James Dean's Cursed Car

If houses are haunted by their occupants, can dead drivers haunt the cars they died in? Maybe as we’ll see in this case of the seemingly cursed. The car in question belonged to James Dean – who is still a hollywood icon more than forty years after his untimely death. Even though he starred in only three movies, Dean has become the object of cult worship. James Dean (1931-1955), the legendary Hollywood movie star, died in a fatal car crash in September 1955. For most of the summer preceding his death, he was on the set of the movie Giant just outside Marfa, Texas. After returning to Los Angeles, Dean bought a silver-gray 1955 Porsche Spyder. Dean loved the car and nicknamed it "Little Bastard," but many of his friends were leery of it. For some reason, it made them feel uneasy. Driving the car on the way to the races at Salinas, California, Dean collided head-on with another car, which had paused while making a left-hand turn. Dean was killed instantly. Soon, a legend grew that the mangled remains of Dean's car were cursed.

James Dean was born on February 8, 1931, at the Seven Gables apartment house in Marion, Indiana, to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson. Six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician, James and his family moved to Santa Monica, California. The family spent several years there, and by all accounts young Dean was very close to his mother. According to Michael DeAngelis, she was "the only person capable of understanding him".

When Dean got the part in East of Eden, he bought himself a red race-prepared MG TD and, shortly afterwards, a white Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon. Dean upgraded his MG to a 1954 Porsche 356 Speedster, which he raced. Dean came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races in March 1955 after a driver was disqualified; he came in third in May 1955 at Bakersfield and was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races later that month until he retired with an engine failure.

During filming of ‘Rebel Without a Cause”, Dean traded in the 356 Speedster for one of only 90 Porsche 550 Spyders. He was contractually barred from racing during the filming of “Giant”, but with that out of the way, he was free to compete again. The Porsche was in fact a stopgap for Dean, as delivery of a superior Lotus Mk. X was delayed and he needed a car to compete at the races in Salinas, California. After that Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint “Little Bastard” word on the car. When Dean introduced himself to actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared 'sinister' and told Dean: "If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week." This encounter took place on September 23, 1955, seven days before Dean's death.

While still on the set of his last movie “Giant”, Dean filmed a cautionary public service announcement, he was said: “You know, i used to fly around quite a bit on the highways. I took unnecessary chances, but now when i drive, i’m extra cautious. I don’t have the urge to speed so take it easy when you drive. The life you save might be mine.” Shortly after speaking these words of wisdom, on September 1955. Dean jumped into his New Porsche 550 Spyder and hit the highway at 85 mph en route to the Salinas Car Races, Dean was stopped for a speeding citation, then sped on – and at 5:50 PM, he crashed into a Ford driven by one Donald Turnupseed. Donald was only slightly hurt; Dean's passenger, Rolf Wuetherich, was thrown from the vehicle and badly injured. The 24-year-old Dean fulfilled the many premonitions of early death he had voiced to friends. Not only had Dean predicted his death in real life, but in “Rebel Without a Cause”, he spoke these immortal words: “You know something? I never figured i’d live to see eighteen.”

Meanwhile, the vehicle of his death was carying its own doom laden legend. When car buff George Barris purchased the crumpled wreck, it promptly slipped from its tow truck and broke a mechanic’s leg. Barris then sold the Porsche’s engine to Troy McHenry, a physician, for his race car, and William F. Eschrid, another doctor, bought the drive shaft. Both raced with cars using the parts from Dean's car for the first time at Pomona, California, on October 1, 1956. McHenry spun out of control, hit a tree, and was killed. Eschrid flipped his car on a curve and was seriously hurt.

The jinx continued when another race car got two of the porsche’s tires. This driver actually did die when the tires blew out simultaneously. And when the cursed car’s crumpled frame was sent on display to promote highway safety, it broke its mountings and injured a teen’s hip. Another fatality occured in a multi-car pile up while the derelict Porsche was being loaded onto its tour truck. The same truck then suffered unexplained brake loss, swerved out of control, and slammed into a storefront.

Subsequently, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat. This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store "Little Bastard" away, but he was quickly persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit. Nearly a million tickets were sold when the wreck was put on ghoulish exhibit in a carnival. Pieces of the twisted, bloodstained hulk were pried off as macabre souvenirs, until the remains abruptly fell apart into eleven pieces. Then, somehow during the return train trip to Hollywood, the eleven pieces of James Dean’s death car mysteriously vanished. The cursed car and dead driver were both gone now.

Some people believe that certain objects can become cursed if they're involved in tragedy or violence. Was the wreckage of Little Bastard, an inanimate object, haunting others with just such a curse? Until it's found, we'll never know.

The Big Book of The Unexplained by Dough Moench;
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ghosts and Hauntings by Tom Ogden;

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Rational νεόφυτος said...

And to think, he'd probably still be alive had he just invested in something like a Toyota Corolla...

Lee said...

Despite all the factoids and myths about the Porsche Spyder being a cursed death car...there really is no attribution to most all of those stories and especially the ones contained in the latter part of this article. The 'Little Bastard' death curse myth has been embellished beyond belief -- mostly by George Barris, a person who has capitalized financially on James Dean's iconic image for the past 56years. Most 'Deaners' know the real deal, and its certainly not this spin. James Dean Lives On...9-30-2011. Lee Raskin, Porsche historian and author, James Dean At Speed ( Amazon.com)

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