Sleek, silver and rare. The car seemed to be a perfect match for James Dean and he fell in love the instant he saw it. It was a 1955 Porsche Spyder, one of only 90 made of that year model. Dean had a fondness for auto racing and had purchased the car planning to participate in the upcoming races in Salinas, CA on Oct 1st, 1955. He affectionately nicknamed the car “Little Bastard”, a nickname originally bestowed upon Dean by his friend and Giant film language coach, Bill Hickman.
Dean liked to drive fast and was good at it, having taken top honors in several of his early races. Dean was so well known for his fondness of speed that the studio banned Dean from racing during the shooting of the film Giant. On September 17, 1955, Dean ironically shot an announcement for the National Highway Safety Committee, insisting that drivers be more cautious, stating “Take it easy driving. The life you might save might be mine”
While Dean reveled in his new purchase, his friends thought much differently. Many believed that the car was no good, having received bad vibes from it instantly. Slews of stars including Ursula Andress, Eartha Kitt, and Nick Adams all expressed feelings of unease but when Adams mentioned it, Dean shrugged it off and told him that he was destined to die in a speeding car. George Barris (a.ka. Kustomizer King), a car designer and master customizer who had worked on Dean’s other sports cars, had once stated that the car gave “a weird feeling of impending doom”. Actor Alec Guiness reportedly told Dean, “Never get in that car. It is September 23rd, nine o’clock, Friday night, if you drive that car, you will be dead at this time next week”, but Dean did not get rid of the car. Friend and Dean admirer Maila Nurmi (aka Vampira) was reported as being “horrified” when she saw the car and even left a note on the windshied asking Dean, “how could you be seen in such an awful looking thing!” The last warning about the auto had been given to Dean from his uncle Charlie Nolan, not long before he set out to drive to Salinas.
Dean’s premonitions of his death would be realized on September 30, 1955 at the age of 24. The car windshield had been replaced by a smaller and sleeker racing shield and the car was topless, perfect for an afternoon journey. He and a small group of friends head out around 1:30 pm, leaving Los Angeles heading east on Route 99 (now Interstate 5). Accompanying Dean in the Spider was Rolf Wuetherich who was also Dean’s mechanic. When purchasing the car, a deal was struck that Rolf, a top Porsche mechanic, would accompany Dean to all his races. Following the duo were Bill Hickman (actor) and Stan Roth, an accomplished photographer planning a photo story of Dean at the races. They were driving a station wagon, towing a trailer that was originally intended to carry Little Bastard for the trip. Dean decided to drive the vehicle at the last minute.
On the open and nearly empty highway, Dean and his companion gleefully speed along at top speeds. Roth and Hickman followed much further behind. At 3:30 PM, Dean is pulled over near Bakersfield by police officer Otie V. Hunterand and ticketed for speeding at 65 mph in a 45 mph zone. A bit later, Dean and party stop at Blackwell Corner, at the intersection of Route 466 (new HWY 46) and Route 33 to chat with Lance Reventlow, son of Actress Barbara Hutton, who was also on his was to Salinas. Dean and Wuetherich leave and begin their ascent of the Diablo Range Mountains.
Donald Turnupspeed was a student at California Polytechnic Institute in San Luis Obispo and was traveling home to Tulare for the weekend. He happened to be traveling in the opposite direction of Dean. At 5:59 PM at the intersection of Routes 41 and 466 near San Robles, Dean’s car bore-down upon Turnupspeed as he attempted to make a left turn across the highway in his 1950 Ford Custom Tudor coupe. Turnspeed slammed on the brakes and the two cars crashed head-on into each other, pinning Dean in the wreckage with a broken neck and various other injuries. He died en route to Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital. Wuetherich was thrown from the vehicle but suffered a broken leg, fractured jaw and several internal injuries (ironically dying in a 1981 car wreck). Turnupspeed suffered a gashed forehead along with assorted bruises but was not hospitalized, nor charged with the accident. James Dean’s reported last words to Wuetherich were “He’s got to see us.” Police concluded the twilight dusk camouflaged the Porsche’s color, making it nearly impossible to have seen. Turnspeed has never publically commented on the incident.
Little Bastard was mangled and nearly torn in two. Roth was quoted as saying the car was “looking like a crumpled pack of cigarettes”. It has been Despite his misgivings and bad feelings, George Barris bought the wreck for parts for $2,500. Upon arrival at the garage, the wreck slipped off the trailer, breaking a mechanic’s leg.
But the misfortune did not stop there. The engine was sold to Troy McHenry and the drive-train purchased by William Eschrid, both physicians who were planning to use the parts in their own race cars. On October 2, 1956 at the Pamona Fairgrounds in California, the doctors raced their vehicles for the first time using the parts from Little Bastard. McHenry’s Porsche Spyder spun out of control and hit a tree, killing him instantly. Eschrid was seriously injured when his car rolled over going into a curve.
Two of the Porsche’s tires were unharmed during Dean’s accident. Barris sold those to young man who returned within days. Both tires had blown simultaneously, causing him to run off the road and into a ditch.
One souvenir-seeking young man attempted to steal the steering wheel from the wreckage at the garage. He ripped his arm open on jagged piece of metal. Another person was injured while trying to steal a piece of bloodstained upholstery.
Because of these incidents, Barris decided to store the wreck but was persuaded by CHP (CA Hwy Patrol) to loan the wreck out for use in a traveling highway safety exhibit. Two uneventful exhibits took place but prior to the third, a garage in Fresno that was used to store Little Bastard went up in flames, destroying everything except the Porsche. The car barely suffered scorched paint. While on display at a Sacramento CA high school on September 30th, ironically the anniversay of Dean’s death, a student was badly injured when the car fell off it’s pedestal after bolts snapped, either crushing his legs or breaking his hip (available reports differ). Later, while en route to Salinas, the truck driver (George Barhuis) lost control, was thrown free from the vehicle, and then killed when Little Bastard fell off the flatbed and on top of him, crushing him. A freeway accident was caused two years later when the car fell off another flatbed truck, nearly snapping in two, crashing onto the road and causing another fatal accident. In 1958, a truck carrying the Porsche was parked on a hillside in Oregon. The truck’s brakes slipped and crashed into another car, shattering its window. In 1959 while on display in New Orleans, Little Bastard suddenly broke into eleven pieces. No one was ever able to determine the cause of that incident.
In 1960, the car was crated after an exhibit in Miami Fl. It was placed on a train bound for Los Angeles CA. When the boxcar arrived, the Porsche had disappeared. Little Bastard vanished and its current whereabouts are unknown.
While it is clear that something strange is going on, the reason behind it is anyone’s guess. There have been several theories presented but none as interesting as the one that suggests that Dean himself was cursed. Could that explain why so many of Dean’s friends and associates have lead short, yet meaningful lives, and died so horribly? Stars like Natalie Wood, Sal Mineo, and Nick Adams.
If so, where did Dean acquire this curse? Some believe it was his interest in the occult and his brief involvement with an LA witch coven. Most attribute this interest to Dean’s friendship with Maila Nurmi aka Vampira. This is untrue, for it was Dean who sought out Nurmi thinking she shared the same occult interest, having been quoted as saying, “I have a fairly adequate knowledge of satanic forces, and I was interested to find out if this girl was obsessed with such a force.” Nurmi attributed their connection as being two people having the “same neuroses”.
Their friendship was an odd one. There are reports of their friendship being rocky at times, while others suggest that they were more than friends for a brief time. Though Dean aggressively pursued a friendship with Nurmi and they were regularly seen in public together, he publicly denied an intimate relationship with her when he told gossip columnist Hedda Hoppe that they were not a couple and were not dating. Apparently Dean was afraid of the negative impact his career may suffer as a result of their pairing.
It has been stated that Nurmi did not take the public denial well and cast a black magic spell upon Dean, a rumor which is not substantiated. After Dean’s death, it was reported that Nurmi claimed to be having psychic contact with Dean’s ghost. During one interview Nurmi stated, “He was that strong. Jimmy was following me around and was with me a lot of the time for the first six months. There would be an ashtray, I’d look and say, ‘Don’t anybody touch the ashtray, it’s gonna go up. That’s Jimmy’s sign that he’s here.’ And it would go up!” Once the rumor of the spell circulated, she ceased many of the conversations involving the ghostly incidents and even tore up a personal photograph of the two of them to dispel any further rumors.
However, Nurmi is not the only person who believes that James Deans returns after death. Californian historian Richard Senate told Ghost! Magazine in an interview that, “James Dean was another case where psychic impressions gave new clues to what happened the day he died. It was an accident caused by Dean’s being exhausted behind the wheel. He haunts several places in Hollywood, from a studio to his favorite restaurant.” Other reports have been made of a ghostly Porsche cruising the highway where Dean died. Could Dean’s sense of wanderlust be haunting him the way his death has haunted his fans for over 50 years?
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