This mangled piece of metal is all that’s left of the Porsche 550 Spyder that carried James Dean to a violent death along Route 466 about 25 miles east of Paso Robles, Calif., on September 30, 1955. The rest of the car, or what was left of it after the crash, has disappeared from the face of the earth but not before sending several other people to their graves. The car, it is said, carried a curse that brought mayhem and even death to nearly everyone who came in contact with it.
Or so they say.
The piece of metal in question is now owned by Wayne Lensing and is on display in his museum, Historic Auto Attractions, in Roscoe, Ill. Lensing owns Left Hander Chassis, a specialty shop which builds tubular steel chassis for racing applications and sells other racing related parts and accessories. Over the years he has amassed a large collection of cars, automotive memorabilia and assorted Hollywood memorabilia as well as items associated with the Kennedy Administration and assassination and much of it is on public display in his museum.
A prominent display honors the short career of James Dean and the centerpiece is a roughly 3 inch by 3 inch chunk of sheet metal that is purported to have been taken from the wreckage by a road construction worker shortly after it had been hauled from the crash site. Lensing says he acquired the piece from the James Dean Museum in Fairmont, Ind., after it closed in 2006.
Next to the piece is an interpretive sign explaining the James Dean Curse which is said to have plagued many who came in contact with the remains of the car. Those eerie occurrences include: a mechanic whose legs were shattered as the engine fell out of the wreckage after it was towed to a garage; a doctor who was killed in a crash while racing a car in which he had installed the engine from Dean’s Porsche; another driver who died in a crash while racing a car in which he had installed the Porsche’s driveshaft; another man bought two of the Porsche’s tires only to them both blow out at the same time causing a crash (he wasn’t killed); a fire broke out in a garage that the Porsche was being stored in, destroying all the other cars in the garage but leaving the Porsche unscathed; a trucker hauling the wreck lost control of his truck and was safely thrown clear of the crash only to have the Porsche fall off the truck and fatally crush him; after being on display in Florida, the Porsche was packed up and shipped back to California but vanished somewhere along the way and has never been seen since.
Like all good urban legends you can find enough variations of these strange tales to make you question all of them. Some sources say the doctor who installed the Porsche’s engine in his own car raced several times before fatally crashing. Some versions of the “driveshaft” story say it was the drivetrain that was installed in the other race car while other reports mention the transmission. Newspaper accounts of the garage fire tell of a fire that started with the Porsche and damaged it slightly but left the other cars in the garage untouched. Even the accounts of the Porsche’s disappearance vary from source to source. Some say it was being shipped by truck while others mention it being shipped by rail.
However it was being shipped, it did disappear en route, and the one thing no one seems to know is where James Dean’s Porsche is today.