Porsche Spyder 550
The Porsche Spyder became famous as the car driven by ultra-cool actor James Dean. The young Hollywood star Dean spent the earnings from his first two films importing a silver Spyder 550 he called “The Little Bastard” from Germany at huge cost.
Dean was working on his final film, Giant, with co-star Alec Guinness, who purportedly had a premonition the first time he saw the Spyder. Guinness told Dean if he got into the car, he would be dead within a week.
A week to the day, the 24-year-old star crashed his Spyder 550 at top speed into a Ford Tudor and was killed instantly. Donald Turnupseed, the driver of the Ford, survived. The wreck of Dean’s car was supposedly cursed - it is claimed that everyone who got involved with it met some misfortune until it disappeared forever.
The Spyder was a lightweight mid-engined, rear-wheel-drive racer with few compromises for road use. The ladder-frame tubular steel chassis supported a hand-built aluminum body with a tiny windscreen. The idea was for customers to race it at weekends and use it on the road during the week.
The 550 was so low slung that one racer famously drove it under the closed barriers of a railway crossing during the 1954 Mille Miglia - it narrowly missed the on-coming train. The Spyder won at Nurburgring in its first race, went on to win its class at Le Mans and establish Porsche as a major force in motor sport right up to the present.
The air-cooled engine was a comparatively small 1.5-litre flat-four unit but it produced 110bhp at a screaming 7800rpm, thanks to its complex and temperamental design involving twin-carbs, dual distributors and four camshafts.
Only 135 Spyder 550s were built in the factory. Since then a large number of replicas have been made but very few originals remain. Experts believe there are only between 12 and 15 left in the world. This scarcity means their auction value today would be at least $1 million (£500,000).
Engine: 1.5-litre twin-cam flat four
Design: mid-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-door convertible
Acceleration: 0-60 in 8.2 secs
Top speed: 137mph/221kph
Features: hand-built aluminium body
Price then: $17,500