10.03.2011

Rebel Without A Cause

"If a man can bridge the gap between life and death, if he can live on after he's dead, then maybe he was a great man." 

Last weekend my dad and I led the Porsche Club on a tour to James Dean's memorial site. I wanted to do a tribute post on the day of his actual death, but I just finished the article on the event and I thought a sneak peek would be more appropriate.

Of course I'm partial to this UCLA alumni, who was in Sig Nu and performed many times on the Royce Hall stage. But more than anything, I attribute my James Dean obsession to his own obsession with Porsche's. Needless to say, James Dean has become a complimentary figure to Porsche’s name. There is a special understanding between Porsche owners about what drew James Dean to the car--and also a certain reverence for a man who lived the way he drove. In another one of his most famous quotes he says, “The only greatness for man is immortality.” James Dean believed that greatness is actually measured after death and I think it’s safe to say that not only has his greatness been immortalized, but Porsche’s name has also developed a similar reputation of its own. Maybe a car company and an actor are not perfect links, but it’s easy to see that both names will forever exist in history as great and refined creations. 

Article Excerpt:
Most recognize James Dean for his movie roles alongside Elizabeth Taylor or Natalie Wood. However, there is a chosen group of people who recognize James Dean almost solely for his racing career and the car he spent his last day in.

In the year that he died, James Dean had been competing in car races from Palm Springs to Santa Barbara. Placing in top rankings as an amateur, his resume was quickly adding more checkered flags than scripts. Having just finished filming “Giant,” James had also just replaced his 356 Speedster with a 550 Spyder from Competition Motors. Many of his friends warned him about the power of his new car, even Alec Guiness predicted the actor’s death when he told him he would be dead in a week if he were to drive it.

Ignoring Guiness’s warning, James Dean decided to break in his new racecar by taking a route with more mileage on September 30th, 1955. Accompanying him was his mechanic, Rolf Wutherich. As they drove within the speed limit, Donald Turnipseed, a then Cal Poly student, was heading home on the same road. Thinking he had enough time to make a left-hand turn in front of the Porsche, Turnipseed turned his 1950 Ford right into the “Little Bastard.” Rolf, not wearing a seatbelt, survived after being thrown from the car while James Dean was not so lucky.

James Dean had only released one film before his death. Porsche had only released ninety 550 Spyders. When the news broke on September 30th, both names were made infamous. Everyone wanted to know more about the rebellious actor and the car that got his adrenaline pumping. Since then, both names have grown with immense popularity and prestige, being associated with one of James’ most famous quote: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, Live as if you’ll die today.”