The Haunted Spyder…James Dean’s infamy in death

In his day, no person played the part of the rebel better than James Dean. In fact, he still exists in our modern times as the man who lived the life people secretly wanted and feared at the same time. No one was cooler, and for a span of five years he was the most wanted man in Hollywood. He embodied the idea of living fast, dying young, and leaving a good looking corpse until the day he did die and leave behind nothing but a corpse and two legends. One is the man himself and the stamp he put on our ideas of the young, troubled rogue. The other had to do with the way he died and the car he that might have survived after he died.

It all supposedly started with a life lesson all people need to heed, “Listen to Obe Wan Kenobi.” As part of his fast paced and dangerous reputation, Dean spent much of his time acquiring and racing fast cars. His favorite became a rare Porsche 550 Spyder he had customized and detailed to his specifications. In what would become a series of faithful moments, the car he originally wanted was delayed, and the Porsche was only supposed to be used in the interim. It was nicknamed Little Bastard and according to sources, Alec Guinness warned him a week before his death to get rid of it or risk dying in it.

Seven days later he was dead. On the afternoon of September 30, 1955, shortly after being ticketed for speeding, James Dean collided head-on with a car going the other way on Route 446 in San Luis Obispo County, California. All others involved in the crash survived, but the legend expired before he reached the hospital. Since then, his image has appeared time and time again as an example of wasted youth and suave not-caring, but the stories of that crash have grown as well. The original rumors began with a commonly seen motif in urban legends. James Dean was alive but so disfigured by the accident he dare not show his face and limit the potential earning power of his image. Similar things have been said about such public figures as Elvis, Tupac Shakur, and Health Ledger, who along with Dean is on the short list of actor to receive an Academy Award nomination after his death.

The story that has persisted is more about the car, the murderous Christine of its time. It was salvaged and used as a money maker and cautionary tale by a used car dealer. Then, according to Snopes.com and several other online sources, the car was bought by car customizer George Barris, who’s mechanic suffered a sever injury as it was unloaded from the truck. He seems to have stripped the car and sold off the parts. Troy McHenry and William Eschrid, two doctors living in the Beverley Hills area, got into an accident with each other immediately following their using the part to repair their own cars. McHenry died, as did another man who bought the tires from the doomed Spyder. They exploded the first time he took the car out.

Where is the car and its parts now? No one seems to know. One legend tells of it being transported by eighteen-wheeler to serve another stint as an example of how not to drive. On the way the truck got into an accident, killing the driver, and the car was stolen. Another tells of it being transported but never arriving at its destination, even though the truck arrived late but in one piece.

Of course, none of this can be faithfully tracked down to any reputable sources. Barris was spoke publicaly about it, but was never able to have his version verified. Troy McHenry did die in a car accident, but in an actual car race, not racing a fellow doctor who also had Dean parts. Instead the circumstances of the crash and the legends of the cursed car feed one another, and while there may be no proof that either are true, the stories stands as an example that Hollywood stories are always made from a little bit of truth and a little bit of imagination.

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