Everyone knows how Hollywood legend James Dean died — young and badly, crashing his Porsche 550 Spyder on September 30, 1955. More than half a century later, the mystery of his supposedly “cursed” Porsche is as compelling as ever.
Since James Dean’s death in 1955, the Porsche 550 Spyder has become infamous as the car that killed him. As young kids we watched an Unsolved Mysteries episode on the curse of the James Dean Porsche. These stories not only made the famous car seem more like Christine than Porsche, they downright scared us.
While filming Rebel Without A Cause, James Dean had upgraded from the 356 to the 550 Spyder and decided that he wanted to make it uniquely his. Dean called upon George Barris, of movie car fame, to customize the Porsche. He gave it tartan seats, two red stripes over the rear wheels and plastered the number ‘130’ on its doors, hood and engine cover.
The name “Little Bastard” was given by Dean language coach, Bill Hickman, and was later painted on the car by master pin striper, Dean Jeffries. On September 23 of 1955, Dean met actor Alec Guinness (AKA Star Wars' Obi-Wan Kebobi) outside of a restaurant and had him take a look at the Spyder. Guinness told Dean that the car had a “sinister” appearance and then told Dean: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.” Seven days later, Dean would be killed in his beloved “Little Bastard.” Cue the Unsolved Mysteries theme song.
That “Little Bastard” not only killed James Dean, but killed and maimed others who came in contact with it causing many to say that the damn thing was cursed. George Barris, who customized the 550 originally, bought the wrecked carcass of “Little Bastard” for $2500 and soon after it slipped off its trailer and broke a mechanics leg. Not long after Barris sold the engine and drivetrain to Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While the two were both racing against one another in cars that had parts from the “Little Bastard,” McHenry lost control and hit a tree, killing him instantly and Eschrid was seriously injured when his car suddenly locked up and rolled over while going into a turn.
Barris still had two tires from the 550 which were untouched in Dean’s accident. He sold them and not long after, both blew out simultaneously causing the new owner’s car to run off the road. Barris had kept the car in his possession sans the sold parts and it caught the attention of two would-be thieves. One of the thieves arms was torn open trying to steal the steering wheel while the other was injured trying to remove the bloodstained tartan seat.
Due to all the incidents involving “Little Bastard,” Barris decided to hide the car but was convinced by the California Highway Patrol to lend the cursed heap to a highway safety exhibit. The first exhibit was unsuccessful as the garage that housed the car caught fire and burned to the ground. Mysteriously the car suffered virtually no damage from the fire. The next exhibition at a local high school ended abruptly when the car fell off its display and broke a nearby student’s hip.
The curse continued when the “Little Bastard” was being transported when the truck carrying the car lost control which caused the driver to fall out and somehow get crushed by the car after it fell off the back. The car fell off of two more transport trucks while travelling on the freeway fortunately not injuring anyone. The CHP decided that it had had enough of the “Little Bastard” and while transporting the car to Barris, the car mysteriously vanished and has not been seen since.
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This story has been updated since its original publication.