The acclaimed car designer Walter De Silva revealed his re-imagination of the iconic Porsche 550 Spyder, a design study called the 550one, on his Instagram a few days ago. I can’t stand idly by any longer.
De Silva shared three images of the never-shown roadster from 2008 with a brief note, saying that it was dubbed “Porsche 550one The Little Bastard.” De Silva also says the project was “personally wanted” by the man behind the VW empire’s brand-buying spree, Ferdinand Piëch, but that it was “never revealed to the public.” He concludes by referring to two other designs that never reached production, saying, “See also: VW Bluesport/ Audi e tron coupe.”
It’s not entirely clear why the car didn’t make it to production, or who made such a decision, but after seeing the images I think leaving the project unrealized was the right decision. It could be that like the Bluesport mentioned in the caption, this redesign and its subsequent death are consequences of the Great Recession.
And sure, De Silva’s 550one impresses, but neither in the right ways nor the right angles. When we look at the car, it does evoke the 550 Spyder of the mid-1950s. The headlights are fine, correcting the fried-egg lights of earlier Porsches, and the sloping protrusions trace back to the original 550. But the more I look at it, the more I sense an uneasy mosaic nature of the design. Because the design of late aughts did not graft well onto the original.
There is no cohesion. It’s an homage to the 550 from the A-pillar forward, but as you trace back, it’s another car altogether. What’s baffling is that it’s faithful to the older car, but at what cost? And as you look closer, below the headlights, the design becomes more indistinct. The 550one tried to be a modern version of its namesake but ends up seeming unsure of itself.
Just look at this rear-quarter view. Does that car reveal any relationship to the car you see when you look at the 550one head on? No. It doesn’t. This design disagrees with itself. It went out for coffee and came home with tea.
While a car’s re-imagining can get away with recalling earlier design cues, one that flatters its forebears too much will never be more than a copy. And this redesign of the 550 seems indicative of a trend that would take off in the late aughts and into the 2010s. It hinted that sharper lines and disjointed design were coming, something we’ve lamented before.
It’s not the worst redesign I’ve seen. This is Walter De Silva, after all. But it seems like a mosaic that wanted to conjure the 550, when it’s possible that the original 550 Spyder’s spirit was actually alive and well in another Porsche. This one:
No, not that one. This other:
People love to hate the first-gen Boxster S, probably because its headlights were unfortunate, but it followed in the tire treads of the 550 Spyder. It is not homage; it is evolution. It’s literally a roadster with a boxer engine, a plank with sloping lines and no roof. There’s even an anniversary edition that Porsche designated as a “successor” to the 550, rightly so.
Most important, the first-generation Boxster was a cohesive design, just like the 550. It didn’t waver, and it didn’t try to be something it wasn’t. Next to the original Boxster, the 550one seems superfluous.