The Curse of James Dean's Porsche


James Dean driving his new Porsche with his mechanic Rolf Wutherich on the day of his death.


James Dean's Porsche

Friends told James Dean that the car was trouble when they saw it - a rare Silver Porsche Spyder, one of only 90 in 1955. Nicknamed "The Little Bastard," the car carried the iconic screen rebel to his grave on September 30, 1955.

After the accident, many fans refused to believe Dean was dead. A story circulated that he was still alive although terribly disfigured, and in true urban legend fashion this tale took on a life of its own.

I won't go into all the James Dean as a cult idol stuff except to say his mystique has staying power. For example, his tombstone was stolen twice in 1983, and in 1985 had to be replaced because of damage done to it by fans. Seems he was still the popular fellow despite having been dead for three decades.

After the tragedy, master car customizer George Barris bought the wreck for $2,500. When the wreck arrived at Barris' garage, the Porsche slipped and fell on one of the mechanics unloading it. The accident broke both of the mechanic's legs.

While Barris had bad feelings about the car when he first saw it, his suspicions were confirmed during a race at the Pomona Fair Grounds on October 24, 1956. Two physicians, Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, were both racing cars that had parts from the "Little Bastard." McHenry died when his car, which had the Porsche's engine installed, went out of control and hit a tree. Eschrid's car flipped over. Eschrid, who survived despite serious injuries, later said that the car suddenly locked up when he went into a curve.

The car's malevolent influence continued after the race: one kid trying to steal the Porsche's steering wheel slipped and gashed his arm. Barris reluctantly sold two of the car's tires to a young man; within a week, the man was nearly involved in a wreck when the two tires blew out simultaneously.

Feeling that the Porsche could be put to good use, Barris loaned the wrecked car to the California Highway Patrol for a touring display to illustrate the importance of automobile safety. Within days, the garage housing the Spyder burnt to the ground. With the exception of the "Little Bastard," every vehicle parked inside the garage was destroyed. When the car was put on exhibit in Sacramento, it fell from its display and broke a teenager's hip. George Barkuis, who was hauling the Spyder on a flatbed truck, was killed instantly when the Porsche fell on him after he was thrown from his truck in an accident.

The mishaps surrounding the car continued until 1960, when the Porsche was loaned out for a safety exhibit in Miami, Florida. When the exhibit was over, the wreckage, en route to Los Angeles on a truck, mysteriously vanished. To this day, the "Little Bastard's" whereabouts are unknown.

Sources:

AMC's Hollywood Ghost Stories television special

Winer, Richard and Nancy Osborn. Haunted Houses.



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