James Dean’s Cursed Death Car

The following article is presented for entertainment purposes only. It is not intended as scholarly research and is not a final authority on the subject. 

The Curse of Little Bastard

Everybody likes a good ghost story, or, at least, I do. This is not exactly a ghost story, but it is eerie. Today, we’re going to talk about Little Bastard, the car in which James Dean died. First, though, let’s talk a little bit about the man himself.

The first time I saw a picture of James Dean, I had to know who he was. He had this mystique, this air of cool about him.

Back in those dinosaur pre-internet days, it took a trip to the library to find out James Dean died tragically in a car crash at the age of twenty-four.  He only made three films, and he’d been called “America’s first teenager.”

This research expedition took place in the ice-age of VHS. I hauled my cookies down to the video rental store (remember those?) and rented, in turn, East of EdenRebel without a Cause, and Giant, which were the only films Dean made in his short career.

Giant, Dean’s final film, was released posthumously. Dean had just finished on-location shooting of Giant when he was killed. He’d returned to California and bought a Porsche Spyder. He nicknamed the Spyder “Little Bastard.”

Dean’s friends later claimed Little Bastard gave them an eerie feeling. They recall Dean laughing them off, claiming he was destined to die in a fiery car crash anyway. Sometimes things have a spooky way of coming true. The video below contains chilling road safety message from James Dean.

The day was September 30, 1955. James Dean was cruising at a high rate of speed toward Salinas, California and the car races.  Rolf Wuentherich, a top Porsche mechanic, rode shotgun.  At Blackwells Corner, a driver made a left turn in front of Dean, who was going too fast to stop.  Bam! Just like that, it was all over.

Wuentherich and the driver of the other car survived, but Dean perished. A quick google will turn up an image of the crash. You’ll see why I didn’t post one here if you choose to go looking.

This is where the curse of Little Bastard begins.

Barris’s Garage bought the car for parts. A mechanic, who was unloading the wreckage, suffered a broken leg–or two–as he was unloading Little Bastard and the car slipped. Souvenir seeking fans weren’t any luckier. A young man trying to steal a piece of bloody upholstery from Little Bastard ripped open his arm on the wreckage.

The Parts

A physician who bought the Spyder’s engine was killed in car race while driving a car powered by Little Bastard’s motor. In the same race, another car in which Little Bastard’s drive train had been placed rolled over. The driver of that vehicle escaped with his life.

Little Bastard’s heavy duty racing tires, which survived the Dean crash intact, were sold to a sports car enthusiast. He put them on his car and went for a drive. The tires blew simultaneously, and almost killed the driver.

The Safety Exhibits

Barris was persuaded by the California Highway Patrol to let them use the car for a safety exhibit, and Little Bastard was stored in a garage. The garage went up in flames. Every car was destroyed, except for Little Bastard, which suffered bubbled paint and two damaged tires.

At a display at a Sacramento high school, Little Bastard fell off its pedestal and broke a student’s hip.

I’m just talking about a few instances here. There’s quite a bit more if you care to research.

The Disappearance

The mishaps kept rolling on until 1960. Little Bastard was lent to the Florida Highway Patrol for a safety exhibit—boy, these people loved their safety exhibits, didn’t they?

After the exhibit ended, Little Bastard was crated and sent back to Barris. Somewhere, along the open highway between Florida and California, Little Bastard disappeared forever.

Some people think Little Bastard was destined to bring bad fortune to all who were associated with it, including Dean’s friends and acquaintances.

1968—Nick Adams was hired to dub his voice for Dean’s in several scenes of Giant. He died of a paraldehyde overdose in 1968.

1968—Rolf Wuetherich, the mechanic riding with Dean in the fatal crash, stabbed his wife fourteen times in a murder/suicide attempt. He pled insanity and later died in a car crash.

1976 — Sal Mineo, James Dean’s co-star in Rebel without a Cause, was stabbed to death.

If you want to read more about Little Bastard and other curious Dean death facts online, try Warren Beath’s The Death of James Dean website. I got the idea for this blog post from The Encyclopedia of Ghosts and Spirits by Rosemary Guiley.

Did the terror of James Dean’s last moments stay with Little Bastard? Perhaps the car was cursed by his bitterness over dying just as his career was about to explode. Or was the car cursed before Dean even bought it? I guess we, even the naysayers among us, will never know for sure.

If you’ve never seen East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, or Giant, pick one and watch it. James Dean had a lot of talent. It would have been interesting to see him grow as an actor. Those who knew James Dean predicted he would have gotten into directing his own films had he lived. Some people say he would have been Easy Rider.

Instead, he’ll be young and beautiful forever in our collective conscience. Let’s raise our coffee cups to James Dean. I swear, I find a man who’s prettier than me absolutely irresistible. May you live forever on film, you gorgeous man.


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25 thoughts on “James Dean’s Cursed Death Car

  1. I adored James Dean as a teen, 30 years after his death. Had his posters everywhere. Related to his rebel stance. And he was so fleeting here on Earth, and so young. I dont believe in curses but funny how coincidence is. Like the curse of Poltergeist. Is his car Christine not in motion? GREAT post! Thanks for reminding me of my childhood crush.

    • I still think James Dean was such a beautiful young man–that is one of the few things that haven’t changed since I first saw him. Of course, I now have a better understanding of how young he was, and that adds a bit of tragedy to his mythology. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  2. on ,
    Emma said:

    I’ve never seen any of his films yet. He reminds of River Phoenix, young actors with Hollywood at their feet who died too young.

    • That is a good point. I’ll add Heath Ledger to the gone too soon list. It made me so sad to see Heath as The Joker–his last role–because his acting skill was really maturing. He was going to be fantastic.

      I think the same is true of James Dean. If you start with East of Eden, go to Rebel Without a Cause, and then watch Giant, you will see his skill grow…and it is sad.

      Confession: my favorite movie of River Phoenix’s is TheThing Called Love. He was really coming into his own in that movie.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • on ,
        Emma said:

        Yes I love that film and the music in it, especially “She’s in Love with the Boy”. I’m watching River Phoenix in Dogfight now.

  3. Creepy! Wish I had stories to add—not personal, of course. 😉 The closest I’ve come is visiting his grave.

    • How very cool! If I ever make it to that part of the country, I’d love to visit his grave. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. I love James Dean and the story of his little cursed car…. I don’t know that I’ve ever come into contact with a cursed object, but I definitely believe!!

    I have seen a few retail spots that can’t seem to keep any sort of business in them for very long; That seems cursed to me. A bit anyway. :)

    • I’ve seen the “cursed” retail spot, too. We have one fairly near our house that is a restaurant. We’ve lived here for 10 years, and there have been at least five different restaurants in there. The location is fantastic–right off the freeway–but the restaurants there never flourish. Of course, the location does not host franchises, so that could be the logical reason. But thinking about an otherworldly reason is so much more entertaining. 😀

  5. Hi Catie

    Spooky and interesting. Back in the 60s someone noticed that aircraft that crashed generally had less than average number of people on them. Maybe there is something about sensing a cursed object. I get a bad feeling every morning at work when I turn my PC on, it’s definitely cursed!


    • That’s interesting about the aircraft having a less than average number of people. I do think people have a sixth sense, and it is not necessarily supernatural. For my non-fiction reading, I have been working my way through Gavin DeBecker’s The Gift of Fear. The author discusses how we know–deep down–when something is wrong. It’s a very interesting book if you haven’t read it.

      As for your work PC, I suspect you’re right. It probably is cursed. You probably need to take some time off–perhaps go fishing–in order to preserve your safety. 😀

  6. We lost several gifted entertainers back in those days, Catie. Others who come to mind are Buddy Holly and Patsy Cline.

    • I have probably told you this, but my great-grandmother lived in the town in West Virginia where they filmed parts of the Patsy Cline movie, Sweet Dreams. She loved telling about when the movie people came to her town. I also really like Buddy Holly. I listen to his music fairly often, and I wonder what he would have gone on to do. It was obvious he was really talented guy. I have heard that there is a bunch of Buddy Holly tourism stuff in Lubbock, but we have never been out that far. I’d like to go see it sometime, though. Thanks for stopping by.

  7. I need to dig up some photos I have of Blackwell’s Corner Highway 41- and the side road where he crashed that I took in 1989. They have ghost images.
    “I do believe I do I do I do.” L Frank Baum

    • Oh, please do! I have never been to California (and obviously not to Blackwell’s Corner), so I’d love to see the real place. If you do dig up the pics and post them on your blog, please send me an email or get in contact with me via Facebook and let me know. I’d love to see the ghost images. 😀 Thanks for stopping by.

  8. One of the only regret I have about my childhood viewing habits is that my mom didn’t put classic movies in front of me. It was baseball on our television all the time and I’m woefully ignorant about the “old time” movie stars like James Dean. Thanks for giving me some history here. :-)

    • I didn’t start watching classic movies until I was an adult, Jenny. And, really, it has only been the last decade or so that I’ve really gotten into the classics genre. I like the way people used to dress and how polite they were to each other. Watching old movies is sort of an escape for me.

      Glad you enjoyed reading about James Dean. If you’re only going to watch one of his movies, make it Rebel without a Cause. I usually recommend Giant, but I think Rebel would appeal to you more.

      Thanks for stopping by. 😀

  9. on ,
    Dave said:

    I like most Porsche models. The 550 Spyder had style, especially for the day. I think a car like that would require a more affectionate name than “Little Bastard”. It’s a finely tuned, well engineered, beautiful, thoroughbred. You could call it a metal Secretariat. Maybe the machine had a spirit that Dean couldn’t handle.

    I think cars have character. I always name mine because of that.

    I have heard a few stories of cursed or unlucky machines….. most often in wartime. Bombers and ships come to mind right away.

    • “Little Bastard” was a nickname that James Dean had been given while filming the movie Giant. For an incredibly successful–and full of himself–young man, nicknaming the car after himself was probably seen as bestowing a huge honor. LOL

      When I first posted this article in May of 2011, one commenter told me that the metal from which Little Bastard was considered cursed. The same metal was used in the construction of several “cursed” items.

      As I read your reply about Porsches, I realized I have never even ridden in a Porsche. What a bummer. I need to put that on my bucket list. (Though I’d put riding in Bullitt’s Mustang before that.)

      I have never read any stories about cursed warships or bombers. Too bad you don’t blog. I’d encourage you to do a series of posts on them. 😀

      Thanks for stopping by.

  10. on ,
    Dave P. said:

    I never knew how James Dean’s car came by that name. Very interesting. He probably thought it was a huge honor. I could never name a car for myself after what I have been called.

    It has been said by some sports car enthusiasts that you can love a Porsche but it won’t love you back. It’s too predictable and too much of a servant. A Ferrari on the other hand is much
    different. It can thrill you, attract people to you, and keep you obsessed with its beauty. Often it won’t start or run properly. It will confuse you. You ruminate, “Well that was a bad fix.” But when it’s tuned……….

    Porsches can be fun. If you are going to get into one make sure it’s a rear or mid-engined model.
    The Bullitt Mustang is a classic. Ford released a Bullitt edition Mustang based on their “GT” model back in 2008.

    I enjoy racing movies but there isn’t that many of note. Grand Prix, Winning, LeMans, and Heart Like a Wheel are well worth the watch.

    I guess things made from metal that is forged in hell become cursed. But really…Is it the metal or the item? I should look into it.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    • I remember reading about James Dean’s car in a book years ago; I’ve always been fascinated by the paranormal, and the bizzare. I’ve got accounts of some of my own experiences here….

      I didn’t know you were a Texan….although I was born in Ohio, I’m a Texan in spirit. I met a LoneStar gal online a few years back, and we married three years ago-we live in Whitney, halfway between Dallas and Waco.

      • I checked out your website. Love it! The paranormal is one of the few things that never fails to hold my interest. I love being scared, and I love mysteries. So my attraction to the paranormal is a natural.

        My cousin is like you–a Texan in spirit. He came here from Pennsylvania and never went back. I think you either “get” Texas or don’t. I was born here, grew up here, and never left. I can even trace my ancestry back to the fighters in the Texas Revolution. I don’t imagine I’ll ever leave.

        Thanks for your comment. 😀