The Death of James Dean and the Curse of the Little Bastard

It’s not the anniversary  – that happened on Sept 30th. It’s  just an interesting, albeit tragic story worth telling again. With only 3 movies under belt (Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden & Giant – only ‘Rebel..’ having been released) James Dean’s career was on the rise – his death made him an icon.  Here’s what happened;

On September 30, 1955, James Dean was driving his new Porsche 550 Spyder to a rally in Salinas, CA. Originally planning to tow the Porsche, Dean changed his mind at the last minute and decided to drive instead. While Dean and Rolf Wuetherich (Dean’s mechanic) rode in the Porsche, Dean had photographer Sanford Roth and friend Bill Hickman follow him in his Ford station wagon, which had a trailer for the Spyder attached.

En route to Salinas, Dean was pulled over by police officers near Bakersfield for speeding around 3:30 p.m. Two hours later, around 5:30 p.m., they were driving westbound on Highway 466 (now called State Route 46), when a 1950 Ford Tutor pulled out in front of them. Twenty-three-year-old Donald Turnupseed, who was driving the Ford, has been traveling east on Highway 466 and was attempting to make a left turn onto Highway 41. Unfortunately, Turnupseed had already started to make his turn before he saw the roaring Porsche traveling quickly toward him. Without time to turn, the two cars smashed nearly head-on.

Turnupseed, the driver of the Ford, only received minor injuries from the accident. Rolf Wuetherich, the passenger in the Porsche, was lucky to be thrown from the Porsche and suffered serious head injuries and a broken leg, but survived the crash. James Dean, however, was killed in the accident. Deans’ last words, “That guy’s gotta stop. . . He’ll see us.”

Many fans wonder what happened to the smashed Porsche. After the accident, the crumpled car was toured around the United States as part of a driver safety presentation. However, en route between two stops, the car disappeared. In 2005, Volo Auto Museum in Volo, Illinois offered $1 million to anyone who currently had the car. So far, the car has not resurfaced.

With Rolf Weuterich

The Last Photo

Donald Turnupseed’s 1950 Ford Tudor

Little Bastard on display – by The Greater LA Safety Council

The Curse of the Little Bastard
Famous car cutomizer George Barrispaid $2,500 for the wreckage with the intent of parting it out. However, a string of bizarre tragedies immediately struck. As soon as the vehicle was delivered to Barris’ garage, it slipped off its trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg.

  • Shortly thereafter, Barris sold the engine to Troy McHenry and the drive train to William Eschrid. Both were physicians and racing hobbyists. While racing at the Pomona fairgrounds on October 24, 1956, McHenry was killed when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree. Eschrid’s race car rolled several times while taking a curve, seriously injuring him. He later said that the vehicle ‘just locked up’ on him.
  • Two tires that Barris sold malfunctioned simultaneously, causing the car they were on to go off the road.
  • A young man who was attempting to steal the steering wheel had his arm gashed open on a piece of jagged metal.
  • Another man was hurt while trying to steal one of the bloodstained seats.

At this point, Barris decided that the car would be safer in storage. But the California Highway Patrol persuaded him to loan them the car for a traveling safety exhibition.

  • The mangled remains of Little Bastard were taken to a garage in Fresno, and stored there. Then, in March 1959, a fire broke out in the garage. The garage itself, and everything stored within, were incinerated. All except for the wreckage of James Dean’s car.
  •  At a display at Sacramento High School on the anniversary of Dean’s accident, the bolts holding the car in place snapped. The car plowed off its display and broke the hip of a fifteen-year-old boy who had been looking at the wreckage.
  • En route to Salinas, the truck hauling the vehicle lost control, causing the driver to fall out of the cab. Although the fall from the vehicle didn’t kill him, the Porsche fell off the truck bed and landed on top of him, ending his life.

In 1960, the car’s tour ended. Barris had the vehicle loaded onto a box car in Florida and sealed shut. Then it was transported via train back to California. When the train arrived in L.A., the seal was still intact, yet the car had vanished, and has not been seen since.

With fans on the set of East of Eden


Posted on November 5, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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