(Editor’s Note: The transaxle from James Dean’s 1955 Porsche 550 Spyder sold for $382,000 by the time the auction ended. The auction is now closed.)
Famed Hollywood star and amateur racer James Dean once had a 550 Spyder. That car no longer exists, but some of the parts for it have been documented and preserved since then. One of the only pieces of the puzzle still around in the world of Porsche is this four-speed racing transmission. And now it’s available for sale on Bring A Trailer. This is an extremely rare piece of Porsche history, Hollywood history, and motorsport history, but if you believe in the supernatural, you might not want to buy this thing at any price!
These days it’s impossible to even mention Porsche’s highly respected giant killer 550 Spyder sports car from the 1950s without someone bringing up Hollywood hot rod James Dean. The 24-years young actor had his promising career tragically cut short when he was t-boned driving his Porsche 550 Spyder up to NorCal to take part some road races. It’s a famous, and infamous, event that changed the course of Hollywood and motorsport. Like Steve McQueen, James Garner, and Paul Newman that came after him, Dean was actually a somewhat talented racer, despite his chosen vocation.
550-0055, known affectionately as ‘Little Bastard’ was Dean’s final ride, the car he died in, but that car has taken on a life of its own after the accident. James Dean only owned the 550 Spyder for nine days, but the two would forever be inextricably linked. Until the car disappeared in 1960, it was causing havoc wherever it went. In fact, things were so fishy that some began to call the car cursed. And maybe it was.
Actor Alec Guinness told Dean that if he bought the 550, he’d be dead within a week. Seven days later, he died on the side of the road. The crashed car was purchased by king of movie car customs George Barris to use for parts. Barris had previously customized the 550 for Dean by giving it tartan seats, its iconic twin red stripes, and painted the number 130 on its doors, hood, and engine lid. As it was being loaded onto a trailer to be delivered to Barris, the car slipped off and crushed a mechanic’s leg.
Barris then sold off the engine and transaxle to Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While the two drivers were racing against each other, each in cars with parts robbed from the Little Bastard, McHenry lost control, hit a tree, and died instantly. Eschrid was seriously injured when his car locked up and rolled while negotiating a bend in the race course. We’ll talk more about this transaxle later.
Tires from the car allegedly blew simultaneously, causing injury to another driver. Thieves injured themselves trying to steal the steering wheel and tartan seats from the wreckage of the car. California Highway Patrol wanted to use the car as a display to dissuade young drivers from dangerous practices behind the wheel, but the garage housing the car burned down. When the safe driving display was taken to a school, the car fell off its stand and crushed the hip of a nearby student. In 1960, while transporting the remaining hulk of a car, it vanished, and hasn’t been seen since.
This might seem like a morbid thing to sell on a car auction site, but Bring A Trailer isn’t wrong to offer it. This is definitely going to be a high-dollar auction, and in fact, it’s already been bid up above $20,000 as of this writing with several days of auction remaining. It’s unfortunately more likely that this transaxle will be used as a conversation piece rather than ever bolted into another four-cam Porsche again, but even still, it’s an interesting piece of the P-car legend that deserves to be preserved and told for the next generation. Are you the right custodian for such a piece? Check it out, and happy bidding.
Updated (2:24pm EDT, 05/29/2021): The auction ended with a closing bid of $382,000.