Have you ever heard the truly weird story of James Dean and his Porsche Spyder? Everyone knows that James Dean died in a car accident. But the whole story of James Dean and his mysterious car is like something out of a Stephen King novel!
The Truly Weird Story of James Dean and His Porsche Spyder
(This article was originally published in 2009 on BellaOnline.com’s Urban Legend Site when I was the Editor, under my former name: Mystic Houston)
There is no doubt about it. James Dean loved that car. His girlfriend, actress Ursula Andress, refused to get in it. Nick Adams said it made him uncomfortable. And Alec Guinness told James to get rid of it or he’d be dead in a week (and he was right.) But the silver-grey Porsche Spyder that he drove that fateful September day was James Dean’s pride and joy, and he was anxious to race her. Unfortunately, that wasn’t meant to be.
A Tragic Death
The world still mourns James Dean. Some of his fans were so grief-stricken, they refused to believe he had really died. He was struck down by fate in the prime of his life. Even though he’d only made a handful of movies, he had struck a cord with the public and his memory is alive to this day.
But was that Porsche Spyder, nicknamed “The Little Bastard“, cursed? Was it a real-life “Christine”? The rumors have lingered and the question is still asked even today. Even Snopes.com, well-known for pointing out the truth or fiction of urban legends, can’t discredit this one.
The Race Was Not Meant to Be
The story goes that despite multiple warnings from friends about the car, James was determined to race it. So on September 30, 1955, he set out on the road for the races in Salinas, CA. His mechanic, Rolf Wuetherich, was with him in the car, and two friends were in another car behind – Bill Hickman, an actor, and Stan Roth, a photographer who was going to take photos of James in the race.
It is apparent that he was speeding a bit, as he was issued a speeding ticket at 3:30 PM that afternoon. It has been assumed that he was speeding at the time of the accident, but Failure Analysis Associates of Menlo Park have since proven otherwise.
A car driven by a young student, Donald Turnupseed, attempted to make a left-hand turn in front of James Dean’s car and what resulted was a head-on collision. Rolf Wuetherich was thrown from the car and survived with a broken leg, fractured jaw, and some internal injuries. Donald Turnupseed walked away with minor cuts and bruises. But James, who was trapped in the Spyder, died from a broken neck and other injuries within minutes of the crash.
Then Things Start to Get Weird
So the world cried and James was buried and George Barris, aka the “King of Kustomizing” bought the remains of the Porsche Spyder for $2500. And at what should have been the end of the story of the tragic death of a Hollywood legend, the story gets really weird and an urban legend was born.
You see, despite his earlier misgivings that the car gave off a “weird feeling of impending doom“, George Barris decided to sell pieces of the car off – even after it fell and broke a mechanic’s leg while they were unloading it.
Buying This May Be Hazardous To Your Health
George sold the engine and drive train to two doctors, Dr. Troy McHenry and Dr. William Eschrid. They each used the parts in their own racing cars and planned to race in the upcoming car race at the Pomona Fair Grounds in CA. And in a race marked with doom, each of them crashed. Dr. Eschrid lost control of his car and almost lost his life when his car overturned. Dr. McHenry did lose his live when he lost control and had a bad crash. Was it just coincidence or were even the parts from the Spyder somehow tainted?
George then sold two tires from the car to an unnamed young man. It is said that the man returned to him in a week to inform him that both tires had blown out at the exact same moment, causing him to crash into a ditch.
This Safety Exhibit is Dangerous
George Barris, unwilling to sell any more of the car, allowed the California Highway Patrol to use the car in a safety exhibit. One night while the car was in storage in a garage, the garage went up in flames. All of the cars were destroyed, except for James Dean’s Porsche Spyder, which only suffered some smoke damage. Shortly after, while on display at Sacramento High School in Sacramento, CA, the car fell off its pedestal and broke a student’s hip.
But Wait, There’s More!
After that, it was involved in a few more car accidents, even though it was mangled almost beyond recognition and completely undriveable. On the way to Salinas, the flat-bed truck that was carrying it was involved in an accident. The driver was thrown free of the truck into a ditch, lucky to survive. Alas, his luck was short-lived when the Porsche fell off the truck and crushed him. A couple more accidents happened, when trucks that were hauling it crashed. And then in 1959, while on display, it suddenly collapsed into 11 pieces for no apparent reason.
Finally George Barris had enough and requested that the Porsche be boxed up and shipped back from the safety exhibit it was part of in Miami, FL. The boxes were loaded onto a truck bound for California, but they never showed up. Somewhere en route, the car vanished without a trace. And over 40 years later, it still has not been found.
What do you think happened to this spooky car? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!