The story of James Dean's "Little Bastard"
The car that killed James Dean has quite a history
Do you believe in curses and spirits? Personally, I don't. I think that's a load of shite. On the other hand, I enjoy watching shows about ghost hunting and experiencing the paranormal. I have seen plenty of shows and movies in which some strange actions were explained. Other strange actions will continue to amaze us and make us scratch our heads and think: "What the hell happened here? Is there any logical explanation?" Well, one of those things that make me scratch my head is the notorious "Little Bastard", James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder.
James Dean was an American actor, famous for movies such as "Rebel Without a Cause" and "East of Eden". He was also one of the coolest people ever to walk on this planet, along with Steve McQueen. Just like McQueen, James Dean was into racing, and after filming "East of Eden", he bought few cars, including Triumph Tiger T110 and Porsche 356. But, Dean's life ended tragically on 30th September 1955, when he crashed his newly purchased Porsche 550 which he wanted to use in his upcoming races. However, the car continued its life, leaving a scary trail in history pages.
Possibly the last picture of James Dean before the fatal crash. Credit: Motoryracing.com
To start with this story, we'll have to go one week before Dean's crash-on 23rd September 1955. On that day, he took his brand new Porsche 550 Spyder from a famous Hollywood car customizer George Barris. While the car was in the Barris' garage, it was getting a makeover as Dean requested. The 550 got new tartan seats, number 130 written on the hood, red stripes painted on the top of rear fenders and its new nickname "Little Bastard" written on the engine cover.
The 550 Spyder's new nickname-"Little Bastard". Credit: Bestride.com
After getting his car back that day, Dean took it for a drive around Los Angeles, where he saw a British actor Alec Guinness. He showed him his new Porsche, but Guinness was a bit worried about the whole thing. In his diaries, he wrote that the 550 looked sinister, exhausted, hungry and feeling a little ill-tempered. When Dean showed him the car, Guinness told him: "Please never get in it. If you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week." But, Dean just laughed, saying that he was bound to die in a fast car. Sadly, as Guinness said, Dean died in it a week later.
On 30th September 1955, Dean and Rolf Wütherich (trained Porsche mechanic) were preparing the car for a race at Salinas. The intent was to put a car on a trailer and drive it there, but Dean suggested to drive the car so that they can break in the engine and that he can familiarize with the car. Two hours after they departed (around 3:30 pm), Dean got a speeding ticket for driving 65 mph in a 55 mph zone. But that didn't worry him because...well, he was a rebel.
James Dean and Rolf Wütherich on their way to Salinas. Credit: Bestride.com
After a short stop for drinks, Dean and Wütherich continued their trip at 5:15 pm. Half an hour later, a black and white 1950 Ford Tudor Coupe, driven by Donald Turnupspeed (yes, that was his real name) was going in an opposite direction to Dean. As Turnupspeed made a left turn on Route 41, he crosses the center line and was heading directly into Porsche. Dean, estimated to be going at 85 mph, tried to evade the impact, but it was in vain. The two cars crashed head-on.
"Little Bastard" after the impact. Credit: History Goes Bump blog
Wütherich was thrown out of the car due to the impact, and somehow managed to stay alive. Dean passed away in hospital 30 minutes after the crash, while Turnupspeed walked away with a minor scratch on his nose.
Ford Tudor Coupe that crashed into "Little Bastard". Credit: Bestride.com
The Ford Tudor received a lot of damage on the front left side, while the Porsche was unrecognizable. Due to the force of the impact, the 550 spun out and hit into a tree. But that wasn't the end of this German sports car. As Guinness said, the car had a sinister aura surrounding it. There was something about it that couldn't be labeled as "coincidental". Something out of this world. Something creepy. Something that put a curse on everyone who came close to it.
"Little Bastard" in Barris' garage. Credit: Bestride.com
After the crash, George Barris bought the 550 for around $2.500, and decided to bring the car to his workshop. While unloading it, the car slid off the trailer and broke a mechanic's leg. Barris later sold the drivetrain and the engine to racecar drivers Troy McHenry and William Eschrid.
They used these parts to make cars of their own, and were racing against each other in the cars with these 550 Spyder parts. After few laps, McHenry lost control of his car and crashed into a tree; the impact killed him instantly. Eschrid was driving the car on a track, when the wheels locked up for no reason causing him to roll over few times. He didn't die, but he was seriously injured.
Barris still had two tires from the 550, which were untouched since Dean's death. He sold the tires to some Porsche owner, and both tires exploded at the same time, causing the car to run of the road. In Barris' garage, "Little Bastard's" body was still resting peacefully. One night, two thieves tried to steal some parts off of it, but they left empty-handed. One of the thieves injured himself while trying to take the seats, and the other torn opened his arm while trying to take the steering wheel.
After everything that happened, Barris decided to hide the car for good, but the California Highway Patrol convinced him to borrow the 550 to them to promote highway safety. At the first exhibit, the garage in which the 550 was displayed caught fire. The entire garage was burned to the ground, but the car somehow remained untouched. During the next exhibition, at a local high school, "Little Bastard" fell off its display, landing on a student and breaking his hip.
Such an iconic picture-James Dean in his Porsche 550 Spyder "Little Bastard". Credit: Motoryracing.com
After these exhibitions, the car was put on a flatbed truck to be transported to Salinas. The driver lost control and flipped the truck. He was thrown out when the truck rolled, and was killed instantly when 550 Spyder landed on him. These events continued until 1960, when the "Little Bastard" was in Miami at another exhibit. This was its final exhibit after which the car was put on a trailer in order to be delivered back to Barris' garage in Los Angeles. Both, the 550 Spyder and the truck it was being hauled on, vanished and haven't been seen since.