The year 1954 heralded the gripping and ultimately successful debut of the four-cam “Fuhrmann” engine in Le Mans. Belgium’s Johnny Claes and Pierre Stasse won the class to 1,500 cc with the 110 hp (81 kW) four-cylinder unit, after Richard von Frankenberg/ Helm Glöckler and Hans Herrmann/Helmut Polensky were forced to retire with overheated piston tops. A Porsche also won the class to 1.1 liters: It was the 550 Spyder driven by Frenchman Gustave Olivier and his American teammate Zora Arkus-Duntov. The latter, incidentally, will go home, turn General Motors around, and make the Corvette into an American legend. All 550 Spyder entries were under Porsche KG.
For the first time, Porsche drivers occupied all three steps of the (class) podium in 1955, after Richard von Frankenberg/Helmut Polensky in the works-550 Spyder, Wolfgang Seidel/Olivier Gendebien and Helm Glöckler/Jaroslav Juhan in this order scored the first three places in the class to 1,500 cc. In the class up to 1.1 litres, the Porsche 550 Spyder also proved unbeatable: Double victory for Zora Arkus-Duntov/Auguste Veuillet ahead of Gustave Olivier and Josef Jeser. The success, however, was overshadowed by the horrific accident of a Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR in which many spectators lost their lives.
The year 1956 marked the Le Mans debut of the 550 A, which had sensationally clinched overall victory at the Targa Florio on 10 June with solo driver Maglioli at the wheel. With the 550 A, Porsche had taken a major technological leap forward. The tubular space frame replaced the flat frame of the predecessor and made the vehicle considerably stiffer. The weight was reduced by 40 kgs to around 550 kilograms. The 1.5-litre Fuhrmann engine delivered 135 hp (99 KW), with the suspension having undergone a complete update. With their commanding victory in the class up to 1.5 liters and fifth overall, Wolfgang Graf Berghe von Trips and Richard von Frankenberg underlined that the compact 550 A was not just a winner on the winding mountain roads of Sicily, but also on a high-speed circuit. Umberto Maglioli and Hans Herrmann parked their 550 A after 136 laps with engine failure.
In the year 1957 a customer team joined the winners’ list for the first time. Ed Hugus and Carel Godin Graf de Beaufort clinched a class win with their 550 A, and came eighth overall. Race driver Claude Storez demonstrates incredible stamina and determination when his factory-550 A rolled to a standstill with an empty fuel tank. For an hour, Storez pushed the car back to the pits and ultimately saw the flag in seventh, only to be disqualified. The first outing of the new 718 1500 RSK with Umberto Maglioli and Edgar Barth at the wheel ended dramatically. In the night, Tony Brooks crashed with his Aston Martin and was flung from the car. Maglioli saw the Briton lying on the track, swerved and crashed into the barriers. The Italian then ran over the track and carried the unconscious Brooks to the edge of the track to safety.
A triumphant year for Porsche: in 1958 the little team achieved the first podium result against strong opposition from major manufacturers in the overall classification. The 718 RSK exceeded all expectations at just its second outing in Le Mans. Jean Behra and Hans Herrmann shared driving duties at the wheel of the number 29 Porsche. This 718 RSK was powered by a 1,587 cc rebored Fuhrmann engine with around 150 hp (110 kW). Accordingly, the vehicle contested the class up to two liters. Edgar Barth/Paul Frère as well as Richard von Frankenberg/Claude Storez competed with 1.5-litre power units. Two privately-run 550 A completed the fleet of Stuttgart racers, consisting exclusively of open Spyders. The race was held under catastrophic weather conditions. During the night, Frère even put in an extra pit stop because he was completely soaked and hypothermic. The Porsche were incredibly quick and even put the three-litre vehicles from Ferrari, Jaguar and Aston Martin under pressure. After 24 hours, the glory is theirs: Behra/Herrmann brought their Porsche home in third place overall followed by Barth/Frère in fourth. This also yielded them class victory for 2.0 and 1.5-litre race cars. Netting the team prize rounds off a perfect weekend.
After clinching third overall in Sebring and outright victory at the Targa Florio with the 718 RSK, the Porsche works squad traveled to Le Mans in 1959 feeling confident. But after eight straight class wins they experienced the taste of defeat. The new “sprint” camshafts lacked the necessary durability. All five race cars retired. The one privateer RS 550 A threw in the towel when the clutch failed on Sunday morning.
[Source: Porsche AG]