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The Curse of Little Bastard: James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

The Curse of Little Bastard: James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

James Byron Dean (1931-1955) was an American film actor who became a real cultural icon with such films as "Rebel Without a Cause", "East of Eden" or "Giant". His early death in a dramatic car accident helped to ensure his legend and was the beginning of another famous urban legend.

After Dean got the part in “East of Eden”, in the spring of 1955, the movie star went racing with his Porsche 356 Speedster and came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races, third in Bakersfield and fourth in the Santa Monica Road Races. While he was on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause”, he traded his Speedster for a Porsche 550 Spyder – one of the only 90 which were made. Filming “Giant”, he was contractually barred from racing, but after completing the movie, Dean was free to compete again.

“You will be dead next week…

James Dean’s Spyder was customized Georges Barris, by the man who would go on to design the Batmobile. The car was called “Little Bastard” by his stunt driving coach Bill Hickman in “Giant” and this nickname was painted on it by pin striper Dean Jeffries. 

Image via Wikipedia

On September 23, Dean asked the actor Alec Guinness to take a look at the Spyder and Guinness said the car looked “sinister” to him. “If you get in that Porsche, you will be dead next week,” he warned his colleague.

On September 30, the Porsche 550 Spyder was prepared by Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean wanted to trailer the Spyder to Salinas behind his station wagon, crewed by his coach Bill Hickman and photographer Sanford Roth, who were planning a “James Dean at the Races” story. But at the last minute, Dean decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the Porsche, and he drove the Spyder himself. Rolf Wütherich sat beside him.

At 3:30 pm, Dean was ticketed in Kern County for driving 65 in a 55 mph zone. He was driving west on what is now State Route 46 and what was then US Route 466 – near Cholame, California – when a Ford, coming from the opposite direction, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41. Donald Turnupseed, a 23 year old student, crossed into Dean’s lane without seeing him. The Porsche and the Ford hit almost head on.

Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had a coffee break in Paso Robles. They were called to the scene of the accident and found Turnupseed there with a gashed forehead and a bruised nose. Wütherich  had been thrown out of the Porsche and suffered from a broken jaw and other injuries. James Dean was just being placed into an ambulance, breathing heavily. He was taken to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival, on September 30, at 5:59 pm.

His last words, just before impact, were: “That guy’s gotta stop!… He’ll see us!”

Wütherich survived several suicide attempts and died in a road accident in Germany, in 1981.

The Legend of the Cursed Car

After Dean’s accident, many fans refused to believe their idol was dead. An urban legend emerged, stating Dean was alive, but terribly disfigured. Also, there were soon more than just a few stories circulating concerning the jinxed car, the haunted Porsche, in other words: the Little Bastard. Let us recount here the “mainstream” urban legend.

Car designer George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500. On delivery, the Porsche slipped off its trailer and broke the legs of a mechanic. A doctor from Beverly Hills, Troy McHenry, bought the engine of the Little Bastard and put it in his own Porsche. The first time he took the car out, the vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree. He was killed on the spot.

Another physician, William Eschrid, bought the transmission of Dean’s Porsche. He went racing – some say against McHenry – and, going in a curve, the car rolled over. He was seriously injured.

Barris sold two tires of the wreck, which were unharmed in the accident, to an unnamed New Yorker. The tires blew up simultaneously, causing the car to go off the road. It was not reported what happened with the driver.

Two young thieves were injured while they attempted to steal parts of Little Bastard. Barris decided to store the cursed car safely away, but the bad luck kept coming from the hunk of twisted metal. In 1959, a fire broke out in the Fresno garage where Dean’s Porsche had been stored.

In that year, the Dean mania was still intense and so the California State Highway Patrol thought of transporting the mangled vehicle to local high schools and show teenagers the dangers of high speed driving. Little Bastard was put on exhibit in Sacramento, fell from its display and broke the hip of a teenager. On the way to Salinas, the flatbed truck with the Spyder on it lost control and the driver was crushed by the Porsche.

Little Bastard still was very popular and George Barris took the cursed car on a tour to the other states. On the anniversary of James Dean’s death, September 30, a fifteen year old boy was standing about twelve to fifteen feet away from the exhibit. As if broken by spectral hands, three bolts snapped. The car plowed forward and crushed both of the boy’s legs.

In 1960, Barris decided to have Little Bastard shipped back home to California. In Florida, the Porsche was loaded into a boxcar, the door carefully sealed. When the train arrived in Los Angeles, the seal was still intact… but Little Bastard was missing. Private detectives went after the car of James Dean, but they could not find it. The Little Bastard mysteriously vanished and has not been seen since…

Image via Wikipedia

Debunking the Legend

Has the Spyder returned to the hell he came from? Or is he still in some secret place, killing and maiming and spreading bad luck? Was there a curse placed on James Dean… or on his car?

Some people were thinking of a malevolent spirit within the Porsche, something like the “Christine” that was living in the Chrysler Fury of Stephen King’s supernatural horror novel. Others said that the curse perhaps originated in occult or even Satanist circles. Dean was fascinated by “all things haunted”; he had his own witch coven in LA. There were fans swearing that Dean had returned from the grave, and there were reports of a phantom Porsche cruising the area where Dean was killed.

This is the stuff “urban legends” are made of. Debunking these “true ghost stories” doesn’t help really, people will go on believing, because they are so powerful. The legend of the Little Bastard however, suffers from several factual errors.

Barris, for instance, was not the initial purchaser of the wreck. It was the doctors McHenry and Eschrid who bought the Spyder directly from the insurance company. They removed the mechanical components – such as the drive-train and steering – to use them as spares in their own 550 Spyders, and then sold the shell to Barris. McHenry was killed in a race at Pomona in 1956 when the steering of his car failed, but this was not one of the jinxed parts of Little Bastard…

More Historical Mysteries here!

More SuperNatural ParaNormalities here!

More Ghost Stories here!

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  1. raman13

    September 02, 2009

    Good Work

    Interesting

    Best Regards

  2. Frankly, with your weak arguments and poor command of facts, I think you’ve managed to settle out exactly where you belong: a sort of sub-Hancockian fringe author,unable even to convince people for free.

  3. Yovita Siswati

    September 02, 2009

    interesting story!

  4. FL

    September 02, 2009

    What a stupid story. I wasted 3 minutes of my life, wait, now 4 minutes.

  5. Ferdine

    September 02, 2009

    Great account of another fascinating subject. Have you seen David Cronenberg’s film Crash, which discusses the legend of this car?

  6. yolanda

    September 02, 2009

    i quiet think that the legend might be turn but the fact about how the car quiet is
    hauted must be figured out..

  7. speaker of the obvious

    September 02, 2009

    The only argument you have against this car being haunted is that the car was bought by someone else first, and that it was the steering that went out. You really suck at proving your point. The article was interesting, but Id like to see more evidence supporting your belief. If your argument seems weak to me, it will be to die hard believers in the haunted car.

  8. bancroft

    September 02, 2009

    Having been here before and lost, to be here and win, I’ve got to tell you, winning is really a lot better than losing. Really a lot better.

  9. Blake Hickman

    September 02, 2009

    hate to put another hole this story but the car wasn’t nicknamed “Little Bastard”,Jimmy was.It was the nickname given to him by my dad Bill Hickman, “Big Bastard”.
    you also never mentioned the significance of the 130 #plate

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    September 02, 2009

    1 with the popular song of David Bowie was his solitary in 1974 titled Rebel Rebel.

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  24. T. Rhodes

    September 02, 2009

    DEAR GOD I had a more difficult time trying to figure out what some of these comments were even trying to convey. I swear there were at least three comments that said EXACTLY the same thing only changing the vocabulary. Some were not even sentences but random words thrown together that make ABSOLUTELY NO SENSE at all!!! It truly was more interesting than the article. To be quiet frankly honest, if there is that much injury, death etc to the history of the vehicle and/or its parts then I personally am not interested in seeing it in person and good luck to any and all who are brave enough to become another victim to it. Although there are some who would love to become part of its history but since I happen to believe in evil then I would just assume to stay away from him/her/it or whatever it is. Good luck and God Bless to Jack Styles who has what I understand to be the last remaining “known” owner of “Little Bastard”

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  38. Fan of James Dean

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    shut the front door woman Jmaes dean is the hottest guy on earth

  39. robert valderaz

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    if this has happened with aircraft using parts off a crash plane, which I may add is fact. Then why not automobiles? the proof is out there just do the homework.

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