It’s one of the most enduringly fascinating classic car mysteries –and it may soon be solved.
On Sept. 30, 1955, iconic actor James Dean and a friend were speeding along Route 466 in Cholame, in his sleek, silver 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder when it slammed head-on into a 1950 Ford Tudor coupe driven by 23-year-old college student Donald Turnipseed. The sheer velocity of the impact flipped Dean’s car into the air. It landed back on its wheels in a gully, pinning Dean inside with a broken neck. The young star died during transport to the hospital.
Dean’s Porsche, dubbed “Little Bastard,” had been 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’. After the crash, Barris purchased the wreckage of the car, often loaning it to the California Highway Patrol to use in displays designed to discourage speeding. Later, he sold the engine and chassis to two physicians who also were racing enthusiasts and the two surviving tires to a young New Yorker. On October 21, 1956, the two doctors raced their cars with Little Bastard engine and chassis. One spun out of control and hit a tree killing the driver instantly. And both the tires that went to the young New Yorker reportedly blew simultaneously, sending the car hurtling into a ditch.
But the most mysterious turn of events was Little Bastard’s unexplained disappearance from a locked container during shipping to Los Angeles from Miami in 1960. In 2005, in conjunction with an exhibit marking the 50th anniversary of Dean’s death, Chicago’s Volo Auto Museum made a public offer to buy the car for $1 million from whoever had it. A decade’s worth of tips since have proven dead ends – except one.
Several months ago, the museum received a call from a man in Whatcom County, Wash., who said that, as a boy in the 1960s, he had witnessed the car being hidden behind the false wall of a building. To assure they weren’t being sent phantom chasing, museum officials asked the man to take a polygraph test. He did – and passed with flying colors.
Officials are keeping the man’s identity and that of the building that allegedly hides Dean’s famed car a secret while attorneys work out all the applicable legalities. Once a deal is reached, the world may finally learn the fate of Little Bastard more than six decades after its legendary owner’s violent death.
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