The Olympics of Porsche
October 2nd, 2015
For an event that only comes around every four years, it is always full of unbridled anticipation and for the 58,000 strong Porsche fanatical ticket holders who attended RRV, they were not disappointed. For me it had been six months in the making to prepare for a week of non-stop Porsche obsession.
It was a ‘money can’t buy’ experience and from the size of the carry-on suitcase I took, I wasn’t there for the LA outlet shopping. I left Melbourne, Australia 12:30pm on Sunday with a 15 hour flight into LAX. After crossing the International date line, time stood still as I arrived at 12:20pm the same day. My first dose of Porsche for the week came in the form of my mate Dan’s current model Boxster which took me from the airport to the LA burbs to stay with friends who own 550-0088. The car was in the shop with the engine and transmission out for repairs. It was very unfortunate as it was planned to attend the RRV display and in true Spyder style driven up, not trailered.
With the car in parts it gave me a great opportunity to study the construction and detailed finishes it takes to assemble these cars together. Every other week I get an email from someone who has this great idea of building their own alloy Spyder. Even those with the coach building skills to forme aluminum into curved shapes, the Spyder is one of the most complex cars to build and should really be left to the handful of experienced craftsmen who know what they are doing. There is a saying – ‘the devil is in the detail’ and when it comes to Spyders, it is so true. Looking at the body of 550-0088 which is still very much in its original condition, you can see the hand formed craftsmanship that came out of the Wendler factory. Porsche designed for function, and in the case of the 550, form followed function to create the beautiful body to match.
The next day saw me travelling south into the Arizona desert to see another original being restored. My steed for the day was a 6 speed 993 4S Porsche which was a beast in itself and a buzz to drive the 200 odd miles each way from our base just out of Palm Springs. The 550 was about 2/3 complete and looked like hundreds of hours had been spent in the complicated process of shaping and assembly. To do these cars properly, you need both photographic and physical reference to see how each section is riveted into the next and as most of the part fittings don’t exist anymore, they had to be fabricated to the exact specifications which came from the factory. Many say that Porsche borrowed parts from VW and the 356 to build the 550, but in reality, there are very few that are interchangable. Luckily for this build there was another 550 being restored at the same time there and detailed measurements were taken and utilised.
It was time to drive up north to Monterey and 9 hours later I arrived at a small Danish inspired town of Solvang to overnight before the last leg to Monterey where I checked in late Thursday to catch up on my sleep in preparation for three days of everything Porsche.
The organization of the event was flawless from the moment you drove up the windy road to the Laguna Seca track. Even those who thought they could get away with parking their SUVs close to the entry gate in the allocated Porsche parking area found their cars towed away on their return. The atmosphere on the Friday was pure Porsche porn with the paddock area wall to wall from Gmund race classics to LeMan 917s in Gulf livery – definitely something for every connoisseur of the German marque.
Unlike RRIV where it was a total eye opening experience for me not knowing where to start, RRV was an event where I would catch up face-to-face with many people I had connected with over the last few years to discuss our mutual passion for 550s. It was very humbling to meet people like Tomas Lopez standing next to 550-01 in the Choppard exhibition tent whose father Salvador raced the car in the 1954 Carrera Panamericana race. Along with 550-01 was 550-0073 which was originally owned by Paul Sagan and now part of an expansive private Porsche collection. The owners bought across more than a dozen cars to display for the event and were great to discuss their unique Spyder in detail.
There was only one RS Spyder racing which was the French blue 550-0034. Bob Baker has owned and raced the car for a long time, buying it from the original owner Gonzague Olivier in France. Only recently I have found some vintage photos of the car which will now help in putting together the race history of the car.
Another Spyder I have been working with the owner to sort out its complicated provenance is 550A-0116. This car was also on the track for the first time in the livery of its supposed original owner Jack McAfee with #88.
Besides meeting many owners and 550 enthusiasts, I met racing legends like Jurgen Barth who has intimate knowledge of the racing Porsches of the 50s. He was able to answer a number of questions I had about some of the cars but also threw in a few curve balls which will now need a lot of research to sort out. Spending 9 hours each day at the track sounds like a long time, but there was so much to see and absorb from the display laps, car parks featuring hundreds of each model built by Porsche to the vendor stands. Where else would you see fifteen custom 918 Spyders lined up next to each other?
Monday was spent packing and coming to terms with LA peak hour traffic to get the rental car back on time before I flew out Monday night. So many memories to last for another four years…