Kit car replicas like Factory Five’s Roadsters are boons for enthusiasts looking to get vintage thrills without plonking down huge sums for the originals. But while there are plenty of Cobra replicas to choose from, other classic icons have been rendered in kit form, too. For example, one company sells kits that turn Miatas into vintage Alfa Romeo race car lookalikes. And this week on Bring a Trailer, there’s a chance to bid on a well-known replica of an iconic Porsche racer: a Beck 550 Spyder.
An original Porsche 550 Spyder is a giant-killing—and expensive—racing icon
It’s forever tied to James Dean’s untimely death, but the Porsche 550 Spyder is iconic for other reasons. Although it wasn’t the first Porsche to go racing, it was the German brand’s “first pure racecar,” Road & Track says. And it was very good at its job, winning races at the Nürburgring, 24 Hours of Le Mans, Carrera Panamericana, and the Targa Florio, The Drive notes.
Those successes are a credit to the Porsche 550 Spyder’s engineering, which was fairly advanced for the time. Its all-aluminum 1.5-liter flat-four engine may descend from the original Beetle’s powertrain, but thanks to heavy upgrades, it makes 108 hp and 89 lb-ft. That doesn’t sound like much, but because the 550 Spyder has aluminum body panels and an aluminum spaceframe chassis with a load-bearing dashboard, it only weighs 1,212 lbs.
As a result, these lithe roadsters could easily top 100 mph. And with their rear-mid-engine layout, plus a four-speed transaxle, they could out-handle machines with three times their capacities and cylinders. The Porsche 550 Spyder got even better in ‘550A’ form, with a rear anti-roll bar, new lighter-weight chassis, and more power. It’s no wonder the 550 Spyder is still called a ‘giant killer.’
That reputation, though, came at a price—literally. The 550 Spyder’s rarity and history make it a multi-million-dollar vehicle. A 1956 RS sold at a 2019 RM Sotheby’s auction for over $3.5 million. And just the transaxle from James Dean’s 550 Spyder recently sold for $387,000.
But as with the Shelby Cobra, the replica market has a cheaper solution. It’s called the Beck 550 Spyder.
Want a more powerful Porsche 550 Spyder without paying millions? Get a Beck 550 Spyder
The brainchild of Indiana native Chuck Beck, the Beck 550 Spyder first hit the road in the 1980s. Designed as a fiberglass-bodied homage to the original Porsche 550 Spyder, Beck’s car isn’t a millimeter-perfect copy of the race car, Hagerty notes. However, that’s not a knock on the replica roadster’s build quality by any means. Nor is it a dig at its performance.
Like the original, the Beck 550 Spyder has a tubular-frame chassis, torsion bar suspension, front discs, and rear drums. Rear disc brakes are optional, though. And while it comes as a rolling chassis, with the ‘standard’ powertrain, it’s less than 100 pounds heavier than the original. Plus, like the actual Porsche 550 Spyder, the replica has a Volkswagen-sourced powertrain, complete with a four-speed transaxle.
However, while the original 550 Spyder made do with 108 hp, the ‘standard’ 1.9-liter Volkswagen flat-four Beck uses makes 125 hp. The optional 2165cc version makes 180 hp. And there’s even a model powered by Subaru’s 2.5-liter ‘EJ25’ boxer engine. With a turbo, it easily makes over 200 hp. Hence why Beck gives that 550 Spyder model independent rear suspension and four-wheel disc brakes. But even in its least-powerful form, Beck’s roadster goes 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds.
Being a replica race car, the Beck 550 Spyder doesn’t offer much in terms of luxuries. It has a few gauges, some seats with belts, three pedals, and that’s about it. It doesn’t even have a roof or standard windows. But the seats are leather-upholstered, and you can get amenities like a 12V accessory plug, AM/FM/CD stereo, fire extinguisher, rollbar, and racing harnesses. And, more to the point, Beck’s Spyder offers the same direct steering, fun handling, and visceral driving experience as the original.
There’s a VW-powered 1992-built Spyder up on Bring a Trailer
Today, the Beck 550 Spyder is made by Special Edition, Inc. But it’s much the same car as the 1992 Volkswagen-powered example currently listed on Bring a Trailer.
This particular Beck 550 Spyder’s flat-four engine was enlarged to 2.1 liters by Lock Haven, PA shop European Imports during a recent rebuild. The padded rollbar with a high-mount brake light, Wilwood disc brakes, Schroth four-point harnesses, Gene Berg shifter, and wood-rimmed Nardi steering wheel are Beck options, though. This particular Spyder also has a driver’s side side-view mirror, fire extinguisher, and a tonneau cover.
Originally, this 1992 Beck 550 Spyder had a Gulf livery with gray accents in the wheel wells, BaT notes. Some traces of those accents remain; but apart from a few cracks and chips, the paint is in good condition. Ditto the interior apart from a dashboard scratch. And besides the recent engine rebuild, the roadster also received an oil change in the last six months. Plus, its left axle boot was replaced in 2017.
The Beck 550 Spyder: feel like James Dean on a much smaller budget
As of this writing, this 1992 Beck 550 Spyder is listed on BaT for $15,000 with three days left in the auction. That’s not just a bargain compared to an original Porsche 550 Spyder, it’s also a Beck bargain. A good-condition example like this normally goes for twice as much, Hagerty says. And if you want a brand-new assembled ‘roller’ Beck 550, it starts at about $26,500.
Buying a used kit car can be anxiety-inducing. However, Beck’s replicas are “among the very best of [their] kind,” RM Sotheby’s says. And given how mechanically simple this roadster is, there’s not a lot that can or will go wrong. So, if you want the vintage race car look and experience without dropping a fortune, this Beck replica might be worth considering.
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