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Is the 1955 Porsche of James Dean Really Cursed?

Is the 1955 Porsche of James Dean Really Cursed?

The last photo of James Dean, taken just hours before his death beside his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
The last photo of James Dean. Taken hours before his death.

Introduction to The Curse of James Deans 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder.

Although James Dean couldn’t be saved, the 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder he was driving was resurrected and lived a long life full of mystery after the tragic death of James Dean at the young age of 24.

James Dean nicknamed his new 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder the “little bastard”. Today “Little Bastard” has become a legend in its own right. It’s a car with a story full of tragedy, love, death, curses and ghost. Honestly, what more could you ask for in a story?

A crashed 1955 Porsche owned by james dean.

Was the 1955 Spyder cursed or were all of the owners extremely unlucky?

After reading you’ll have all the information you need to decide for yourself if James Deans 1955 Porsche Spyder was truly a cursed vehicle, if it was all an awful hoax contrived to gain attention for the car or if the owners were all very unlucky people.

You’re probably asking yourself what could be so bad about a car? Well, I’m about to tell you and after I do, you’ll agree with me. Either the future owners of this vehicle have the worst luck possible or James Deans car is cursed.

Is the 1955 Porsche of James Dean Really Cursed? Introduction to The Curse of James Deans 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder.

It begins with a Grim Warning Before the Death of James Dean.

A week before the fatal crash Dean met British actor Alec Guinness in Los Angeles. Guinness had an ominous feeling on seeing the Porsche and would later write in his diary: ‘The sports car looked sinister to me . . . exhausted, hungry, feeling a little ill-tempered in spite of Dean’s kindness, I heard myself saying in a voice I could hardly recognize as my own:

‘Please never get in it. . .. if you get in that car you will be found dead in it by this time next week.’”

Excerpt from the diary of Alec Guinness

Dean laughed it off and set about preparing the car for the Salinas sports car races with his Porsche mechanic Rolf Wütherich. The original plan involved towing “Little Bastard” to the races, with the help of stuntman Bill Hickman. However, Wütherich felt it would be better for Dean to get used to the Spyder and run the engine in.

So, on that fateful Friday, Wütherich sat next to Dean, while Hickman followed in his truck pulling a trailer little bastard should’ve been in. As if receiving a final warning to drive carefully, two hours before the accident, a police officer pulled the convoy over and issued a pair of speeding tickets outside of Bakersfield. Unfortunately, the pair of speeding tickets didn’t seem to phase James Dean.

The crashed or wrecked 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder driven by James dean

James Dean Was Ready To Run!

Dean had just finished filming the movie Giant, during which Warner Bros. Studios had strictly forbidden him from racing, so he was extremely eager to get back out on the road.

Dean was barrelling along Route 46 at an estimated 85mph when Donald Turnupseed, a young student from California Polytechnic State University, driving a Ford Tudor, decided to make a turn on to Route 41.

Dean tried to swerve, but collided almost head on with Turnupseed’s 1950 Ford Tudor. The impact sent the Ford coupe sliding 39 feet down Route 466 in the westbound lane.

Crash diagram from James Dean Crash
Diagram of the crash

After the collision James Dean was trapped in the car, his foot crushed between the clutch and break pedal, badly injured. His neck and arms were broken, jaw fractured, and had massive internal and external injuries.

Passersby stopped to help in any way they could. A woman with nursing experience checked Dean for a pulse, found it very weak.

Wütherich and Dean were transported to the hospital in the same ambulance. Wütherich who had been thrown from the car only had minor scratches. Dean was pronounced dead on arrival. Donald Turnupseed survived the horrific crash.

Donald Turnupseeds ford coupe
1950 Ford driven by Donald Turnupseed

Salvaging James Dean’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

Despite being declared a total loss by the insurance company. The car was purchased by Dr. William F. Eschrich, a fellow racer who had competed against Dean several times in 1955. Dr. Eschrich bought the totalled vehicle with the intention of stripping out the mechanical parts for use in his Lotus IX race car.

After stripping the vehicle Dr. Eschrich gave the mangled remains to George Barris, the Hollywood “King of the Kustomizers” who created the Munster Koach and Drag-U-La casket dragster for The Munsters television series, as well as the original 1966 Batmobile.

Barris originally planned to rebuild the car, but he discovered the frame was too badly damaged. Instead, he welded some aluminum sheet metal over the damaged areas to stabilize the wreck and turned it into a traveling exhibit.

First sign something isn’t right!

Immediately after the death of James Dean the first unusual accident occurred. While working to strip the car parts for Dr. Eschrich, the engine came free with the mechanic underneath. The massive engine fell on the man, crushing both of his legs.

The Porsche owned by James Dean causes it’s second death

Not phased by the engine falling, Dr. Eschrich installed it into his Lotus IX race car, then he loaned the transmission and suspension parts to fellow doctor and racer Troy McHenry.

During a race in 1956, Eschrid was driving his Lotus IX when the wheels, for no apparent reason, locked up, sending the car rolling over in a turn. Dr. Eschrid was seriously injured in the crash.

He survived but his friend Dr. Troy McHenry which he’d loaned parts from “little bastard” for the same race wasn’t as lucky. McHenry lost control of his car and slammed into a tree, he was killed instantly by the impact.

James dean beside his 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

The Two Tires From The 1955 Porsche of James Dean

This story can’t be verified as far as I can find and could’ve be concocted by George Barris for added publicity.

According to George Barris, two tires from James Deans Porsche were in still in Barris’s garage, untouched since the accident that claimed James Dean’s life.

Barris claims he sold the tires, and both of them exploded simultaneously, causing the driver who purchased them to run off the road. Luckily no one was killed in this incident.

James Dean’s 1955 Porsche Catches Fire while sitting in Storage

George Barris loaned the “Little Bastard” to the Los Angeles chapter of the National Safety Council so it could be used in traveling safety exhibits, from 1957 to 1959, it went on a gruesome tour of car shows, cinemas and bowling alleys.

In March of 1959, the first exhibit was unsuccessful as the garage housing the car mysteriously caught fire and burned to the ground. The car somehow suffered remarkably little damage – two melted tyres and some singed paint – and fortunately the fire didn’t spread to other vehicles in storage.

The Porsche falls from it Mounts

This is one that’s verified and it’s just weird. The car was on display at a local high school in Sacramento when it abruptly and without cause fell off its display. The falling Porsche landed on a local high school student crushing his hip.

James Deans Last Sports Car Exibit
The last time the car was exhibited.

Hauling the Cursed Automobile

Here is another verified and extremely spooky coincidence. A truck driver by the name of George Barkuis crashed while hauling the wreckage of the Spyder on a flatbed truck.

During the crash he was thrown from the drivers seat into the road, he may have survived the ordeal if not for “little bastard” coming free from the tow truck flying in the air and landing on top of him, killing him instantly. Talk about bad luck!

The Mysterious Disappearance of James Dean’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder

For the next several years George Barris showcased the car at shows and other events around the country.

Then, in 1960, Little Bastard disappeared.

Barris claimed the Spyder was in a locked trailer returning from a traffic safety show in Florida. By the time it arrived in California and he opened the trailer doors, the car was gone. Never to be seen again.

George Barris with a replica James Dean 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder
George Barris with a Replica car and a look a like James Dean.

Where is James Deans car now?

The whereabouts of the Little Bastard are still a mystery, but one man may have the answer. In 2005, on the 50th anniversary of Dean’s death, the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois offered $1 million for the car.

10 years later, a few months after an episode of Brad Meltzer’s Decoded aired which featured the disappearance, a man contacted the museum. He claimed that, at the age of 6, he had accompanied his father and another man as they hid the car behind a false wall in a building in Whatcom County, Washington.

The man remembered some key bits of overheard conversation that lent credence to his claim, and he passed a polygraph test. However, he declined to reveal the location of the building until an agreement was signed that he would receive a portion of the reward money.

Volo made it clear they would will only pay if the museum gains legal possession of the car, and since the ownership of the car and the building it’s possibly hidden in is unclear, they couldn’t come to an agreement.

We may never know the final resting place of Little Bastard, but the “cursed” parts are accounted for. The family of the late Dr. Eschrich still has the engine, and a Porsche collector in Massachusetts currently owns the transaxle assembly.

Neither have reported any further misfortune attributed to the parts.

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Mickey Bailey.

Is the 1955 Porsche of James Dean Really Cursed?

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Is the 1955 Porsche of James Dean Really Cursed?