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Was James Dean “Little Bastard” Porsche Spyder Cursed?

Actor James Dean driving his 1955 Porsche Spyder dubbed “Little Bastard.” Dean was killed in a crash just nine days after buying the car, which since has disappeared.

Halloween is high time stories of hauntings. But it’s not just creepy old houses and psych wards that are thought to be inhabited by those lingering behind. Vehicles also can be haunted – and not just in the movies, believers say.

Among the real-life rides thought to be haunted or cursed was the sleek, silver 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder that drove iconic actor James Dean to his untimely death. The car was customized by George Barris (famed designer of the Batmobile and the Munster Koach) and by master pinstriper and customizer Dean Jeffries who had a shop next to Barris’. It was Jeffries who added the car’s 130 racing number on the hood, doors and engine cover, and the now infamous “Little Bastard” badge.

Dean hit Hollywood in 1951, landing a series of bit TV roles before shooting to stardom with his first film role in 1955′s East of Eden. Altogether, he would star on just two more films, Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. A fast car enthusiast, Dean had also been working to build a racing career and, accompanied by his mechanic Rolf Wütherich, was on his way to a race in Salinas, CA in the early evening of September 30, 1955 when tragedy struck.

At approximately 5:45 pm, just a few hours after getting ticketed for going 65 mph in a 55-mph zone, Dean and Wütherich were speeding along Route 466 in Cholame, CA, having bypassed nearby Bakersfield and its lower speed limits. Also on the road was Donald Turnipseed, a 23-year-old college student driving a 1950 Ford Tudor coupe. When Turnipseed’s car crossed over the center line, Dean apparently attempted to side-step to avoid a crash. There simply was not enough time or space and instead, the two collided almost head-on. The sheer velocity of the impact sent the much heavier Tudor broad sliding nearly 40 feet westbound down Route 466, and the Spyder flipping into the air, landing back on its wheels in a gully. Wütherich was thrown from the Spyder but survived. Dean remained pinned in the mangled car with a broken neck, dying during transport to the hospital.

In the nine days that Dean owned Little Bastard, it’s reported that others warned him of uneasy feelings they had about the car. Among them were actor Nick Adams; actress and singer Eartha Kitt; Dean’s uncle Charlie Nolan; and actress and sometime girlfriend Ursula Andres, who was with Dean when he bought the car. If these warnings were the only eerie factor, the story would be unnerving enough. But Dean’s death wasn’t the last of the strange occurrences surrounding the car.

After the crash, Barris purchased the wreckage of the car and on multiple occasions loaned it to the California Highway Patrol to use in displays designed to discourage speeding. Later, he sold off the engine and chassis to Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, two physicians who also were racing enthusiasts; and the two surviving tires to a young New Yorker. Though lots of rumors surrounding the wreckage have been spread, the following are said to be verifiable accounts:

  • On October 21, 1956, the two doctors raced their cars with Little Bastard engine and chassis. McHenry’s Porsche Spyder spun out of control and hit a tree killing him instantly. Eschrid was seriously injured when his car rolled going around a curve in the race.
  • Both tires that went to the young New Yorker reportedly blew simultaneously, sending the car hurtling into a ditch.
  • A souvenir seeker ripped his arm open on jagged metal while attempting to steal the steering wheel from the stored wreckage.
  • While housing the car, a Fresno, CA garage caught fire, destroying everything except the Spyder’s remains.
  • Two separate fatal accidents involving trucks transporting the Spyder occurred and in 1958, a third transport truck was parked on a hill and smashed the windshield of the car behind it when the brakes gave out.
  • In 1959, while on display in New Orleans the car simply fell to pieces.

After the New Orleans showing, Barris reportedly ordered the wreckage shipped back to California, but the car never arrived. Save for the restored passenger side door that Barris kept, the whereabouts of the rest of Little Bastard have been a mystery ever since. Some say Dean’s relatives hold the remaining mechanical parts. And of course, a piece purported to be part of the car occasionally pops up for sale on eBay. In any case, there remains a $1 million reward offer from the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois for the return of the car, so long as it’s verified by Barris.

What do you think? Is the Little Bastard haunted? Might it be hidden away by an ultimate souvenir hoarder or destroyed by a ghost hunter in a scene reminiscent of a Supernatural episode? Or are all the stories simply part of a decades-long hoax designed to keep Dean’s estate raking in cash? Post your thoughts on the E3 Spark Plugs Fan Page.

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