Written by: Ivan Santamaria (RS: @gasandroads)
after leaving Hollywood for the Salinas races, not far from where Laguna Seca Speedway is currently located. After receiving a speeding ticket a few minutes prior, actor James Dean got out of his Porsche 550 Spyder to refuel at the Blackwells Corners gas station, on Route 46.
On the back of the car there were letters, handmade that same morning in which you could read “Little Bastard”, the nickname he gave his car. On the front end, the left turn signal was damaged because when Von Dutch was preparing the car to paint the letters on the rear, a gear mysteriously came out. The car started to roll a few feet, hitting one of the walls of the workshop at low speed causing the small glass turn indicator to break.
After refueling, James along with his mechanic Rolf Wütherich resumed the roadtrip to the races in Salinas, California.
The car was originally not going to be driven by James. But at the last minute, with the excuse of wanting to get behind the wheel before the races, James decided to drive it himself instead of towing it.
While on route 46, just before 6:00pm and close to the town of Cholame, a Ford Custom Tudor driven by a young 23-year-old named Donald Turnupseed crossed the center-line causing a head-on collision with James and Rolf in the 550 Spyder.
James was thrown from the Spyder when hitting the Ford, losing his life almost immediately. Rolf survived after landing in the ditch, unconscious and with a few broken bones. A few days later he regained consciousness in the hospital.
Two psychologists and racing fans named Troy McHenry and William Eschrid bought the car’s engine and gearbox. This story has two versions: the first in which McHenry died when he smashed his car into a tree and Eschrid became a paraplegic; the second version in which both pilots collided with each other, with the same fateful result.
During a promotional tour where the California highway patrol were raising awareness of traffic accidents, the building where the event venue was held burned down. Guess what was left intact? Sure enough, James Dean’s 550 Spyder.
George Barris bought the remains of the car for $2,500. When he unloaded it at Barris’ workshop, the car came loose and fell on top of one of the mechanics, breaking both legs.
George Barris himself sold the two rear wheels to a man who was involved in an accident a few weeks later, with both wheels being blown off.
At the Sacramento Museum, where the car was exhibited, it broke free from its display area, colliding with a student and braking his hip.
George Barkuis had an accident while transporting James’s 550 Spyder. He died instantly when the car fell on him.
In 1960, when they were taking the car to an exhibition in Miami, the car mysteriously disappeared from the truck.
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