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Bryan
Hagerty Employee

The haunting story of James Dean’s Little Bastard

James Dean’s career as an actor and racer was cut tragically short on September 30, 1955, when his “Little Bastard” Porsche 550 Spyder was involved in a catastrophic collision on the way to a race meeting. Dean was killed instantly, but Little Bastard would go on to cause considerably more trouble. Read the full article on Hagerty.com:

 

https://www.hagerty.com/media/automotive-history/the-haunting-story-of-james-deans-little-bastard/

 

17 REPLIES 17
GoFast
Detailer

A once credible but long gone source in Germany was told by Wutherich that he, not Dean, was driving the car at the time of the crash.  Wutherich's severe left hip injuries were consistent with that seating arrangement.

adsinger
Intermediate Driver

Are we certain the motor went into a Lotus IX? That was a front engine car set up for an inline 4 cylinder. It would be difficult to put the wide 4-cam Porsche into that narrow frame. What transmission could be coupled to it? We've seen Porsche motors in rear engine Coopers (i.e. Pooper), that would make far more sense.

nikberg
Pit Crew

Hi adsinger, I'm afraid that I can't answer your question about the transmission, but here's evidence of the engine in the Lotus - or Potus as it was apparently known! https://allcarcentral.com/Lotus_Mark_lX_PD.html#.X1EDv9NKhTY
Hymie60
Intermediate Driver

It was State Highway 46 not, 466. At least it is now.

Sharx
Pit Crew

It was 466 back then supposedly, then re-routed and re-named 46.  There are many accident recreations of this out there, but one I just saw on YT was pretty good:

https://youtu.be/4wnxM1qg76Y where it is said pretty convincingly that Dean was driving much faster than was originally stated.  The picture of the Ford's damage (which was built like a tank) pretty much confirms it.

GordonH
New Driver

A friend of mine, now departed, once owned a pale green, mid-60s Renault R8. It was forever in the wars, to the extent that he finally gave up painting new panels because they would just get dinged soon afterwards. It was finally totalled and the insurance paid out but let him keep the wreck. He sold off whatever parts could still be salvaged, but every car that was fitted with one of the R8's parts came to a sticky end. Just hope the curse never spread to the present day.

carguyjim
Detailer

I was friends with John Von Neumann, the original importer of porsche and VW to the US! He established the first dealership called Competition Motors in Hollywood. John explained to me at my Carwash in Palm Springs, Ca. how he sold and handed the keys to the ill-fated Porsche Spyder to Dean. Dean had "Little **bleep**" lettered on the back of his Spyder after being given the nickname for his aggressive driving style... Dean was said to have a secret that could have harmed his movie career at that time in history.

Interesting how the passenger survived the crash yet received little publicity.

Von Neumann was a fascinating, important character in the history of the sports car business and racing ( he drove for Enzo Ferrari after starting out as a mechanic)

He became fabulously wealthy and eccentric, and also had the worlds fastest yacht, which was transported across the sea floating inside a cargo ship, for his use internationally. The yacht was powered by multiple Rolls Royce engines

HotRodGTO
Intermediate Driver

You have the highways reversed.  I believe Dean was traveling on Hwy 46 from Bakersfield, and Turnupseed was turning onto Hwy 41.  Just went through there last week.

nikberg
Pit Crew

@HotRodGTO Well spotted and thanks.
Tinkerah
Technician

A quick check on Google maps tells me that Dean and Wütherich should've been traveling North on 46. If they were on 41 they would already have cleared the intersection. Unless of course, the roads meet again elsewhere and I've not been thorough which is entirely possible.

topside
Detailer

That Ford wagon is also in a photo taken at a gas station, towing an empty open trailer, with the Porsche in front of the Ford. Always seemed to me that the Ford was the tow vehicle, not that it matters. Hickman of course went on to significant stunt-driving fame, so it appears the Dean wreck didn't make him more cautious !

Zephyr
Instructor

I believe Dean's last words were "Don't worry, he'll see us."

PorshaBoyLee356
Pit Crew

Did you know that the James Dean Porsche Spyder will never be found...as George Barris destroyed it in 1961 as it became unpopular in the 1960s with 'Speed' being popular...with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, the Hondells....going faster, faster, faster.  The crushed Porsche wasn't much of an attraction at auto shows anymore.   Barris sent it to the scrapper.   

PorshaBoyLee356
Pit Crew

Nik Berg...fact checking goes a long way in the curse of the "Little Bast@rd"   Many of your statements with respect to the myths of the Porsche's pre and post-accident life have been re-bunked for several decades.  Facts:  The accident took place on 9-30-55 at 5:45 p.m. Pactific Standard Time, as James Dean / Rolf Wutherich were traveling  west on CA Rt. 466 ( from Lost Hills at 466/33) heading toward Paso Robles.  Donald Turnupseed, a Cal Poly student in his 1950 Ford Custom was heading east on CA Rt. 466  and turning left (north-east) onto Rt. 41 at the Cholame Junction when Turnupseed crossed into the west bound lane in front of the oncoming Porsche Spyder.  Turnupseed failed to yield to oncoming car, but was not charged with a manslaughter misdemeanor.  Faux Pas:  "The Spyder also reportedly fell on and killed George Barkus, the driver who transported it to a road-safety expo."  There was no traffic death recorded in the State of California during 1956-1959 relating to a trucker named George Barkus.  The story was concocted by George Barris ( George Barkus... Geroge Barris ) It first appeared in a 1974 book entitled, "Cars of the Stars" written by guess who?  George Barris. "Finally, the Porsche is rumored to have disappeared from a sealed boxcar in 1960 while en route from Miami to Los Angeles."  Barris changed the 'sealed boxcar' to a sealed truck transporter' over the years before he died in November 2015.  There is NO curse of the "Little Bast**d"...unless you still believe in the tooth fairy.  See the real deal biography,  James Dean: On The Road To Salinas, 2015, 2020.    Lee Raskin,  James Dean biographer / Porsche historian / author.

nikberg
Pit Crew

@PorshaBoyLee356Thanks for the comments. Just wanted to point out a couple of key points in the piece: "There are other unconfirmed stories of Little **bleep**’s post-accident life." I haven't presented these as facts, they are stories that have added to the myth over time. The piece also acknowledges that Barris may well have been guilty of telling tall tales about the Spyder. I describe him as a "publicity monger" and add: "Some believe that Barris, ever the showman, fabricated that story as a way of keeping the car’s mystique alive." 

PorshaBoyLee356
Pit Crew

In response to  'Who was driving?'   James Dean.  At the impact, James Dean's left foot was crushed /trapped between the clutch and brake pedal  as the ambulance driver, Paul Moreno, testified at the official CA. Inquest on Oct. 11, 1955.  A crow bar was used to pry the pedals apart so James Dean could be extricated from the Porsche.  Rolf Wutherich was the passenger and was tossed out of the Porsche when it spiraled 360 degrees.  Wutherich landed unconscious next to the Porsche on the side of Hwy 466 W.     Source:  Official Inquest of the State of CA.  10/11/1955. 

PorshaBoyLee356
Pit Crew

Adsinger and Nicberg.  " What transmission was in the POTUS?"    The transmission selected by Dr. Eschrich in the POTUS ( Porsche-Lotus IX)  was  taken from a MG-TF a d coupled to the front-mounted 4-cam Porsche engine.  Dr. Eschrich was a renowned Burbank orthopedic surgeon who also had an engineering ability to build several FM Specials for Cal Club racing.  The POTUS was a remarkable achievment.