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C is for Curse

Human beings are superstitious by nature. Many of us believe in good luck charms, but how about the opposite? Could curses really exist?

James Dean remains a Hollywood icon, even though he only made three films before he died–two of which had not yet been released upon his death. Part of the reason he’s still known today is the mystery surrounding his early death…and the car he died in.

Dean, a racing enthusiast, snapped up one of three Porsche Spyders that arrived in the U.S. in 1955. The Spyder was designed especially for racing, and Dean had it customized by George Barris, who added racing stripes, the number 130, and the name “Little Bastard.”

And a Little Bastard it would prove to be.

Only nine days after purchasing the car (and less than two weeks after appearing in a safety commercial where he warned young drivers against excessive speed), Dean was killed when his car struck another vehicle head-on. He was only 24 years old.

Adding to the mystique was the fact that many people in Dean’s life had “bad feelings” about the car and warned him, including actor Alex Guinness and Dean’s girlfriend Ursula Andress.

Barris bought the wreck and salvaged what he could for parts. While the car was in his possession, two thieves attempted to steal the steering wheel and seat covers, tearing up their arms and receiving other injuries in the process.

William Eschrid purchased the Little Bastard’s engine and other parts, which he loaned to his friend, Dr. Troy McHenry. The parts were in McHenry’s car when he lost control in a race 13 months later, hitting a tree and dying instantly. On the same day in a separate race, Eschrid was severely injured and almost lost his life as well. The Little Bastard’s engine was in his Lotus.

Two salvaged tires from Dean’s car blew out at the same time, causing their new owner’s vehicle to skid off the road.

Meanwhile, Barris loaned the crumpled car body to the Greater Los Angeles Safety Council for an exhibit.

Dean's car exhibit

While transporting the car to the exhibit, the driver was in an accident. Dean’s car then killed him when it rolled off the flatbed and crushed him.

When the Little Bastard was removed from another flatbed, it slipped off the dollies and broke the attendant’s legs.

It was then stored in a garage, which caught fire and burned down. By all reports, the car appeared to be untouched.

While on display at a high school, Dean’s car fell off a display, breaking a student’s hip.

Finally it disappeared during transport and hasn’t been seen since. Although the Volvo Auto Museum has offered a reward of one million dollars, resulting in some promising leads, the Little Bastard remains in hiding.

What do you think–can objects be cursed? Was James Dean killed by a curse, or did the Little Bastard become cursed after his death? Would you feel safe riding in a vehicle that contains a piece of that car?

PS – If you enjoy stories about curses, you’ll love my novella The Bear Who Wouldn’t Leave, which features a cursed teddy bear.

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66 Comments

  1. Thanks for filling me in on James Dean. I’m not sure what my official stance on curses is but there’s no doubt about the Little Bastard. That beast was definitely cursed.
    In my series of letters to Dead Poets, for letter D I address the issue of suffering and whether you are cursed, bad luck etc. It will be a long post but an incredible series of terrible things which happened to a writer known or his incredible sense of humour.
    xx Rowena

    Reply
    • JH

      Sounds interesting, Rowena. Thanks for letting me know.

      The A to Z has been so busy that I’m mostly returning comments, but will do my best to keep up with everyone!

      Reply
  2. I’m not really superstitious.
    But that car was well named…a Little Bastard indeed. 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Michelle.

      This post made me think about where I myself stand on curses. There’s so many tragedies linked to this car that it really makes one wonder.

      Reply
  3. It sure sounds as if that car was cursed doesn’t it. I’m not sure if I believe objects can be cursed, but I am a firm believer that a human being is an unexplainable thing and if people believe something is cursed, bad things can happen.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

    Reply
    • JH

      The power of suggestive thinking could be behind some of these occurrences, for sure. But the doctors who used the parts in their race cars didn’t think the Little Bastard was cursed. (It was too early for that.)

      And then there’s the garage that burned down…could be a ton of strange coincidences, but it definitely makes me wonder.

      Reply
  4. I still remember when this happened. It was the Michael Jackson death of its time. James was reckless and a fast car did him no favors. I don’t believe in objects being cursed, just in folks taking too many chances.

    Reply
    • JH

      Then an awful lot of people took too many chances around this car. 🙂

      Including the high school student who was just looking at it. And the guy who stored it in a garage.

      Reply
  5. I’d heard of some of the events surrounding that car. It’s probably a good thing it went missing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Alex. Funny that so many people want it back!

      Reply
  6. I definitely believe the car was cursed. Objects can be cursed, spells put on them, bewitched, if you will.

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks for your comment, Corina. Finally, someone willing to go down the tunnel with me! 😀

      I’ve heard tales that the car injured factory workers who were putting it together, but that could have been taken from Stephen King’s Christine. There’s definitely a lot of similarities.

      Reply
  7. I really have a hard time committing to believing Little Bastard was (is) cursed, but that’s an awful lot of bad coincidences…

    Reply
    • JH

      I know, right?

      It got me thinking.

      Reply
    • JH

      I’m wondering if that’s where he got the inspiration from. Definitely a lot of similarities.

      Reply
  8. Really interesting piece! I’m inclined to believe that this kind of car is made to be driven fast and that Dean died as a consequence to that. The rest of the things that happened does make it look cursed, but I have to wonder how many other cars/car parts would have a history like this, but they are not recorded anywhere because the original owner wasn’t famous. Having said that, I don’t think I would want that engine in my car!
    Debbie

    Reply
    • JH

      Why tempt fate? I’d be staying away from this car.

      But you’re right…it would be interesting to follow the path of another race car and see if the same type of fatalities and catastrophes trailed it as well.

      Reply
  9. I do not want to believe but there are so many stories even from the people I know that prove otherwise. I’m only comfortable to admit there might be some sort of negative energy transferred on object but far from anything that serious.

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s an interesting theory, Zeljka. I’m honestly not sure WHAT to believe when it comes to this case.

      Reply
  10. Yikes…makes me wonder if Stephen King didn’t find a little inspiration in this when writing Christine? Interesting sorta related spooky story: I’ve been a big Natalie Wood fan since reading her bio one bored summer when I was a teenager. She fell in water when a bridge collapsed on a set when she was very little. (She broke her wrist and because her crazy mom didn’t believe in doctors, it healed disfigured…which was why she always wore a bracelet covering that wrist.) Her mom also always told her she would drown in dark water someday. As a result, she was terrified of water…which was how she died. She’s my “N” this month, by the way!

    Reply
    • JH

      I think he did, Stephanie! There’s just too many similarities between Christine and the Little Bastard.

      I’m very familiar with Natalie’s story. I wonder if we read the same bio as kids. The one written by her sister? I look forward to seeing your post! I know some new insights have come to light with that case.

      Reply
      • I believe Natalie Wood didn’t end up in the water on her own. There is more to this story but only Robert Wagner and Christopher Walkin know it. She never would have gotten into that dingy on her own being that fearful of the water.

        Reply
  11. Maybe if he named it Hurffle Puffinstuffs, this all wouldn’t have happened ….
    Just sayin ~

    Reply
    • JH

      Very good point, Tami.

      Maybe he offended the car?

      Reply
  12. I admit to being superstitious. Salt over the shoulder. Fingers crossed. No black cat crossings or ladder encounters unless I go around. That car had bad juju. Very bad juju.

    Reply
    • JH

      I wouldn’t be comfortable driving in a vehicle that had any parts from it, that’s for sure. Even people who didn’t know there was a connection had issues.

      Reply
  13. Very, very interesting. I don’t believe in curses, and with proper investigation, I’m sure many of these events that occured can be explained. I also don’t believe in coincidence, but a part of me loves that my imagination is swirling around like smoke drifting off of a campfire, headed who knows where.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s a great story, isn’t it? Whether you believe in curses or not, there’s something about the idea of an evil object, hellbent on destruction.

      Thanks for commenting, Michael! It means a lot.

      Reply
  14. Did anyone check into this George Barris guy? He might be the one to curse all the car parts and he kept lending/selling stuff to people even though he knew bad things were happening and it appears nothing bad happened to him!

    🙂

    Heather M. Gardner / @hmgardner
    Co-Host, Blogging from A to Z April Challenge
    The Waiting is the Hardest Part

    Reply
    • JH

      Ha ha! You should see this guy–I’ve watched interviews with him. He’s exactly what you picture when you think of a small-town garage owner.

      Even though he’s not small town.

      Reply
  15. Wowsa, wowsa, wowsa! I had not heard all of this! Yes, I do believe in curses and it sure seems obvious that the car was indeed cursed. That’s too many “accidents” to be coincidence.
    Scary. And No Way would I have a piece of that car and feel safe.

    Such an interesting story. I’ll be sharing it for sure!
    Great post J.H.

    Michele at Angels Bark

    Reply
    • JH

      Thanks so much, Michele. I appreciate the signal boost!

      I agree with you–if that car is ever found, I’m keeping my distance.

      Reply
  16. i knew some of this about the car, but wow, i am impressed by the things i didn’t know.

    yeah, curses are not to be laughed at. i think they could exist.

    Reply
    • JH

      It’s certainly spooky, even if they’re all coincidences. That is one bad luck car.

      Reply
  17. Yeah that car can stay wherever it is. Hopefully under a really big mountain or a bottomless ditch. *Shivers*

    Reply
    • JH

      I agree, Sheena-kay!

      Who would steal that thing?

      Reply
  18. Well, if any object is cursed, this one is definitely it… O.o I think it’s better if it stays in hiding… Reminds me of a Supernatural episode 😀 (I think they actually did one)

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    Reply
    • JH

      Figures. That show seems to cover everything!

      Reply
  19. I’m not sure how I feel about objects having curses. It makes for a great story, and these particularly crazy events surrounding a car remind me of the first time I read Christine by Steven King. That book scared the bejesus out of me. I was afraid of certain cars for years. Now, thanks to your post, I can add another car to the list. Thanks! 🙂

    Reply
    • JH

      As I researched this case, I became convinced Stephen King was inspired by the Little Bastard when he wrote Christine. There’s just too many similarities.

      Since Porsche Spyders are still pretty rare, I think you’re safe. 🙂

      Welcome to my blog! Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  20. Very interesting, thank you for the detailed post. I remember reading about the curse of Little Bastard. Sure lived up to its name. Yes, we humans love, or get caught up in, superstitions and stories. Little Bastard’s story proves there is always something behind the makings of a dark tale.

    Reply
    • JH

      Yes, inspiration can come from so many places. I’ve had a few writers tell me these posts have inspired stories and novels, and that makes me so happy! 😀

      Reply
  21. I love this post, what an interesting story about James Dean’s car. It’s thought provoking, whether you believe curses or not. I’ve done some mystery tours of Los Angeles and it’ s always startling how many strange things go on in places where it seems like nothing out of the ordinary could happen. Must be fun to research all this stuff. My “C” topic today is Cloverfield, because I was writing about 10 Cloverfield Road. Not as spooky as James Dean’s car, but lots of fun anyway. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts, JH!

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, I look forward to reading it, Ellen. Thanks for dropping by.

      Mystery tours of LA seem like they could be a lot of fun. I hope you at least saw the Hollywood sign ghost. 🙂

      Reply
  22. First, I kind of believe in curses. But I’m not sure that’s what happened here. When you’re using mechanical parts from a car that was in a horrible accident, you’re kind of asking for trouble. Granted, that doesn’t account for the incidents with the body but the tires and engine, I chalk that up to stupidity. This was the 1950s, who can say how road worthy those parts still were.

    Reply
    • JH

      Ooh, good point Frank.

      “Hey, this car just got totalled, but man, these two tires look fine!”

      It doesn’t cover all the woo-woo, but it accounts for quite a bit.

      Reply
  23. Wow!
    “And a Little Bastard it would prove to be.” I think you said it all. I;m completely speechless.

    Reply
    • JH

      You mean I could have kept it to just that one sentence, Haneen? That would have been a lot easier! 😀

      Reply
  24. Visiting during the early days of the #Challenge. Congratulations on all the hard work it takes to participate. While you have been writing your posts, I have been writing about historic hotels and inns. If you have time or interest, join me for some arm chair travel.

    Reply
  25. No, I would NOT ride in any type of vehicle that had any part of that car on it or in it. Definitely cursed. Yikes! Poor James Dean. I knew he died young, but not like that. He was so popular, and remembered, that I thought he had made more movies. It was probably his untimely death that made him legendary.

    Thanks for the nice comments on my C (mom) post today.

    Reply
    • JH

      Any time, Mary! It was a lovely post.

      I do think his death had something to do with his everlasting fame. If Marilyn Monroe was still alive today, we’d be criticizing how poorly she aged and questioning how much work she had done.

      Reply
  26. I hadn’t heard about any of this, but it’s fascinating stuff. I’m superstitious enough not to want to say out loud that I believe in curses. Wouldn’t want anyone or anything to hear me.

    @mirymom1 from
    Balancing Act

    Reply
    • JH

      I feel the same way about saying Candyman three times while looking in a mirror.

      Not going to do it, nope.

      Reply
  27. I think it might be wise if Little Bastard remained missing! You can say it’s cursed or a whole lot of bad luck. Either way, keep that wreck away from me!

    ~Patricia Lynne aka Patricia Josephine~
    Story Dam
    Patricia Lynne, Indie Author

    Reply
    • JH

      Very wise, Patricia.

      I’m guessing whoever took LB was either a HUGE James Dean fan or wanted to protect humanity, since the million-dollar award didn’t sway him.

      Reply
  28. You know, I knew all about Dean’s accident etc… But I never knew about the car and everything else after. It is really freaky and I have no clue but I think I would walk rather than get into any car that has parts from that one. It’s ago old thing it went missing.

    Reply
    • JH

      Agreed, Birgit.

      I found this story super creepy, but it was a lot of fun to research.

      Reply
  29. I wonder if Stephen King got the idea of CHRISTINE from James Dean’s car. I am a believer in not pushing my luck so I would stay away from that car even if it had not disappeared.

    Reply
    • JH

      I’m willing to put money on it, Roland. Too many similarities.

      Reply
  30. looks like I am not the only one who thought this read like Stephen King.
    I did not know so many had died in connection to one car- spooky indeed.
    I have read that our death date is written before we are born, I wonder if the manner is also pre-scripted?

    a-z visitor

    Reply
    • JH

      That’s a chilling theory, Zannierose. There’s some great story fodder in there.

      Thanks for visiting!

      Reply
  31. FREAKY! Most interesting J.H. thank you… can objects be cursed? Maybe … I know that thank you, I would not want ANY part of that car even if it was given to me as a gift and I could re-sell it at an astronomical price. Thank you but no thank you ..

    The comments are so interesting too … others’ and yours back to them .. a lovely diverting read this Tuesday morning …

    Reply
  32. I don’t know if it’s that things are cursed or that some things are just involved in a a few unfortunate coincidences, but one or the other happens…

    Reply
    • JH

      There were definitely more than a few with this car, John. Welcome back!

      Reply
  33. I definitely believe in curses, and in lucky and unlucky dates. It’s not something I’d ever admit on my science-based, skeptical-minded groups, but I’ve always been a big believer in forces unseen, good and bad luck, and auspicious and inauspicious dates. That car in particular definitely had some bad mojo going on.

    Reply

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