.
Porsche followed up the successful 550 with the 718, a race car built between 1957 and 1962. It improved on the 550’s aerodynamics and suspension and continued with an air-cooled four cylinder mid-engine layout. The 718 was made in a number of configurations throughout the years and had a very successful racing history for Porsche. To the best of my knowledge, there are no known cursed version of the 718…let’s hope that trend continues with the one that I’ve ordered.
Clearly Porsche wanted to send a message when it named their new race inspired street car the 718 Spyder. With such a rich racing heritage, this new car has a lot to live up to.
Personally, I’ve never been strongly drawn to the smaller, mid-engine Cayman or Boxster, at least not enough to overcome my total obsession with the 911. The 911 is the most iconic design in the car world, going all the way back to the first 356. It is the top of the line in the Porsche lineup, the lower cost mid-engine siblings have always been held back a bit. The 911 has the engine in the back and uses 60 years of sorcery to overcome that fact. Hell, my site and Instagram account are 911maniac! So what swayed me? Enter the GT4 and Spyder. Both are 420 horsepower, 6 cylinder naturally aspirated mid-engine sports cars you can get with a manual transmission…perhaps the last of a dying breed as we reach the end of the internal combustion engine. The Spyder checks my most important boxes better than any other car at the moment, performance and design. It has become “the next one“.
Performance...check. Previous modern Spyders were nicely optioned Boxsters. The Boxster is a great car and the Spyder design made it that much more special, but it lacked the full GT car performance and suspension. That changed with the 718 Spyder. Honestly, a more accurate name for the car would be the GT4 Spyder because it is a GT4 in all ways, just with a removable lightweight roof. Same performance, same engaging driving experience, same GT3 race derived suspension, same gearbox…it is a convertible mid-engine race car and a legitimate product of the Porsche GT division. I fell in love with the GT4 the first time I saw it and this has all the benefits plus open top motoring.
Design…check. Wow, just wow. In my opinion, the 718 Spyder is one of the most beautiful cars you can buy right now at any price. Porsche nailed the design. The flying buttress wings on the top, the streamliners on the rear lid, the aggressive and beautiful front end, the functional aero diffuser in the rear. Porsche describes it as “perfectly irrational” but I just call it perfect. You can clearly see elements of the original 550 and 718 and it reminds me in many ways of a baby 918 Spyder, Porsche’s latest hyper car. It is impossible not to fall in love with this car and it looks just as good with the top up as it does down, something that almost no other convertible manages to do. Silver is clearly the throwback color but Seattle is gray enough already so I’ll take mine in white please.