James Dean’s Cursed Car: What Mechanic College Students Can Learn from the Porsche 550 Spyder

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Few cars are as famous as the Porsche 550 Spyder, now better known as James Dean’s last ride. Despite being associated with tragedy, the car revolutionized the world of automotive racing and quickly dominated the international circuit, winning such races as the Nürburgring Eifel and the Targa Florio.

Still, the 550 Spyder model is most associated with James Dean and the apparent curse around his car. Read on to learn more about how this legendary sportscar works, and the fate of its iconic driver.

Speeding Ahead: The History of the 550

The 550 first debuted at the 1953 Paris Auto Show and quickly took the international racing circuit by storm. Due to its simple, lightweight design, which focused on including only the absolute automotive basics, it stood apart from its racing predecessors that featured heavy bodies and large tires.

The 550 dominated the European racing world, and North American audiences soon took notice. Although this was the company’s first attempt at manufacturing a car specifically for racing, there were only around 90 original models built in total. In addition, only around half of 550s made it to the United States, making the car an extremely rare collectible, with one recently auctioned off at over $7 million ($6.1 million USD).

What Grads of Mechanic Colleges Can Find Under the Hood

For those who want to become a certified mechanic, it’s important to know why the Porsche 550 is considered to be iconic. Essentially, it was a matter of simplicity. A minimalist, two-seater interior allowed the design to focus more on what was under the hood, rather than superficial details.

At its core, the 550 features a lightweight aluminum engine which can drive the car from zero to 100 miles per hour in 7 seconds, and produces around 110 horsepower. For grads of mechanic colleges, those specs might not sound super impressive anymore. However, at the time it was quite something. The engine is also mounted in front of the rear axle, which gives it a more balance weight distribution.

Was James Dean’s Car Really Cursed?

The actor James Dean was famous for his brief but incredible career in film, with only three movies completed in his lifetime, two of which earned him Academy Award nominations. Dean was also a racing enthusiast and even participated in a variety of competitions. On 30 September 1955, Dean, along with his Porsche factory-trained mechanic, was headed for a weekend race in California when he swerved to avoid a turning car and crashed his 550, an accident which cost him his life.

The supposed curse that haunted the tragic history of Dean’s 550 Spyder began almost immediately following the accident. Spare parts of the car were salvaged and used in other Spyder models, and were involved in additional accidents. The tires, which were also re-used, all blew out at once, causing another wreck.

Eventually, the car was donated to the California Highway Patrol to be used in an exhibition that discouraged speeding, but before it could open, the garage housing the car burned down, leaving the 550 undamaged. Afterwards, while it was again being transported, the driver of the truck lost control and crashed. A short time later, the car completely disappeared. Perhaps it’s coincidence, or perhaps even the un-superstitious mechanic should be wary if ever this car resurfaces again.

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