The Curse of James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

Wilbert Tan

James Dean, Hollywood’s perennial ‘Rebel Without a Cause,’ died a tragic death when he crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder head-on with a much larger Ford Tudor sedan. As the story goes, the Tudor ran in front of Dean at an intersection, trying to turn left. The 24-year old actor died on his way to a race in Salinas, California on September 30, 1955. His car was only a few weeks old.

Though James Dean’s story ended on that day, it was only the beginning for the much-maligned Porsche convertible. Reportedly, it caused disorder and death everywhere it went since then.

‘Little Bastard’

©stock photo
©stock photo

Immediately after he owned the car, Dean wanted to personalize ‘Little Bastard,’ which was the nickname given to the car and painted on the rear end by Dean Jeffries, a master pin-striper. Soon after, Dean called upon movie car customizer George Barris—builder of the original Batmobile—to upgrade the Porsche’s interior and exterior. When Barris was done, the Porsche sported tartan seats, racing stripes over the rear wheels, and the number ‘130’ on its hood, doors, and engine cover.

In a moment that felt it belonged in a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode, Alec Guinness, the actor who played Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars franchise, laid his eyes on the car and was overcome by something that told him Dean would die in the car in a week.

“Please do not get into that car,” Guinness warned Dean, “because if you get into that car at all, it’s now Thursday, 10 o’clock at night and by 10 o’clock at night next Thursday, you’ll be dead if you get into that car.”

Sure enough, Dean died in the car the following Thursday afternoon.

George Barris, the Porsche’s next owner


The accident left the car totaled, but George Barris, who customized the 550 originally, took interest in the wreckage and bought it for USD2,500, with plans of restoring it. On transit, the car got separated from its trailer, injuring a mechanic’s leg in the process.

Barris gave up his attempt to restore the car, and instead decided to sell it off piece by piece. Some parts went to racers Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. Reportedly, while racing against each other in cars that contained parts from Dean’s spooky Porsche, McHenry lost control of his vehicle and smashed onto a tree. He died on the spot. On the same race, Eschrid’s car suddenly locked up and turned turtle while making a turn. He barely survived the accident.

Meanwhile, Barris sold the two rear tires to another owner, which exploded simultaneously and sent the driver careening off the road.

The parts that remained in Barris’ possession attracted thieves. As the story goes, one thief lost his arm while trying to take the steering wheel, while the other injured himself while attempting to remove the bloody tartan seat.

The ‘car of death’ heads to the National Safety Council

Eventually, Barris decided to part ways with the car (or more appropriately, what’s left of it) and loaned it to the National Safety Council, which in turn used the car for its road safety campaign. The car was often displayed along with a sign saying how the accident could have been avoided if people practiced safe driving habits.

The Porshce 550 disappears

Sources say that while under the NSC’s use, the car managed to crush a driver to death during transport, fell off a transport truck twice, and nearly broke an onlooker’s hip while it was on display at an event. Eventually, the NSC gave up on ‘Little Bastard’ and decided to return it to Barris in Los Angeles, California. On its way from Miami, Florida in 1960, the car mysteriously disappeared and has not been seen ever since.

Although many have reported claiming to know the infamous Porsche 550 Spyder’s whereabouts, none of these have materialized, and the car remains missing to this day.

Do you know of any local death cars that match or even exceed the air of mystery surrounding James Dean’s so-called cursed car? Let us know in the comments section below.

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