The Curse of James Dean’s Car

James Dean posing with a coffin, 1955 (1)
James Dean in coffin, photo by Dennis Stock (Image Credit)

As part of a Hoosier family, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that my first and middle name would have been “James Dean” if born a boy. In a state that produces wholesome basketball stars, James Dean was our rebel that smoked cigarettes under the bleachers.

James Dean loved speed. Death by car accident cemented Dean’s legendary status as a thrill seeker and the car’s legendary status as a death trap. The car is rumored to have injured and killed many after this tragic car crash. Today, we explore the curse of James Dean’s car.

Dean purchased a 1955 silver-gray Porsche Spyder and lovingly named it “Little Bastard.” He bought it on the condition that Rolf Wütherich, a top Porsche mechanic, accompanied him at all races. He had the number “130” painted on the car and replaced the windshield with a smaller racing one, along with other personalized changes.

Friends warned James Dean of this car, including Star Wars actor Alec Guinness:

On September 23 of 1955, Dean met actor Alec Guinness (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. (Source)

George Barris, a car designer, also told Dean that the car seemed to give off “a weird feeling of impending doom.”

Nevertheless, Dean and Wütherich headed out to LA for a car race (followed by another car with photographer Stand Roth and friend Bill Hickman). I’ll let Wikipedia explain the accident details:

At approximately 5:15pm [on September 30, 1955], Dean and Hickman left Blackwells Corner, driving west on Route 466(now State Route 46) toward Paso Robles, approximately 60 miles (97 km) away. Dean accelerated in the Porsche and left the Ford station wagon far behind. Further along on Route 466, the Porsche crested Polonio Pass and headed down the long Antelope Grade, passing cars along the way toward the junction floor at Route 466 and Route 41. At approximately 5:45pm, a black-and-white 1950 Ford Tudor coupe driven at high speed was headed east on Route 466 just west of the junction near Shandon. Its driver, 23-year-old Cal Poly student Donald Turnupseed, made a left turn onto Route 41 headed north, toward Fresno. As Turnupseed’s Ford crossed over the center line, Dean, who was driving at a reported speed of 85 mph (137 km/h) , apparently tried to steer the Spyder in a “side stepping” racing maneuver, but with insufficient time and space, the two cars crashed almost head-on.

Dean was killed instantly by a broken neck and other injuries. Wütherich was thrown from the car and suffered a fractured jar. Turnupseed suffered minor cuts and did not need hospitalization.  The car was nearly broken in half.


Barris purchased the wreckage and so began Little Bastard’s cursed road trip. The following is a list of alleged incidents:

  1. When the car reached Barris’ garage, it slipped during unloading and fell on a mechanic. He broke one of his legs.
  2. Two physicians, Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, purchased parts from the wreckage for their own racing cars. At a race on October 2, 1956 (while using the parts), McHenry lost control, hit a tree, and died. Eschrid’s car rolled over and he suffered injuries.
  3. Fans often tried to steal pieces from Barris’ garage. On one occasion, a man ripped open his arm on a piece of metal when trying to remove the steering wheel. Another person was injured when trying to steal the bloody upholstery.
  4. Because of all these incidents, Barris decided to store away the wreckage, but only after lending it out as a driving safety exhibit. When the car was stored in a garage in Fresno in between exhibits, the garage caught fire. Everything was destroyed, except for the Little Bastard.
  5. While on exhibited at a high school, the car fell off the display and broke a student’s hip.
  6. While on a flatbed truck on the way to Salinas, the driver (George Barkuis) lost control of the truck and was thrown free. Then, the Little Bastard fell from the truck and onto Barkuis, crushing him to death.
  7. Two years later, it fell off another flatbed truck and caused an accident.
  8. In 1958, a truck carrying the wreckage was parked on a hillside in Oregon. The breaks slipped and the truck crashed into a car. Luckily, only a window was shattered and no one got hurt.

The curse would soon come to an end. While on display in New Orleans in 1959 the wreckage broke into 11 pieces while on display. The cause is unknown. Then in 1960, the car vanished when going back to Barris’ garage in Los Angeles from Florida. The car just vanished. 

What the hell, am I right? What causes one car to do so much damage? Is it coincidence or some sick, sick unworldly power? In The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits, Rosemary Ellen Guiley writes:

Was the Little Bastard cursed when Dean bought it–even though it was brand new–or did it become cursed as a result of his violent death. According to superstition, objects–as well as places–can become cursed when they are associated with violence and tragedy […] According to psychometry [extra-sensory perception where you can get histories by touching physical objects], objects absorb the emotions of their owners and those around them, and remain a repository of those emotions indefinitely. (203)

Maila Nurmi (Source & Bio)

Others claim that Dean’s interaction with the occult could have caused the curse/crash. Rumor has it that he dabbled in Satanism and was involved with a witch coven in Los Angeles (and we all know the misconceptions people have about both). This dabbling was attributed to his association with Maila Nurmi, an actress that starred in Vampira. He denied any romantic relationship with Nurmi, and she didn’t take it too well. Thus, she placed a black magic spell on Dean. As you do. Or, rumor has it, he pissed off some other witches in the aforementioned coven. Take what you want from that legend. (Source)

Dean’s appeal continues today, and many people go to his grave to pay respect to this rebel. Buried in Fairmount, Indiana, rumors of supernatural incidents surround his burial site. Others claim to see his Porsche cruising down the same highway of his tragic passing.

Where is the Little Bastard today? Someone claims to know, but we haven’t found it yet. If anything, I hope it’s safely stored away from human contact.


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