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  Columnist: Patrick Bernauw

Image credit: sxc.hu

Cursed cars, haunted automobiles


Posted on Friday, 25 September, 2009 | 3 comments
Columnist: Patrick Bernauw


[!gad]Here are three true stories of Cursed Cars and Haunted Automobiles. "You Will Be Dead Next Week!" James Byron Dean (1931-1955) was an American film actor who became a real cultural icon with such films as “Rebel Without a Cause”, “East of Eden” or “Giant”. His early death in a dramatic car accident helped to ensure his legend and was the beginning of another famous urban legend.

After Dean got the part in “East of Eden”, in the spring of 1955, the movie star went racing with his Porsche 356 Speedster and came in second in the Palm Springs Road Races, third in Bakersfield and fourth in the Santa Monica Road Races. While he was on the set of “Rebel Without a Cause”, he traded his Speedster for a Porsche 550 Spyder - one of the only 90 which were made. Filming “Giant”, he was contractually barred from racing, but after completing the movie, Dean was free to compete again.

Dean’s Spyder was customized Georges Barris, by the man who would go on to design the Batmobile. The car was called “Little b******” by his stunt driving coach Bill Hickman in “Giant” and this nickname was painted on it by pin striper Dean Jeffries.

On September 23, Dean asked the actor Alec Guinness to take a look at the Spyder and Guinness said the car looked “sinister” to him. “If you get in that Porsche, you will be dead next week,” he warned his colleague.

On September 30, the Porsche 550 Spyder was prepared by Dean and his mechanic Rolf Wütherich for a sports car race at Salinas, California. Dean wanted to trailer the Spyder to Salinas behind his station wagon, crewed by his coach Bill Hickman and photographer Sanford Roth, who were planning a “James Dean at the Races” story. But at the last minute, Dean decided he needed more time to familiarize himself with the Porsche, and he drove the Spyder himself. Rolf Wütherich sat beside him.

At 3:30 pm, Dean was ticketed in Kern County for driving 65 in a 55 mph zone. He was driving west on what is now State Route 46 and what was then US Route 466 - near Cholame, California - when a Ford, coming from the opposite direction, attempted to take the fork onto State Route 41. Donald Turnupseed, a 23 year old student, crossed into Dean’s lane without seeing him. The Porsche and the Ford hit almost head on.

Highway Patrol officer Ron Nelson and his partner had a coffee break in Paso Robles. They were called to the scene of the accident and found Turnupseed there with a gashed forehead and a bruised nose. Wütherich had been thrown out of the Porsche and suffered from a broken jaw and other injuries. James Dean was just being placed into an ambulance, breathing heavily. He was taken to the Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital and pronounced dead on arrival, on September 30, at 5:59 pm.

His last words, just before impact, were: “That guy’s gotta stop!… He’ll see us!”

Wütherich survived several suicide attempts and died in a road accident in Germany, in 1981.

After Dean’s accident, many fans refused to believe their idol was dead. An urban legend emerged, stating Dean was alive, but terribly disfigured. Also, there were soon more than just a few stories circulating concerning the jinxed car, the haunted Porsche, in other words: the Little b******.

The Curse of Little b******: James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder

The Cursed Car that Started the Great War

In 1897, the three brothers Graf formed a partnership with Josef Stift and produced Austria’s first automobile. In 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie came to Serajevo in a brand-new Graf & Stift phaeton, a large red limousine with a four cylinder engine and front-wheel drive. The sleek automobile would have a rendezvous with history.

The Graf & Stift company had its origins in the bicycle business, but in 1914 they were building luxury automobiles for a prestigious clientele. Among the famous people who bought a Graf & Stift were members of the Austrian Imperial Court.
When he came to the Bosnian city of Sarajevo, on 29 June 1914, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, risked his life. In the great Austro-Hungarian empire all sorts of people were revolting: anarchists, Serbian nationalists… And he had been warned by the “Turnfalken”, the ravens which presaged disaster for the Hapsburgs.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited the city in their brand-new six seat, open touring car. As the Graf & Stift approached the corner of Rudolph Street, shots were fired by Gavrilo Princip, a student anarchist. Both Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were killed, but the Graf & Stift survived the attack unscathed. With this event started a conflict.

Some of the horror of that moment seems to have remained alive in the Graf & Stift, because all who owned the car thereafter had their lives cut short or were injured. In the next dozen years, the automobile of Franz Ferdinand was owned by fifteen private parties, was involved in six accidents and took the lives of thirteen people…

Franz Ferdinand’s Cursed Car: Graf & Stift, 1914

The Ghost of the Hitchhiking Girl… and Resurrection Mary

The ghost of a hitchhiking girl gets you in a deadly car crash… or just vanishes behind the gates of the cemetery, as Chicago’s most famous phantom: Resurrection Mary:

A Ghost on the Highway

Copyright by Patrick Bernauw & The Lost Dutchman

Article Copyright© Patrick Bernauw - reproduced with permission.



 
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