Anyone that has seen the movie Christine will know that people fall in love with their cars and cars can be possessed. Alright we can probably all agree that the latter part is a little far-fetched – or is it?
In my opinion; the Porsche 550 Spyder is one of the most desirable looking cars Porsche has produced, its simplistic design oozes speed and sex appeal and looks like it belongs on the racetrack as much as the open roads. I’m not the only one that thinks that either – movie icon James Dean owned one and he nicknamed it ‘Little Bastard’ – which upon reflection may not have been a good idea since it killed him.
Already a Porsche owner (he had a 356) Dean moved to the 550 when he was filming Rebel Without A Cause. Not satisfied with the standard look, he called up movie car maker George Barris (Munster Koach and 1966 Batmobile) to customize the Porsche and make it his own. Barris gave it tartan seats, two red stripes over the rear wheels and put the number ‘130’ on its doors, hood and engine cover. The ‘Little Bastard’ nickname was created by Dean’s language coach Bill Hickman, and added to the car by Dean Jeffries. Movie Star buys expensive sports car and makes it his own, nothing out of the ordinary there but then things get a little strange.
On September 23, 1955, Dean met actor Sir Alec Guinness (think Obi-Wan Kebobi) and had him take a gander 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 was killed in ‘Little Bastard.’ There are so many Star Wars analogies that could be used right now but let’s leave it that it’s just more than a little freaky. At only 24years old (and in his current movie prime) Dean died on his way to a race in Salinas, California, on September 30th, 1955. His ‘Little Bastard’ 550 Spyder collided head-on with a Ford Tudor that turned left right in front him at an intersection. A terrible accident but an accident none the less, nothing to cause any concern about the car right? Wrong…
George Barris paid US$2,500 for the wreckage of ‘Little Bastard’ and soon after getting it the Porsche slipped off its trailer and broke a mechanics leg. Not long after Barris sold the engine and drivetrain to racers Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While the two were both racing against one another (in cars that had parts from the 550) McHenry lost control and hit a tree, killing him instantly and Eschrid was seriously injured when his car suddenly locked up and rolled over while going into a turn. Ok so many people died in Motorsport back then – It doesn’t stop there.
Barris still had two tires from the 550 which were untouched in Dean’s accident. Pretty soon after he sold them both blew out simultaneously causing the new owner’s car to run off the road. Barris had kept the rest of the car in his possession and a couple of thieves thought they’d help themselves. One of the thieves arms was torn open trying to steal the steering wheel while the other was injured trying to remove the bloodstained tartan seat – Starting to get uncomfortable yet?
Following all the strange incidents surrounding ‘Little Bastard’ Barris thought it best to hide the car but was convinced by the California Highway Patrol to lend mangled wreck to a highway safety exhibit. The first exhibit was unsuccessful as the garage that housed the car caught fire and burned to the ground – but the 550 remained virtually unharmed. The next exhibition at a local high school ended abruptly when the car fell off its display and broke a nearby student’s hip. So much for road Safety!
Still not happy with the carnage it had dished out when ‘Little Bastard’ was being transported the truck carrying the car lost control causing the driver to fall out and somehow get crushed by the car after it fell off the back. The 550 fell off of two more transport trucks while travelling on the freeway fortunately not injuring anyone. In 1966 (Obviously sick of the Porsche by now); the California Highway Patrol sent it back to Barris; however it mysteriously vanished enroute and has thankfully not been seen since, But….
In 2005 the Volo Auto Museum in Chicago posted a US$1m reward for its purchase (obviously an attempt to hopefully find it) and the money may have worked. Last year they received a call from a man claiming to know its whereabouts – He witnessed his father and a few friends hide ‘Little Bastard’ behind a fake wall in Whatcom County Washington (Apparently he was 6 years old at the time). He won’t say which wall until money changes hands and the museum is obviously doing its due diligence but maybe (if recovered) the legend of Dean’s infamous Porsche will live on.
Note to the Volo Museum – For half a Mill and a plane ticket to Washington I’d be happy to go look, a quick drive to Whatcom County hospital looking for people that have been hit by walls would surely locate which wall it’s hidden behind!
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