Do you believe in ghosts?
Do you believe that inanimate objects can be ‘Possessed’ by the essence or ‘spirit’ of their deceased previous owners?
Much like houses can be ‘haunted’ by their deceased occupants, can dead drivers also haunt the cars they died in?
Many believe so, and one particular car, which belonged to the Hollywood legend James Dean, has been the subject of such speculation for more than 50 years.
Even though he starred in only three movies, Dean has become an object of cult adoration.
James Byron ‘Jimmy’ Dean (8th February 1931- 30th September 1955), died in a fatal car crash in September 1955.
For most of the summer preceding his death, he was on the set of the movie ‘Giant’ just outside Marfa, Texas.
After returning to Los Angeles, Dean bought a silver-grey 1955 Porsche Spyder.
Dean himself, loved the car and nicknamed it “Little Bastard,” but many of his friends appeared to be very nervous around it.
For some reason, being close to it made them feel uneasy.
Driving the Porsche to the races at Salinas, California, Dean collided head-on with another car, which had paused while making a left-hand turn.
Dean was killed instantly.
Soon, a rumour started to circulate that the mangled remains of Dean’s car were somehow ‘cursed’.
James Dean was born on February 8th 1931, at the Seven Gables apartment house in Marion, Indiana, to Winton Dean and Mildred Wilson.
Six years after his father had left farming to become a dental technician, the family moved to Santa Monica, California.
They spent several years there, and by all accounts young Dean was very close to his mother.
According to Michael DeAngelis, she was “the only person capable of truly understanding him”.
When Dean got the part in East of Eden, he bought himself a red race-prepared MG TD and, shortly afterwards, a white Ford Country Squire Woodie station wagon.
Dean soon upgraded his MG to a 1954 Porsche 356 Speedster, which he raced.
Dean came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races in March 1955 after a driver was disqualified; he came in third in May 1955 at Bakersfield and was running fourth at the Santa Monica Road Races later that month until he retired with an engine failure.
During filming of ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, Dean traded in the 356 Speedster for one of only 90 Porsche 550 Spyders.
He was contractually barred from racing during the making of ‘Giant’, but with filming out of the way, he was free to compete again.
The Porsche was only a stopgap for Dean, as delivery of a superior Lotus Mk. X he originally ordered was delayed and he needed a car to compete at the races in Salinas, California.
Dean had asked custom car painter and pin striper Dean Jeffries to paint “Little Bastard” on the car as soon as he took delivery.
When Dean introduced himself to actor Alec Guinness outside the Villa Capri restaurant in Hollywood, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder.
Guinness thought the car appeared ‘sinister’ and told Dean: “If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.”
This meeting took place on September 23rd 1955, seven days before Dean’s death.
While still on the set of his last movie ‘Giant’, Dean filmed a public service announcement, in which he said:
“You know, I used to fly around quite a bit on the highways. I took unnecessary chances, but now when I drive, I’m extra cautious. I don’t have the urge to speed so take it easy when you drive. The life you save might be mine.”
Shortly after speaking those words, in September 1955, Dean jumped into his New Porsche 550 Spyder and hit the highway at 85 mph en route to the Salinas Car Races, Dean was even stopped for a speeding citation, then sped on, and at 5:50 PM, he crashed into a Ford driven by one Donald Turnupseed.
Donald was only slightly hurt; Dean’s passenger, Rolf Wuetherich, was thrown from the vehicle and badly injured.
The 24-year-old Dean however, had fulfilled the many premonitions of his premature death he had spoken to his friends about.
Not only had Dean predicted his death in real life, but in ‘Rebel Without a Cause’, he spoke the now prophetic words:
“You know something? I never figured I’d live to see eighteen.”
Following his death, strange things had started to occur around ‘Little Bastard,’ which had also become the focus of much media attention.
When car buff George Barris purchased the crumpled wreck, it slipped from its tow truck and broke a mechanic’s leg.
Barris then sold the Porsche’s engine to Troy McHenry, a Physician, for his race car, and William F. Eschrid, another doctor, bought the drive shaft.
Both raced with cars using the parts from Dean’s car for the first time at Pomona, California, on October 1st 1956.
McHenry spun out of control, hit a tree, and was killed.
Eschrid flipped his car on a curve and was seriously hurt.
A third race car was using two of the tyres from Dean’s wrecked car when all four tyres blew out simultaneously during a race.
This time the driver did die.
When the Porsche’s crumpled frame was put on display to promote highway safety, it broke it’s mountings and injured a teenager’s hip.
Another fatality occurred during a multi-car pile up nearby, while the Porsche was being loaded onto its tour truck.
The same truck then suffered unexplained brake loss, swerved out of control, and slammed into a storefront.
Following that, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car.
When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal.
Later, another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat.
This would be the final straw for Barris, who decided to store “Little Bastard” away, but he was persuaded by the California Highway Patrol (CHiP) to loan the wrecked car to a highway safety exhibit.
Nearly a million tickets were sold when the wreck was put on display at a carnival.
Pieces of the twisted, bloodstained hulk were prised off and stolen as macabre souvenirs, until the remainder of the car suddenly and inexplicably, fell apart into eleven pieces.
During the return train trip to Hollywood, the remaining pieces of James Dean’s car ‘vanished,’ never to be seen again.
Many people believe that certain objects can become cursed if they’re involved in tragedy or violence.
Was the wreckage of Little Bastard, a cold and lifeless collection of metal, plastic and rubber, haunting others with just such a curse?
Until it’s found, we may never know.