On this day in 1955 at 5:45 PM, a freekin’ little bastard killed James Dean. Witnesses maintain that Dean was not speeding and the sun was still out when that “Little Bastard” Porsche 550 Spyder forced the Ford Tudor driven by Donald Turnupseed to turn left right in front of the Spyder and crush James Dean. [click on images to enlarge]
Dean is killed, his friend and Porsche mechanic Rolf Wütherich, who is ejected from the car, survives. Turnupseed is dazed and mostly uninjured.
Dean had George Barris of movie car fame customize the car and master pinstriper, Dean Jeffries, paint the car’s name, “Little Bastard” on the rear bonnet.
Seven days earlier, Obi-Wan Kenobi (you may know him as Alec Guinness) was with Dean outside a restaurant looking at the car. He mentioned that the car had a sinister appearance and told him, “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
But that is not the end of this little bastard’s reign of terror.
George Barris bought the crushed car for $2500 and while moving it, the Little Bastard slipped off its trailer and broke both of his mechanic’s legs.
Not long after, Barris sold the engine and drivetrain to racers Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While racing against each other in cars that had parts from that little bastard, McHenry lost control of his car and hit a tree. He died instantly.
Eschrid was seriously injured when his car mysteriously locked up and rolled over as he was going into a turn.
George Barris still had two tires from that bastard car that were untouched and looked like new. He sold the tires only to find out soon after that both tires blew out simultaneously running the car with its driver off the road. The driver was uninjured.
Barris kept possession of the car at his lot. It caught the attention of two would-be thieves who would regret coming across the Little Bastard. One had his arm torn open trying to steal the steering wheel. The other was injured trying to remove the blood stained seat.
Barris had had enough and decided to hide the car. That didn’t last long as the California Highway Patrol convinced him to let them use it for a highway safety exhibit.
The first exhibit didn’t go very well as the garage that housed the car caught fire and burned to the ground. Oddly enough, the car suffered virtually no damage from the fire.
The next exhibition was set up at a local high school. The event ended abruptly as that little bastard fell off its display and broke a student’s hip.
The Little Bastard continued its jinx while being transported to the next event. The driver of the truck lost control and was ejected. The driver, George Barkhuis, was killed when he somehow got crushed by the car as it fell off the truck.
While transporting the car to Oregon for an exhibition, the truck hauling the car drove through a store window when the safety brake failed. Then in New Orleans in 1959, the Little Bastard broke into eleven pieces while it was anchored to stationary posts.
Enough was enough. Barris called off any more tour dates for the Little Bastard. He had it loaded into a box car in Miami to send by train back to California. When the box car was opened up in California the rail car was empty. It has not been seen again.
Rolf Wütherich never got over his guilt after the accident and tried to commit suicide twice. The second time was a failed murder/suicide attempt, stabbing his wife 14 times in their kitchen. He died in a drunk-driving accident in 1981. Turnupseed, the driver of the Ford died of lung cancer, also in 1981.
Back in August of 2005 the Volo Auto Museum offered a one million dollar reward to anyone producing the missing Porsche Spyder. To date no one has come forward with the body.
“There was something strange about that particular car…it made me uneasy. Dean was all worked up about how he was going to race it that weekend, but I couldn’t get enthusiastic about it. He dropped it off Thursday morning and returned that afternoon. I had crazy feelings about wanting to stop him as I watched him drive away from my shop. Everything that car has touched has turned to tragedy.It’s baffled me for years. I’ve never been able to come up with logical or rational answers to my questions. The only answer seems to be that the car was cursed.”
~ George Barris