Porsche Spyder cars
Carel Godin de Beaufort started racing during a period of change. After the awful accident at Le Mans in 1955 racing continued, but the carefree atmosphere gradually disappeared while professionalism made its entrance. The same applied to Carel. He started racing when Porsche started to build Porsche Spyders. And they both grew in results and professionalism during that period.
Carel became well known through his open-wheeled Porsches 718 F2 racing cars, but Carel raced a lot of Porsche Spyders during his short career. The closed wheels and all aluminium bodies, and head and rear lights were the big differences between these sports cars and his F2 cars.
Carel's first open Porsche was the famous 550 Spyder. This came after his possession of a Porsche 1500 Super and 356 Carrera which affected him with the Porsche virus. The 550 Spyder was developed as a road car as well as a racing car. The 550 was then further developed but unsuccessfully in its first year, although it won its first race in the 1500cc class. The small engine wasn’t slow, but it wasn’t quick either and the handling wasn’t good enough to be competitive against specialist constructors such as Cooper and Lotus.
Porsche 550 Spyder video
Porsche immediately responded with the much improved 550A. This car adopted a sort of space frame construction, which made the car lighter and stronger than the 550, which had a traditional ladder frame. It got a 1587cc four-cam engine, which was ample for the 530kg car. The rear suspension was improved, because the traditional Porsche swing-axle used on the Auto Unions wasn’t delivering great handling on the small and light Spyder. In 1956 the 550A proved to be capable enough to be successful in racing events all around the world. The engineers made it better and better and Grand Prix drivers were fond with this new car.
At Le Mans in 1957, Porsche introduced the 718 RSK. The RSK was developed after the 550A, but it was actually the first Porsche built for racing purposes only. The 550A was also used on the road, but the RSK was a true racing car. RS stands for RennSport (Motor Sport) and K for the suspension, as the shape of the joined support tubes of the suspension looked like the letter ‘K’ on its side. 718 was the internal number for the chassis design. After developing the first RSKs during the winter of 1957-'58 Porsche changed the RSK from an unimpressive performer into a thrill booster. And we are not just talking about speed. The mechanics, engineers and drivers were thrilled when they saw their instant success. At the end of the season the car ensured a resounding equal second to Ferrari (with Aston Martin) in the World Sportscar Championship.
One of the biggest plusses of the RSK was reliability. They were underpowered compared with their rivals but the remarkable 547 engine almost never broke down. These little cars handled was so well, especially on difficult tracks like the Nürburgring or on the Targa Florio that they made good class winners in many races. In 1959, after the RSK won the Targa Florio (a 550A finished second and two 356 Carreras 4th and 5th), all Porsches were driven home to Zuffenhausen! Le Mans was a disaster, however. Every Porsche that entered retired with failures.
At the AVUS-Ring, Carel had his first big accident. As it was pouring down on the North Curve bricks were slippery and his RSK flew over the banking. He was lucky to survive and drove back to the track. Jean Behra, who also drove Porsche Spyders for a couple of years, wasn’t that lucky. His RSK went out of control on the same slick bricks and he hit a concrete construction from a Second World War anti-aircraft gun. He was flung out of the car and hit a flagpole.
The RSK was updated to the RS60 model in 1960 (RennSport ’60). During the same time the 718 Formula 2 car was introduced. Both cars were based on the 718 chassis. The RS60 made it very difficult for cars like the Ferrari Dino and Maserati Birdcage. The RS60 took second (equal in points with first-place winner Ferrari) in the sports car championship and it had won the Targa Florio again. The works RS60s for le Mans always carried a small screen, fit around the cockpit and a with full-width fairing behind it. It lowered the drag of the original full-width windscreen.
The RS60 became RS61 in 1961. Not many upgrades were placed on the car and chassis specification still remained 718. Porsche started experimenting with closed versions during that period. It’s hard to see the differences between some models. There were the 356B 2000 GS GT, the Porsche Carrera Abarth GTL which had a 356 structure, and the RS60/61 Coupé with 4 and 8 cylinder engines, normal and wishbone front suspensions and even six-speed transmissions at the end. Porsche made it even more difficult to keep its cars apart when the engineers designed an open version based on the RS61 Coupé! This Spyder was now nicknamed ‘Grandmother’, but came officially known as W-RS. The original rear hump that characterised the RS60 was deleted. It improved cooling and carburettor breathing. The W-RS was given clear headlamps covers, which we later saw on the 904.
Porsche also designed a new 2-litre engine, the 587. It had a lot of torque and was destined for the road-going Carrera 2. After that, the W-RS Spyder 718-based chassis was enlarged by 10cm to allow the 2-litre 8-cylinder 771 engine to be fitted into the car. The 2.30m wheelbase would be used for next-generation Porsche racing cars. By raising their capacity these engines became Porsche's true Formula 1 engines, but it all started with the road-going Porsches that became genuine racing cars.
The car with chassis number 055 is currently owned by London-based German banker Dietrich Hatlapa. The car still carries the name of C. De Beaufort on the top site of the doors, just like it was during the Le Mans 24 hours of 1960, when Carel and Dickie Stoop drove this car until it broke down on Sunday morning with distribution problems.
As used to happen to a lot of European racing and sportscars, the RS60 found its way to the United States after its spell on the world's stage was over. It stayed there from the 70s through to the late 80s and was raced a lot by its then-owner, who claims that it was brought to the US in the 60s by Ben Pon. It was originally hauled over for a single North American race but was then sold to a short-term US/Canadian owner, who sold it on to the aforementioned long-running owner.
In 2003 it was purchased by Hatlapa, who had it restored by Warren Eads of renowned classic 4-cam Porsche specialist Spyder Sports from Rancho Palos Verdes, California. After that, Warren followed up with a restoration of Carel's centre-seat RSK.
Dietrich entered the RS60 for a couple of historic events on the United States West Coast, including the Coronado event at San Diego in October 2003 (see picture below), before shipping it to the UK and then back to its German birthground. There, after an engine change, the plan to enter the car for the 2004 autumn Eifel Klassik at the Nürburgring fell through after the event was cancelled, but it raced in the 2005 AvD Oldtimer GP at the Nürburgring and again in the 2006 Le Mans Classic where the car came 7th with its team of drivers. The car is now on display at Dr. Raeker's Porsche Museum at Lemgo.
Because of the current safety rules for historic motor sports in the USA, the car is now carrying a roll bar. There is also a huge mirror attached in front of the driver.
Hatlapa racing RS60 #055 at San Diego. (Dietrich Hatlapa archive)