James could go as fast as 30 miles

James Dean is a legend in the entertainment industry. His brief but promising career was on the rise when he unexpectedly died at the young age of twenty-four. It spanned everything from television, Broadway, the Actor’s Studio, to film. It was through films, most notably Rebel Without a Cause, that he became a bona fide star. His untimely death cemented his legendary status. Ironically, it was also in his death that his other passion, motorsports, came to light. Dean had been just as passionate about motorcycles and cars as he had been about his acting. This began in his early days in Indiana, continued to his starving actor era in New York, and concluded at the height of his stardom in Los Angeles. Even though James Dean was more well-known for his acting, motor vehicles, and more importantly, racing them, was a big part of his life and sadly, his untimely death. Dean spent most of his formative years in Fairmount, Indiana with his uncle Winslow. His mother had succumbed to cancer and his father had moved away for work. Winslow gave a teenage Dean his first taste for speed by giving the 14-year-old a Whizzer, a Schwinn bicycle with a modified 2 horsepower engine that could go as fast as 30 miles per hour. Although he loved the Whizzer, it wasn’t quite enough for his restless spirit. So Winslow took 15-year-old James to his favorite hangout, the Indian Motorcycle dealership run by Marvin Carter, and purchased him a brand new 1947 CZ 125cc (Williams, “Autos: James Dean”). Dean’s lifelong pattern of pushing his vehicles to their limits began with this bike. He really tested the bike’s limits, often riding it at full speed and even lying on the seat while doing it. These stunts emulated Rollie Free, a showy motorcycle daredevil who had set world records. His family called the CZ the “popsicle, because they could hear the exhaust popping” when he rode it at breakneck speed. It was also at this time they nicknamed James “one speed Dean.” Needless to say that one speed was — fast (“James Dean at High Speed.”).He held onto that CZ up until he moved to New York to pursue stage acting fully. While living there, he would often go back home for holidays in Indiana. In the Winter of 1953, James exchanged his 1947 CZ 125cc for a Royal Enfield 500cc twin. On his trip back to New York, he overexerted the engine and busted a valve in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. While idling around for his Enfield to be serviced, he noticed an Indian Warrior TT in the showroom and swiftly negotiated a deal for a trade (“James Dean and His Speedster.”). He continued the rest of his trip to New York on his new bike. He stored the TT, his third motorcycle in as many months, in a Greenwich Village garage. Steve McQueen, a struggling actor at the time, worked as a part-time mechanic at the garage. The pair bonded over acting and fast cars. It was also through the TT he made an impression on another major Hollywood player, Elia Kazan. In 1954 Dean took the producer on a ride despite his dislike for motorcycles. It didn’t help that Dean was known for being a reckless driver, and he owned up to his reputation by zig-zagging between vehicles on his ride with Kazan. He had just cast Dean in East of Eden, his first major film role. It was a ride Kazan would remember until his death at age 94 (Kazan, “Celebrating 30 Years Of ‘Fresh Air.”).Upon signing with Warner Brothers Studio in 1955, Dean was barred from riding motorcycles as a precaution, so he channeled his motorsport passion to cars. His movie star paycheck made it easy for him to buy anything he set his eyes on. He started with a red MG TD Sports car, but his true fascination was with Porsches. He impulsively bought a Porsche Super 1500, which he put 1,000 miles on in one week. He raced it at Minter Field, a race track northwest of Bakersfield, CA, and placed first in the production class, where unmodified cars race each other (“James Dean and His Speedster”). Dean and his friend Lew Bracker would often cruise the winding, scenic Mulholland Drive over the Hollywood Hills in his Porsche. Bracker claimed that they were cautious and respectful when driving on city streets, joking that “the most dangerous part of a race weekend is driving to and from the track,” (Williams, “Autos: James Dean”). Competition Motors was a racing shop in Hollywood, CA where Dean met Rolf Wütherich, who worked as a field engineer. He would become Dean’s racing mechanic and infamously known for being the passenger in Dean’s final ride. As soon as Dean heard there was a brand new Porsche Spyder in the shop’s window, he went and purchased it. During the filming of Rebel Without a Cause, Dean customized the Porsche to his own taste. He took it to George Barris, a famous car customizer in Hollywood circles. They gave the car “two Tartan seats, two red stripes over the wheels, and plastered the number ‘130’ on its doors, hood and engine cover” (“The Curse Of James Dean’s ‘The Little Bastard'”). Dean’s language coach gave it the moniker “Little Bastard.” Dean enjoyed driving the sports car and enjoyed racing it even more, often at the expense of his vehicle. After a successful race in Santa Barbara, the following race in Bakersfield wasn’t as fortunate, and he ended up off the track. To make matters worse, he ended up destroying the engine of his car in his last race in Santa Barbara (“The Curse Of James Dean’s ‘The Little Bastard'”).On September 23, 1955, upon seeing the Porsche, actor Alec Guinness told Dean, “If you get in that car, you will be found dead by this time next week.” Little did Guinness know how much his predictions were to foreshadow actual events. On Dean’s way to a race in Salinas with his mechanic, Rolf, while traveling straight on Route 466 another car turned right in front of them. Due to the sun’s position, the other driver failed to see Dean’s car approaching. Dean attempted a racing maneuver at the last second to avoid the collision with the other driver’s Ford Tudor. It failed, and the vehicles collided head-on. Dean died instantaneously, while Rolf needed an entire year to recover from his injuries. Ironically, just hours before the accident, Dean had gotten a speeding ticket (“The Curse Of James Dean’s ‘The Little Bastard'”).The “Little Bastard” is rumored to be cursed. After Dean’s death, it continued to hurt and kill. George Barris bought what was left of the car, and in transport, it slipped off a trailer and broke a mechanic’s leg. Recycled engine parts from the Porsche ended up in the cars of two race car drivers, McHenry and Eschrid. While they were racing one another, McHenry lost control and died on the scene. Eschrid’s car locked up and rolled over, leaving him seriously injured. Barris resold the “Little Bastard’s” tires to an unlucky buyer. The tires blew out and caused the car to veer off the road. Even thieves could not escape the damned Porsche. While trying to steal the steering wheel, a robber’s arm was severely maimed (“The Curse Of James Dean’s ‘The Little Bastard'”).The ill-fated car continued its rampage even as a showpiece. While it was being used in a highway patrol safety display, the garage it was stored in burned to the ground, but miraculously the car was unscathed. At the next exhibition, it fell off its display area and broke a student’s hip. While in transit, the truck carrying it lost control causing the driver to fall out. Then the car fell out and crushed the driver. Two more similar incidents, although with no injuries occurred. The California Highway Patrol decided it didn’t want anything to do with that car. As it was being returned to Barriss, it simply disappeared–no one knows of its whereabouts til this day (“The Curse Of James Dean’s ‘The Little Bastard'” ).Dean was introduced to motorcycles by his uncle who raised him after the death of his mother. His love for motorcycles and his restless spirit led him to motorcycle racing. After dropping out of college at UCLA, he moved to New York for acting, upgrading his motorcycles repeatedly along the way. Through his motorcycles, he connected with people not only in the racing but in the acting industry as well. This included Rolf Wütherich who became his mechanic and was with him in his last moments. It also included Elia Kazan who cast him in his first major film role and who went on to play a major role in shaping Hollywood over the decades. As he became more successful as an actor, Dean was able to afford higher performing motorcycles but was eventually prevented from riding them by his studio while filming because it was considered too dangerous. After switching to racing cars, he traveled all over California to compete in races. It was on one of these trips that the accident occurred that took his life. Even though it killed him, racing was Dean’s passion and he wouldn’t have been who he was without it. In his own words, “racing is the only time I feel whole” (“James Dean and His Speedster”).


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