LITTLE BASTARD is my work-in-progress novel – to which I will return shortly. However, I thought a word or two might be helpful to explain the concept – and inspiration – behind the story…not least because this blog is also named after it!
My novel tells the story of two chalk-and-cheese brothers at war in London in 1977. The older brother, Jason, rides a motorcycle, worships James Dean and is effortlessly successful with women. His younger brother, Robin, is sensitive and introverted. He likes Marc Bolan and worships Jason’s girlfriend, Cherry, from afar. Jason’s nickname for Robin is ‘Little Bastard’ (often abbreviated to ‘LB’ and thus passed off as ‘Little Brother’).
However, history tells of another LITTLE BASTARD – Jimmy Dean’s ill-fated car.
Thematically, Little Bastard runs right through my novel – and the tragic car crash deaths of both James Dean and Marc Bolan provide a secondary narrative that introduces each chapter. When completed, the book will be dedicated to the memories of James Dean and Marc Bolan.
Once the idea for the book had come to me – and once I had decided on the storyline – I researched the legend of Jimmy Dean’s car and discovered a chilling urban legend connected with the Porsche 550 aka ‘Little Bastard’ which I subsumed into the opening chapter of my novel…and which I will relate to you here and now. You can make up your own minds as to how much is myth and how much is reality.
The Curse Of ‘Little Bastard’:
Jimmy fell in love with the $6,000 silver Porsche Spyder 550 from the moment he saw it in the showroom. It was a limited edition competition racer – one of only 90 made in 1955. It had been customised by George Barris (the ‘King of Kustomizing’ who would later design the Batmobile). Jimmy’s Porsche was numbered 130 on the front, side and back. The car had a tartan pattern on the seating and two red stripes at the rear of its wheel well. The car was given the nickname ‘Little Bastard’ by Bill Hickman, Dean’s language coach on the movie ‘Giant’. However, if the Lotus Mk X Jimmy had ordered from England had been delivered on time he would never have owned Little Bastard at all.
Several people around Jimmy had instinctive reservations about the car. His girlfriend at the time, actress Ursula Andress, refused to get in it. Even George Barris said he had “bad feelings” about the car at first sight and remarked that Little Bastard gave off a “weird feeling of impending doom”. Most disconcerting of all, when Dean introduced himself to fellow actor Alec Guinness outside a restaurant, he asked him to take a look at the Spyder. Guinness thought the car appeared “sinister” and told Jimmy: ‘If you get in that car, you will be found dead in it by this time next week.’ This encounter took place on September 23, 1955: precisely seven days before Dean’s death.
James Dean was a much better driver than many people realise. He won race meetings at Palisades and Pasadena. At a two-day race meeting at Palm Springs, Jimmy won the preliminary race on the Saturday and qualified for the senior race on the Sunday. He led the senior race for two-thirds of its distance and finished second by just 100 yards. James Dean, race car driver, totalled six outright victories from five separate race meetings and won the genuine respect of the professional motor racing community. According to Jimmy’s mechanic, Rolf Weuterich, who accompanied Dean in Little Bastard on the day of the fatal crash, Jimmy had intended to “spend the full twelve months of 1956 in total dedication to motor racing”. In fact, he had bought Little Bastard with the specific aim of racing it in Salinas, California – and he was driving it there on the day of the crash to ensure the engine (which otherwise only had a few hundred miles on the clock) was properly ‘run in’.
After the crash, the urban legend of ‘the curse of Little Bastard’ really kicked in, based on a series of strange events connected with the wreckage – and its whereabouts. The character, Jason, relates this in some detail in the opening chapter of my novel to his incredulous younger brother. However, here is an abridged version of the alleged facts:
George Barris bought the wreckage for $2,500 to use for salvage, only to have it slip off its trailer and break a mechanic’s leg. Soon afterwards, Barris sold the engine and drivetrain, respectively, to physicians Troy McHenry and William Eschrid. While subsequently racing against each other, McHenry was killed instantly when his vehicle spun out of control and crashed into a tree, while Eschrid was seriously injured when his vehicle rolled over while entering a curve. Barris later sold two tyres, which malfunctioned as well. The tyres, which were unharmed in Dean’s accident, blew up causing the buyer’s car to go off the road. The young man who bought the tyres reported that both tyres had spontaneously blown out at exactly the same time. Later, two young would-be thieves were injured while attempting to steal parts from the car. When one tried to steal the steering wheel from the Porsche, his arm was ripped open on a piece of jagged metal. On a separate occasion another man was injured while trying to steal the bloodstained front seat. This was the final straw for Barris, who decided to store Little Bastard away. However, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) persuaded him to lend the wreckage to them for a traveling road safety exhibition. One night, while the wreckage was in storage for an exhibition, the entire garage went up in flames, destroying all of the other cars except ‘Little Bastard’ itself, which suffered no damage whatsoever from the fire. The second display, at a Sacramento high school ended when Little Bastard fell off its pedestal, breaking a student’s hip. Little Bastard caused problems while being transported several times. On the way to Salinas, the flat-bed truck containing the mangled wreckage lost control, throwing the driver out, only to be crushed by the doomed Porsche as it fell off the back. On two further separate occasions, once on a freeway and once in Orgeon, the other trucks carrying Little Bastard crashed, although no injuries were reported. Its last use in a CHP exhibit was in 1959 when, whilst on display, it spontaneously broke into 11 separate pieces for no apparent reason. In 1960, while being returned to George Barris in Los Angeles, California from Miami, Florida, the wreckage mysteriously vanished during transit. It has not been seen since.
This, then, is the legend: a mix of documented fact and hyperbolic urban myth – and the truth lies somewhere in-between. In my next post I will attempt to divide fact from fiction in this regard. Cheats who cannot wait should go straight to wikipedia now!