A history of the iconic Porsche Spyder name
The legendary open-top Porsche race and road cars that bear the historic Spyder name
Rear of two Porsche 550 Spyder cars on Großglockner Pass
For Porsche, the Spyder name is special. From debuting with the ground-breaking Porsche 550 racecar that won the Carrera Panamericana and Targa Florio to today’s record-breaking 718 Spyder RS, let’s go for a spin through Porsche history
There have been only a handful of cars that Porsche has handed the name ‘Spyder’ to – but such is the reverence that this name is held in by the brand, each car bearing the moniker always a special one. The recent unveiling of the 718 Boxster Spyder RS, in early 2023, means that it’s the perfect time to take a look back at 70 years of Porsche Spyder legacy.The Porsche 550 Spyder – the first-ever Porsche SpyderThe one where it all began. One of the greatest Porsche models of all time, the Porsche 550 Spyder made its debut at the 1953 Paris Motor Show. Stylish, aerodynamic and astonishingly fast for its time, it was the first Porsche model purposely built with the racetrack in mind. And it delivered from the outset – so much so that it won the first race it entered, the 1953 Nürburgring Eifel. Such was its success on the track that the 550 Spyder quickly earned the nickname of The Giant Killer for its ability to beat bigger, more powerful racing cars.Between 1953 to 1956 just 90 Porsche 550 Spyder racecars were built, but this limited number did not diminish the brand’s impact on the world of motorsport. After its triumph at the Nürburgring, the 550 model continued to impress with back-to-back victories at prestigious racing events like the Carrera Panamericana and the Targa Florio. It was particularly impressive at Le Mans, notching five class victories between 1953 and 1958.
Porsche 918 Spyder in Central Park, New York City
With its astounding hybrid engine and striking design, the Porsche 918 Spyder changed perceptions about what a sports car could be
Evidence of the innovative engineering that went into developing the 550 Spyder – a trademark of Porsche, of course, since its earliest days – was everywhere. It sat low to the ground and weighed in at just 590kg for optimum racing efficiency. Its low-slung design came in handy during the 1954 Mille Miglia, when legendary German driver Hans Herrmann was famously forced to drive it under railway crossing gates as they were closing. The beating heart of the 550 Spyder was its air-cooled, four-cylinder boxer engine – known as the Fuhrmann engine – which delivered 110PS and had a top speed of almost 220km/h. For easier identification during the races, Porsche factory team cars were adorned with colourful spears on the rear wings, with Herrmann‘s ‘red tail’ car number 41 becoming a legend in its own right.The Porsche 909 Bergspyder – the lightest-ever PorscheA number of Spyder models immediately followed the 550 Spyder, like the 718 Spyder RS 60, which finished runner-up in the 1960 World Supercar Championship. Then, just over a decade later, along came a racecar that was compact in nature and yet whose design would have a significant influence on both Porsche racecars and sportscars to come – the Porsche 909 Bergspyder. When it made its debut in 1968, it was designed with a specific purpose in mind – to secure the top spot in the European Hillclimb Championship. Weighing in at an astonishingly light 384kg including oil and fuel, it remains the lightest car that Porsche has ever built. In a sport where every second counts and the battle is against gravity itself, the lightweight construction of the Porsche 909 gave it a decisive edge, landing it second and third places in the 1968 European Hillclimb Championship. The 909 Bergspyder was powered by a Type 771 flat-eight engine that allowed it to sprint from 0-100km/h in just 2.4 seconds and reach top speeds of 250km/h. The engine, in combination with a pressurised titanium ball that delivered fuel to the engine instead of a heavier fuel pump, and the racecar’s lightweight fibre-glass body helped ensure that the 909 could navigate the sharp twists, turns and rapid ascents of hillclimb racing with unprecedented finesse.Although its time in the spotlight was brief (only two units were ever built), the impact of the Porsche 909 Bergspyder cannot be underestimated. It demonstrated the ability of Porsche to innovate and adapt to specific racing disciplines. Furthermore, its focus on weight saving influenced future Porsche designs and underlined the importance of lightweight construction in racing. For example, it would spawn the 908/03 racecar, which in 1970 grabbed a famous one-two finish at the 1000km of Nürburgring. More recently, its colour and name also inspired the special edition Porsche Boxster Bergspyder in 2015.
Silver Porsche 550 Spyder with original racing livery on road
Racing driver and Porsche brand ambassador, Mark Webber, at the wheel of a Porsche 550 Spyder
Why the 918 Spyder is one the great Porsche sportscarsWhen the Porsche 918 Spyder was launched in 2014, it had people reaching for the superlatives. With its lightweight construction, innovative hybrid power unit and incredible performance, it rewrote the rulebook for what a sportscar could be. Added to that, it boasted the kind of classic, head-turning looks that still look fresh almost a decade after it made its debut.This was a car that was bursting with innovation – but if you’re going to start anywhere, there is no better place than its engine. The primary source of power for the 918 Spyder was a 4.6-litre V8 that delivered around 578PS of power and roared its way up to 9000rpm. This was twinned with a pair of electric motors – 115 kW electric motor on the rear axle and a 95 kW one on the front – that meant that the 918 Spyder could be powered at the rear axle both individually by the combustion engine or electric motor as well as jointly by both drives. This all translated into phenomenal performance, with a top speed of 345km/h and a 0-100km/h time of 2.6 seconds. Here was a car that featured cutting-edge engineering tech of the kind seen in Formula 1 but available for customers to drive on the road.The monocoque structure of the 918 Spyder was made primarily from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, ensuring both strength and lightness. The car‘s adaptive aerodynamics, which included an adjustable rear wing, provided optimum downforce in varying conditions, translating to incredible stability even at high speeds. Its roof panels were removable and could be stored in the front storage compartment, while an unmistakable feature is its heavily perforated engine compartment, with the engine’s top pipes exiting seemingly from the cockpit itself. Although the 918 Spyder was a road car, its motorsport DNA was undeniable. It shattered records, notably on the Nürburgring Nordschleife, where it became the first production car with factory-fitted tyres to break the seven-minute barrier, clocking an incredible 6 minutes and 57 seconds at the hands of former Porsche factory team driver Marc Lieb in September 2013. This is a modern-day Porsche truly worthy of the Spyder name.The most powerful Porsche mid-engined roadster ever: the 718 Spyder RSFast forward – very quickly – to 2023 and there’s a new Spyder in town. The 718 Spyder RS is the most powerful mid-engined, open-top Porsche sports car to date. Producing 500PS from its 4.0-litre, naturally aspirated engine – also seen in 911 GT3 Cup cars – it delivers 80PS more power than the 718 Spyder without the RS designation and, at 1410kg, it’s some 40kg lighter too. Its lightweight structure, firm but pliable suspension and significant reserves of grip make for exceptional handling. It loves nothing more than being taken out on twisting, undulating roads.The 718 Spyder RS may be a road car but its DNA is pure Porsche Spyder racecar, where saving weight to enhance performance is key. You can see it in the striking carbon fibre-reinforced plastic slats and black air intakes, while the lightweight soft top – which can be used as a sunshade and weather protection – can be removed completely for an authentic roadster experience, helping to shave 8kg off the overall vehicle weight when the roof is left at home.
Porsche Boxster Bergspyder and Porsche 909 Bergspyder nose-to-nose
The original Porsche 909 Bergspyder (right) is dwarfed by the limited edition Boxster Bergspyder of 2015
Coupled with a seven-speed PDK gearbox, the roadster sprints from 0-100km/h in just 3.4 seconds and can reach a top speed of 308km/h. And just to underline its credentials, the 718 Spyder RS experience is enhanced by the unique, addictive tone produced by its stainless-steel sports exhaust system – especially when the roof is down in full Spyder mode. Why is it called Porsche Spyder?Like many automotive terms, this one goes back a long way. There are a number of theories as to the origin of the name ‘spider’ or ‘spyder’ when it comes to motoring. One of the more far-fetched ones is that it was the result of a misunderstanding – an Italian journalist once misheard the name of the Porsche 550 Speeder, leading to the misprint ‘Spider’. A more historical – and believable – explanation for its provenance is the Spider Phaeton carriages of the 18th century. These open-top, lightweight carriages featured large, spindly wheels that people said resembled the legs of an arachnid. With the advent of the motor car, the nomenclature was adopted by early car makers, who used many of the construction techniques in making carriages in this new technology. Today, both ‘spider’ and ‘spyder’ are used interchangeably for two-seater, open-top cars. The moniker ‘spyder‘, then, is a nod to the past – although for Porsche, it will continue to point to the future.
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