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						Blue Rock West 550 Spyder 1

Rock West Racing 550 Spyder

By Steve Temple

Photos Courtesy of Rock West Racing

What’s the next best thing to driving a comp car on the street? How about a nicely finished repro of a Fifties-era Porsche racer?

That’s exactly what Bill McDougall achieved with his RW Spyder from Rock West Racing. A long-time sports-car enthusiast and road-course racer in the Northwest, and a Formula Vee winner back in 1980, he has a decided preference for a mid-engine chassis setup. “I like the layout and handling,” he notes, speaking from years of track experience.

Also speaking from on-the-road experience, he eschews the unpredictable manners of an authentic 550, having dealt firsthand with the rear tires tucking under during hard braking in an old Beetle on a twisty Idaho road. So he went with Rock West’s De Dion rear upgrade, having visited the factory in Socal a half-dozen times to check on the buildup and include a number of other custom touches as well. While he’s used to working on his own cars and Formula Vee racers, he came away convinced that Rock West should handle the buildup on the chassis.

As Rock West’s Chris Kingery explains, “This suspension type eliminates the torsion bar/spring plate/swing axle suspension of the original car and replaces it with a dead-axle positioned by parallel links and a Panhard rod.” 

The suspension action is controlled with coil-over shocks, in this case Eibach springs, with Fox shocks in the rear and  KYBs in the front. “One of the key features of the De Dion suspension,” Kingery points out, “is that the two rear wheels stay in alignment with each other no matter the road condition or the cornering forces. There is no camber change.” Overall, that means a significant improvement to road holding and handling, and it is easily adjustable (tunable), while still having a very “period look.”

Drawing on his competition background even further, McDougall wanted an engine with some punch. But a custom, high-performance VW Type 1 was more expensive than his budget allowed, so he chose a built crate engine from SCAT VW. This 2200cc long block is fitted with a midrange cam and a high-volume oil pump with remote oil cooler and filter system, along with dual Weber 40 IDFs and MSD’s electronic ignition. 

Rock West Racing had the engine tuned and run-in on a chassis dyno, and it put out 95 horses at the wheels, and 127 lb/ft of torque. Unlike a high-strung race motor, the engine idles very easily and is quite tractable around town, but puts you back in the seat when romping on the throttle. Since McDougall plans to cruise throughout the Northwest on winding two-lane roads, maximizing torque in the low- to mid-rpm range was the goal. The completed car with a tank of fuel weighs in at 1,507 pounds, so this output offers a respectable power/weight ratio. 

Backing up the SCAT powerplant is a pro-street unit from Rancho Performance Transaxles, set up for a mid-engine application and using a cable shift mechanism. A taller fourth gear was installed for highway cruising.

Other upgrades from the RWR base car include 4-wheel disc brakes, adjustable-position pedal assembly, roll bar and a 911-style fan shroud kit. While McDougall selected the shroud for its visual esthetics, as it just looks so cool on a mid-engine Spyder, he also feels it offers better cooling efficiency.  

What else did McDougall request? The wheels are painted Polar Silber as are the hubs, but with a little black tint added.  Prior to paint the wheels were deburred, smoothed and relieved of the hubcap clips. The roll bar is removable and is painted Polar Silber also.  The cockpit sports a 4-point seat harness and the shoulder belts are fixed to a chassis member that traverses the top of the firewall. The mirrors are the special conformal racing mirrors, similar to original, that are manufactured at Rock West Racing.

Lastly, the blue paint is a PPG color that he personally selected, a bit non-traditional he admits, but goes nicely with the maroon interior. Overall, he feels it looks just about “heavenly.”

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