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Morbid Motoring History: Transaxle of James Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder Up For Auction

Photo Credit: Porsche AG


More than 65 years after James Dean’s fatal highway crash on U.S. Route 466, a verifiable piece has surfaced of the vehicle involved in the ill-fated Porsche 550 Spyder the 24-year-old actor drove in his last moments of life. Through an online auction being held on Bring A Trailer, buyers with a desire to obtain a rather ghoulish gearbox.

The Porsche 550 Spyder was one of the first purpose-built race cars assembled to establish a name of what was once a small sports car located in Stuttgart, Germany. A derivative of Porsche’s 356 production car, the 550 Spyder’s compact, lightweight stature (the 550 was in reference to the vehicle’s weight in kilograms) combined with a mid-mounted 1,500 cc flat-four engine proved almost instantly superior in competition. Entering competition in 1953 by Porsche, the 550 Spyder cemented much of the early on-track success for the brand including a class victory at the 1953 24 Hours of Le Mans. A total of 90 Porsche 550 Spyders was built with one example purchased by actor James Dean. It was in the hands of the young Hollywood heartthrob that the Porsche 550 Spyder would be forever forged with a legend.

For James Dean, his passion for fast cars and motorcycles was as complementary to the actor’s character as his popularity on the big screen. The iconic movie star also participated in motorsports that would run afoul of wishes of film productions. During the shooting of the movie Giant, Dean was forbidden to race by Warner Bros. Pictures. The Porsche 550 Spyder, costing roughly $7,000 at the time of purchase, was Dean’s latest road-going companion purchased shortly before his fatal crash on September 30th of 1955.

In the book ‘Too Fast to Live, Too Young To Die: James Dean’s Final Hours’, the author Keith Elliot Greenberg made an assertion that the entire crash was haunted by a curse. Greenberg detailed many incidents in the book of misfortune related to the 1955 highway death. In the case of the majority of the remains of Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder (excluding the transaxle), it disappeared from known existence in 1960. For roughly five years after the actor’s death, the car was publicly displayed often with the California Highway Patrol alongside road safety campaigns at high schools. Being transported by train from Florida to Los Angeles, California, the 550 Spyder simply vanished even as it was under guard.

The Bring A Trailer auction for the 4-speed transaxle was removed from the Porsche 550 Spyder prior to the theft and was stored in a wooden crate for more than 30 years. The only traceable component found in James Dean’s car now rest in a custom stand created by Steve Hogue. Additionally, the auction for the transaxle includes documentation from Porsche connecting it to the vehicle driven by Dean.

Presently at $128,550 U.S., the auction for the item will end on Saturday May 29th at 2:05 p.m. eastern standard time.



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