James Dean bought it 60 years and one day ago at the intersection of 46 (then called 466) and 41, near Cholame. If you live in the Los Angeles area, I don’t see how you can call yourself a serious devotee of Hollywood lore and not visit this historic site. (Then again I’ve never been to the North by Northwest cropduster site near Bakersfield so who am I to talk?) A friend and I stopped by on a road trip in the spring of ’98. I took the usual pictures, hung around, pondered death, etc. The “James Dean memorial junction” sign wasn’t there at the time, but there’s a roadside eatery up the road with a chrome memorial plaque of some kind wrapped around a tree. Remember the recreation sequence in David Cronenberg‘s Crash with Elia Koteas driving the Dean car? Weird.
Sometime in the early ’90s I tried to reach Donald Turnupseed, the Ford-driving guy whose abrupt left turn from 466 onto 41 more or less caused the collision, but he never spoke to anyone about the accident. Turnupseed died of lung cancer in ’95.
Written by a car guy named “Rene” on a Hollywood death site: “In a lightweight thin-skinned racing car like Dean’s Porsche Speedster, even a low speed impact is enough to rip the cars to shreds. A Porsche like his was notoriously schizophrenic and unreliable, which is why he had a Porsche mechanic along with him. Dean at the time of his death may have been driving at a safe speed, but given the open spaces where he was heading, you know damned well he was going to open it up and see what it could do.
“Dean was young, had some money, lived life dangerously. Young people like him often feel invincible with a whole life ahead of them to live life large and hard. Naming the car ‘Little Bastard’ also gives you an insight in his mindset.
“[Dean’s] Porsche Speedster was in essence nothing more than a beer can on four wheels with a hotter performance-tuned engine it…which made it fast and also maneuverable. They were never designed to take an impact from a big heavy American car. Running a car such as that upwards to a hundred miles an hour on those tires was suicide. They were the types of tires that had inner tubes. Sport cars then were well known for brake fade once the brakes got really hot from hard use. Most cars, including imports, did not have factory-installed seat belts or a roll bar for that matter. If you wanted them you had have them installed by some speed shop.
“Dean’s car had the Le Mans style of clip windscreen, which is little more than a bug deflector. A car with that type windscreen most always necessitate wearing eye protection and a helmet if your smart. Dean wasn’t strapped into his car. He wasn’t wearing a helmet. He didn’t have on eye protection, just sun glasses. Had he been wearing a four-point racing harness and a helmet, he probably could have survived the impact and destruction.”