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62 Years Later: James Dean’s Death Behind the Wheel of “Little Bastard”

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James Dean Little Bastard Porsche Spyder Replica

Replica of James Dean’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder, nicknamed “Little Bastard”
Photo: Brad Hammonds

62 years ago today, on Sept. 30, 1955, Hollywood hearthrob James Dean was killed in a car accident. He was 24 years old.

Controversy has swirled around his death ever since and most notably, the car itself. Dean was driving his new 1955 Porsche 500 Spyder. The car was nicknamed “Little Bastard,” and it lived up to that name, causing mayhem and death nearly everywhere it went.

James Dean had been auto racing for quite some time before his death. He competed in several road races throughout his life. Dean had several speedy vehicles before his Porsche Spyder, but this car was different.

The Porsche brought a darkness to Dean’s life from the moment James Dean got it. After purchasing the Porsche, before Dean even had a chance to drive it, he ran into actor Alec Guinness, known for his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars movie franchise. Dean began showing off his new ride, bragging about its top speed of 150 mph.

Guinness was overwhelmed by a gut instinct, and before he even realized what he was saying, he heard himself warning Dean about his new purchase. “Please do not get into that car,” he told Dean. Guinness went on to explain that if he did, he would be dead within the week. Their conversation took place on Sept. 23, 1955, and James Dean was killed, in that car, exactly seven days later.

Dean received yet another warning on Sept. 30, 1955. Just two hours before his fatal car accident, Dean was issued a speeding ticket for driving 10 mph over the speed limit.

After Dean’s death, the Porsche continued to wreak havoc on its own; so much so, that many speculated the car was haunted or cursed. The Porsche was totaled in Dean’s accident, so a man named George Barris purchased the wreckage to sell for parts or try to repair at a loss. The car was being transported in the back of a truck when it slid out of the back, falling onto a mechanic’s legs.

The incident prompted George Barris to scrap the project and sell the vehicle for parts. That didn’t solve the problem, though, because the madness simply followed each part. Barris sold the engine and drivetrain to two friends: Troy McHenry and William Eschrid.

The two men added the parts to their vehicles and decided to head out for a quick test race. McHenry, with the new engine, completely lost control of his vehicle during the race, crashed into a tree, and was killed on impact. Simultaneously during the race, Escrid’s car completely locked up and he, too, crashed his vehicle. Fortunately, Escrid survived, but he did suffer from serious injuries.

Naturally, after this incident, Barris was reluctant to sell any more of the vehicle’s parts. After a bit of convincing, he agreed to let the California Highway Patrol borrow the remaining wreckage for a highway safety exhibit. During a presentation, the vehicle fell off its display and landed on a student. The student suffered from a broken hip, but survived the incident. After that, Barris said “no more,” and decided to scrap the vehicle entirely.

But, of course, the Porsche wouldn’t go down without a fight. The car was being transported from the exhibit back to Barris when suddenly, the truck driver lost control. The driver was ejected from the vehicle and, somehow, the Porsche fell out of the truck, landed on the driver, and killed him.

Little Bastard was never recovered from the scene of the accident. By the time the police arrived on the scene, it was nowhere to be found. No one has seen James Dean’s Porsche Spyder since. Many theories surround its whereabouts, but no one knows for certain.

Since its disappearance, Little Bastard has become one of the most famous cars in American history.

News Sources: History (here and here) and Jalopnik