Story and Photos by Steve Temple

Once you get into a certain groove, you just keep following it. Just ask Mike McGuire. He’s been into all sorts of Germanic marques — BMWs, Mercedes and, especially, Porsches. “My 911 was the most fun,” he notes, having owned a couple of them back in 2002. Following that well-worn path even further, he began checking out Porsche Speedster replicas about a dozen years ago, but what really caught his eye was the look of the 550 Spyder. 

“Once I learned about the 550, I fell in love and abandoned the idea of a Speedster,” he recalls. But not just any arachnid, as he wanted to build one of the fastest 550s possible using a more modern engine, a 250 hp water-cooled turbo Subaru. Eventually, a spot opened up in his garage and he decided it was time, so he contacted Carey Hines at Special Edition.

“I spoke to Carey and we began designing it over the phone,” Mike relates. “The idea was to have as period-correct as possible, with the exception of the power plant and anything that could be hidden.” 

As the project progressed, he got involved in a hands-on way, flying from Los Angeles to the shop in Indiana so he could install the engine himself (as required by the California DMV under the SB100 provision). In addition, he could not use a traditional shifter for the Rancho Performance four-speed transaxle, due to the new driveline. So after several iterations, he ended up with a Brandwood cable short shifter, which Carey modified by putting on a reverse shift gate and a wooden knob to match the Nardi steering wheel. While a purist would recognize it’s not period correct, it does look relatively at home and more fitting than the more modern options seen on the market today.

“We also hid some pretty cool stuff,” Mike points out, such as heated seats with concealed switches for driving in colder weather, and a Bluetooth stereo with four speakers mounted under the dash. “They’re impossible to see, but it not only allows me to stream music, but also doubles as navigation, via my phone.”

Some other one-off touches were a fabricated battery box, an updated rear clamshell design, and a custom tip on the exhaust that replicates a Sebring exhaust. Carey also fabricated a custom water-to-air intercooler, but they did encounter one small snag along the way when the heat from the turbo melted the clutch fluid reservoir. Relocating and adding heat shielding solved that problem.

What Mike ended up with is a setup that barks the tires in all four gears. And he also appreciates the computer-controlled tuning, requiring as much tweaking as an air-cooled VW Type 1. It all sounds like great fun, but as any “Spyder man” knows, “With great power comes great responsibility.” A lesson he had to learn firsthand.

“When I first received the car, the power literally scared me,” Mike admits. “It was possible to get the car sideways from a complete stop with little effort — in fact it could and was done by accident.” He learned to use some restraint in his canyon carving through the hills of North Hollywood, California, bombing through the bends on Mulholland Drive.

How does the 550 compare with his other Teutonic rides? “It feels faster, since it’s so low to the ground. And it drives like a 1950s car.” But without any of those old-school gremlins. 

After getting familiar with the car and putting close to 1,800 miles on it, Mike is now considering tuning it for more power with a bigger turbo. “Amazing what happens once you learn a machine,” he points out. That’s voice of experience — Germanic experience.