Curses are not a new phenomenon. The existence of curses has been recorded from prehistoric times, from the Native American tribes to the Middle Eastern civilizations. However, curses are never limited to a place or a person. Sometimes, inadvertently, vehicles are also prone to it. From Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s car to JFK’s limousine, history is riddled with cases of haunted vehicles.
However, one vehicle deserves a special mention whenever cursed vehicles are mentioned. This vehicle, a car to be exact, goes by the name Little Bastard and is quite a troublemaker who has claimed numerous lives over the years. The streak began, however, with the death of the Hollywood actor James Dean in 1955, kicking off a wide array of theories about the curse of James Dean’s car.
James Dean’s Early Life
James was an only child to Mildred Marie and Winton Dean. He was very close to his mother, who died of Uterine Cancer when he was only nine years old; Unable to care for his son, his father sent him to live with his uncle and aunt on their farm in Fairmount, Indiana. His father served in World War II and later remarried. James was an exceptional and popular student throughout his school life. He played baseball and varsity basketball, studied drama, and competed in public speaking through the Indiana High School Forensic Association.
After graduation, he moved back to California and started living with his father and stepmother. James enrolled at Santa Monica College to major in pre-law but later transferred to UCLA and moved his major to drama. While at UCLA, Dean was picked from a group of 350 actors to portray Malcolm in Macbeth. After being successful in the role, he dropped out of UCLA to pursue a full-time career as an actor.
A Fatal Crash
On September 30th, 1955, James was driving his brand-new Porsche 550 Spyder to an auto rally in Salinas, California, when he got involved in a head-on collision. James and his friend Rolf Wütherich were driving westbound on Highway 466 when a 1950 Ford Tudor pulled out in front of them; the driver, 23-year-old Donald Turnupseed, attempted to make a left turn onto Highway 41, but unfortunately, Turnupseed had already turned, unaware of the Porsche that was speeding towards him.
Without any time to process what was happening, the two cars had a head-on collision. In the accident, Turnupseed only suffered from minor surgeries, while Rolf Wuetherich, the passenger in the Porsche, was lucky to be thrown out. Though he was hurt, his injuries were not fatal. However, James Dean was trapped in the car and suffered multiple injuries, including a broken neck. His death was declared instantaneous.
A week before the fatal accident, James Dean bought his Porsche 550 Spyder and went to show it to his friend Alec Guinness in Los Angeles. Alec would later recount that the Little Bastard looked sinister to him, exhausted and hungry despite Dean’s kindness.
Alec was quite unnerved by the car that he told Dean, “Please never get in it… if you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” Unfortunately, James would be killed in the fatal crash a week later. Though it had been a tragic accident, people didn’t think twice about it. James had been caught speeding barely half an hour before the fatal crash, and everyone assumed the crash was natural. In fact, the notion that the car was cursed didn’t appear until after the crash.
The Spyder, which had been mangled beyond repair, was sold for salvage. The Porsche was bought from a salvage yard in Burbank by Dr. William Eschrich, who proceeded to strip it for parts. The powerful engine of the Porsche was fixed into his Lotus IX race car, and he loaned the transmission and suspension parts to a fellow doctor and racing enthusiast, Troy McHenry. Eschrich crashed the Lotus at the 1956 Pomona sports-car races, surviving, but McHenry wasn’t as lucky. He hit a tree and was killed in the same race, and the “curse of Little Bastard” gained strength.
The curse would gain even more notoriety after the publicity monger and self-proclaimed King of Kustoms, George Barris, bought the Spyder, promising to rebuild it. But when he realized that rebuilding the car was futile, he decided to capitalize on the infamy. George loaned the car to the Los Angeles chapter of the National Safety Council, and from 1957 to 1959, it went on a macabre tour of car shows, cinemas, and bowling alleys.
The next major incident occurred on March 1959, when the car, while in storage in Fresno, mysteriously caught fire. It suffered remarkably little damage – two melted tires and singed paint – and fortunately, the fire didn’t spread to other vehicles in storage. In the meantime, however, Barris sold a pair of tires from the 550 to an amateur racer, and both blew simultaneously, causing the new owner to swerve off the road.
While on display in Sacramento, the car broke from its bearings and rolled down, breaking the hip of a bystander. The Spyder reportedly fell on and killed George Barkus, the driver transporting it to a road-safety expo. Finally, while en route from Miami to Los Angeles in 1960, the Porsche disappeared from a sealed boxcar.
Despite a million-dollar reward for information being offered in 2005, the whereabouts of the Porsche 550 Spyder remains unknown. With Barris himself gone and no sign of the car for 60 years, it seems the car is gone for good.
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