The Curse of James Deans Car -Porsche 550 Spyders AKA "Little Bastard"

Who was James Dean?

James Byron Dean (February 8, 1931 – September 30, 1955) was a two-time Oscar-nominated American film actor. Dean's status as a cultural icon is best embodied in the title of his most celebrated film, Rebel Without a Cause, in which he starred as troubled stereotypical high school rebel Jim Stark. The other two roles that defined his star power were as the awkward loner Cal Trask in East of Eden, and as the surly farmer Jett Rink in Giant. His enduring fame and popularity rests on only three films, his entire starring output. His death at a young age helped guarantee a legendary status. He was the first actor to receive a posthumous Academy Award nomination for Best Actor and remains the only person to have two posthumous acting nominations.

How did he die?

On September 30, 1955, Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich set off from Competition Motors, where they had prepared his Porsche 550 Spyder that morning for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean originally intended to trailer the Porsche to the meeting point at Salinas, behind his new Ford Country Squire station wagon, crewed by Hickman and photographer Sanford Roth, who was planning a photo story of Dean at the races. At the last minute, Dean drove the Spyder, having decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the car. At 3:30 pm, Dean was ticketed in Kern County for doing 65 in a 55 mph (89 km/h) zone. The driver of the Ford was ticketed for doing 10 mph (16 km/h) over the limit, as the speed limit for all vehicles towing a trailer was 45 mph (72 km/h). Later, having left the Ford far behind, they stopped at Blackwell's Corner in Lost Hills for fuel and met up with fellow racer Lance Reventlow.

Dean was driving west on U.S. Route 466 (later State Route 46) near Cholame, California when a black-and-white 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe, driven from the opposite direction by 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41 and crossed into Dean's lane without seeing him. The two cars hit almost head on. According to a story in the October 1, 2005 edition of the Los Angeles Times, California Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had been finishing a coffee break in Paso Robles when they were called to the scene of the accident, where they saw a heavily-breathing Dean being placed into an ambulance. Wütherich had been thrown from the car, but survived with a broken jaw and other injuries. Dean was taken to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 5:59 p.m. His last known words, uttered right before impact, were said to have been "That guy's gotta stop... He'll see us."

Junction of highways 46 and 41.Contrary to reports of Dean's speeding, which persisted decades after his death, Nelson said "the wreckage and the position of Dean's body indicated his speed was more like 55 mph (88 km/h)." Turnupseed received a gashed forehead and bruised nose and was not cited by police for the accident. Rolf Wütherich would die in a road accident in Germany in 1981 after surviving several suicide attempts.

While completing Giant, and to promote Rebel Without a Cause, Dean filmed a short interview with actor Gig Young for an episode of Warner Bros. Presents in which Dean, instead of saying the popular phrase "The life you save may be your own" instead ad-libbed "The lives you might save might be mine." Dean's sudden death prompted the studio to re-film the section, and the piece was never aired - though in the past several sources have referred to the footage, mistakenly identifying it as a public service announcement. (The segment can, however, be viewed on both the 2001 VHS and 2005 DVD editions of Rebel Without a Cause).

William Bast identifies a potentially bipolar depression in James Dean's erratic behavior and mood swings. In his description of their relationship, Dean emerges as a character very much torn apart between wanting to reach out (to Bast) and needing protection against possible rejections or wanting to hide any supposed weakness. Shortly before his death, Dean also gave away his pet kitten Marcus, saying: "I figured, I might go out some night and just never come home." Bast also repeatedly observed Dean's heavy use of alcohol and drugs during the filming of Rebel Without a Cause.

What was the "little bastard?"

During filming of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean traded the 356 Speedster in 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.

Dean's 550 was customized by George Barris, who would go on to design the Batmobile. Dean's Porsche was numbered 130 at the front, side and back. The car had a tartan on the seating and two red stripes at the rear of its wheelwell. The car was given the nickname "Little Bastard" by Bill Hickman, his language coach on Giant. Dean asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint "Little Bastard" on the car. When Dean introduced himself to Alec Guinness outside a restaurant, 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.

What is the supposed curse linked to his car?

The famous car customizer George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic's leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drive-train, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other, the former would be killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while the latter would be seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while going into a curve. Barris later sold two tires, which malfunctioned as well. The tires, which were unharmed in Dean's accident, blew up simultaneously causing the buyer's automobile to go off the road. 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 was quickly persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to lend the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.

The first exhibit from the CHP featuring the car ended unsuccessfully, as the garage storing the Spyder went up in flames, destroying everything except the car itself, which suffered almost no damage whatsoever from the fire. The second display, at a Sacramento high school, ended when the car fell, breaking a student's hip. "Little Bastard" caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, the truck containing the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out, only to be crushed by the Porsche after it fell off the back. On two separate occasions, once on a freeway and again in Oregon, the car came off other trucks, although no injuries were reported, another vehicle's windshield was shattered in Oregon. Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959. In 1960, when being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California, the car mysteriously vanished. It has not been seen since.

While it has proven impossible thus far to confirm or deny all the claims in this legend, it suffers from several clear factual errors. Barris was not the initial purchaser of the wrecked 550. Rather the doctors Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, both 550 Spyder owners, purchased the car directly from the insurance company. They removed the drivetrain, steering and other mechanical components to uses as spares in their cars, then sold the shell to George Barris. Troy McHenry was killed at a race at Pomona 1956 when the Pitman arm in his steering failed, however this was not one of the "cursed" parts fitted to his 550.

Thanks to wikipedia for the info.


  1. Excellent story with facts I've never heard. thanks for sharing it/

  2. Great story. I always thought Dean died speeding. Thanks for sharing.