The Curse of the James Dean Car

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The Curse of the James Dean Car

Post by weasel666 on Thu 17 Nov 2016, 01:17



The "curse" of James Dean's car, the Little Bastard, has become part of America's cultural mythology. Warren Beath, a James Dean archivist and author, believes the source of the myth is Hollywood's George Barris, the self-described "King of the Kustomizers", who says he was the first to purchase the wrecked Little Bastard. Barris promoted the "curse" after he placed the wreck on public display in 1956. Over the years, Barris described a series of accidents that mysteriously occurred from 1956 to 1960 involving the Little Bastard, resulting in serious injuries to spectators and even a truck driver's death. Porsche historian Lee Raskin states many claims regarding the "curse" of the Little Bastard appear to have been based on Barris' 1974 book, Cars of the Stars. Raskin's 2005 book James Dean At Speed states that the wreckage of the Porsche Spyder, VIN 550-0055, was declared as a total loss by the insurance company, which paid Dean's father, Winton, the fair market value as a settlement. The insurance company, in turn, through a salvage yard in Burbank, sold the entire wrecked Spyder to Dr. William F. Eschrich of Burbank, California. Eschrich, a CSCC racer, who had competed against Dean in his own sports car at three race events during 1955, dismantled the engine and mechanical parts and installed the Porsche 4-cam engine (mounted up front) in his Lotus IX race car chassis. Eschrich then raced the Porsche-powered Lotus, which he called a "Potus", at seven CSCC events during 1956. At the Pomona Sports Car Races on October 21, 1956, Eschrich, driving this car, was involved in a minor "shunt" with another driver. Barris' Cars of the Stars clearly states that a Dr. McHenry, "driving a car powered by the engine from Dean's car, was killed when his vehicle went out of control and struck a tree in the first race in which the motor had been used since Dean's mishap. Another doctor, William F. Eschrid [sic] of Burbank, was injured in the same race when his car, which contained the drivetrain from Dean's car, rolled over." Dr. Eschrich, interviewed a day after Dr. McHenry's fatal accident, said he had loaned the Dean transmission and several other parts to Dr. McHenry. "I don't believe he was using the transmission when he crashed, but he was using the back swinging arms which holds the rear end."[34] McHenry appears to have the distinction of being the only bona fide victim of the "curse" of Dean's "Little Bastard".[35] Raskin states that although Barris may have customized several cars for the Rebel Without a Cause movie, he never customized any of Dean's personal cars and neither of the Porsches.[36] Lew Bracker, Dean's best friend in L.A. and fellow Porsche racer, maintains that Barris was not involved with Dean's sports car racing activities; he was never considered to be part of Dean's "inner circle" invited to go to Salinas on September 30, 1955.[37] It is not known exactly how Barris knew Dr. Echrich, but he was given the Spyder's mangled body after Dr. Eschrich had stripped out the Porsche. In 1956, Barris announced that he was going to rebuild the Porsche Spyder, but that proved to be a Herculean task as the wrecked chassis had no remaining integral strength. Instead, Barris decided to weld aluminum sheet metal over the caved-in left front fender and cockpit area. He proceeded to beat on the aluminum panels with a 2x4 to try to simulate what would appear to be collision damage. Later in 1956, Barris loaned out the "Little Bastard" to the Los Angeles chapter of the National Safety Council for a local rod and custom car show. The gruesome display was promoted as: "James Dean's Last Sports Car". During 1957-1959, the "Little Bastard" exhibit began to appear at various rod and custom car shows, movie theatres, bowling alleys, and highway safety displays throughout California. On the other hand, there are a few stories associated with the "curse" that can be corroborated. For example, a wire service story on March 12, 1959, reported that the "Little Bastard", temporarily stored in a Fresno, California garage at 3158 Hamilton Avenue, caught fire "awaiting display as a safety exhibit in a coming sports and custom automobile show," The May 12, 1959, Fresno Bee, went on to say that the fire occurred on the night of March 11, and only slight damage occurred to the Spyder without any damage to other cars or property in the garage. No one was injured. "The cause of the fire is unknown. It burned two tires and scorched the paint on the vehicle." Later that year, the "Little Bastard" was moved around the country like a travelling circus to annual auto shows and traffic safety exhibitions. Legend also holds that the "Little Bastard" mysteriously disappeared in 1960. According to Barris, the Spyder was returning from a traffic safety exhibit in Florida in a sealed truck. When the trailer arrived back in Los Angeles, the trailer was unlocked and the car had completely disappeared into "thin air", according to Barris. In Barris' book and in many TV documentaries, he said the "Little Bastard" was being shipped back in a sealed boxcar. When the train arrived in LA, Barris said he signed the manifest and verified that the seal was intact—but the boxcar was empty. Raskin believes that Barris' "Little Bastard" side show had finally lost its fan appeal just as the 1960s pop culture began to focus on a need for more speed with "big block" Muscle Cars, and later, the high-revving car tunes from Jan and Dean, Ronny and the Daytonas, the Rip Chords, and the Beach Boys. Raskin also believes that Barris opted to misplace the "Little Bastard". The mysterious disappearance stories were Barris' way of perpetuating the Dean myth, especially on the milestone anniversaries of James Dean's death. Although the legendary "Little Bastard" seemingly has disappeared from sight, Historic Auto Attractions in Roscoe, IL claims to have an original piece of Dean's Spyder on display (a small chunk of aluminum, a few square inches in size) that was actually pried off and stolen from an area near the broken windscreen while the Spyder was being stored in the Cholame Garage following the accident. Also, in 2005, for the 50th Anniversary of James Dean's death, the Volo Auto Museum in Volo, IL announced they were displaying what was purported to be the "Little Bastard's" passenger door. Volo and George Barris offered $1 million to anyone who could prove that they owned the remains of the "Little Bastard". No one came forth to claim the prize. The 4-Cam Porsche engine (#90059) along with the original California Owner's Registration (aka CA Pink Slip) listing the engine number is still in the possession of the family of the late Dr. Eschrich. The Porsche's transaxle assembly (#10046), is currently owned by Porsche collector and restorer, Jack Styles in Massachusetts. Historian and author Lee Raskin originally documented and published all the serial numbers (VINs) for Dean's Porsche Spyder (chassis, engine, transmission); as well as for his 356 Super Speedster. To date, neither of Dean's Porsches have been located. wrote:

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