The crown for the King of Cool has always been given to Steve McQueen. How can people argue with that? An actor starring in a Film called “Le Mans”, driving (for real) in a Porsche 917 could just be, for us petrolheads, the coolest person ever to be featured in a Hollywood movie. Yet, I would like to disagree, by introducing another name often forgotten by newer generations: James Dean.
The famous actor whose “rebel” status and anti-hero persona inspired a whole new generation was a petrolhead indeed and (like McQueen and also the legendary Paul Newman) a Porsche fanatic.
The character of James Dean is more than just cool but also mysterious and intriguing. He is perhaps best known for his tragic fate, where his newly acquired Porsche 550 Spyder crashed into a Ford driven by Donald Turnupseed on Highway 101.
Only 3 big movies saw James Dean in a starring actor: Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden and Giant. Yet, they were enough to build the myth and help create a legend.
Like every rebel of its time, he loved speed and fast cars. Maybe he can also be seen as the ultimate and quintessential figure of the Gentleman Driver: a daring, fascinating and talented playboy driver, who could win on the track and also win the hearts and minds of generations.
His quietly rebellious character made him a legend and a highly debated subject. Unruly driver? Game changer? Enemy of society? Banned by Warner Bros. from riding motorcycles and racing automobiles, he nevertheless was a regular entrant in local California races: he had talent, leading his MG TD first and 356 Speedster second to victory more than one occasion.
James Dean's most famous car – the Porsche 550 nicknamed “Little Bastard” – is as legendary as the man himself due to its “cursed” status, which has been aided by numerous tales from other celebrities that saw it before the crash occurred.
Perhaps, the most famous tale about Dean's death is the one told by Alec Guinness, who met with Dean exactly one week before the accident occurred, famously quoted saying “please, do not get in that car: if you do, you'll be dead within a week” sounds more like a prophecy now. Guinness was quoted saying this on Friday September 23rd at 10 pm and Dean was dead in the early evening of Friday the 30th.
Also, many more recall an eerie feeling that the cursed 550 gave off. Maila Nurmi, the famous “Vampira”, left a note on the car mentioning the horrible feelings she felt when standing next to it. Also, Dean's girlfriend, actress Ursula Andress, refused to get inside the cockpit as she was scared of the car and even fellow actor Nick Adams is known to have said “the outcome of owning this car was not going to be a good one”.
James Dean's passion for fast cars is what defined him: a successful Gentleman Driver with a rebellious interest for speed and racing. No wonder why after his death his popularity only increased with his iconic status.
The young actor, who played a character in “Rebel without a Cause” that dies due to a high-speed crash, seemed to have lost his bet with destiny and met his tragic fate in a similar fashion. On that day a great man was lost, but a legend was born.
Jacopo Villa, contributor
- “James Dean's Little Bastard” by Bestride.com
- “James Dean” by Kate Gabrielle is licensed under CC BY 2.0
- “James Dean and Porsche Speedster 23F at Palm Springs Races March, 1955” by Chad White is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
- “Lil Bastard” by RV1864 is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
- “James Dean” by Insomnia Cured Here is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0