It was one of the most shocking events in Hollywood history.
On Sept. 30, 1955, James Dean drove his Porsche 550 Spyder through an intersection in Cholame, Calf., and was killed after the tiny sports car collided with a Ford Tudor sedan making a turn in front of him. The 24-year-old rising star’s career was cut short just weeks before his iconic film “Rebel Without a Cause” was released.
Now, a group of photos of the accident scene collected by a lawyer representing the insurance company of the Ford’s driver, Donald Turnupseed, are being put up for auction. Several of the 30 black-and-white images of the tattered Porsche, wrecked Ford and the junction have apparently never been shown in public before.
The photos were to be used as evidence in a lawsuit brought against Turnupseed’s and Dean’s insurance companies by Dean’s injured passenger, Porsche mechanic Rolf Wutherich, but it was dropped before it went to trial.
The lawyer, Robert Everett Coyle, held on to the prints and bequeathed them to his son, Robert A. Coyle, who is the one offering them for sale through RR Auction.
RR Auction Executive Vice President Bobby Livingston said the photos offer a new perspective on the crash, the details of which remain controversial to this day. They are being sold as collectibles only, with any copyright ownership claims left to be explored by the buyer.
Livingston said the pre-auction estimate for the lot is $20,000, but due to the unusual nature of the photos it’s difficult to put a solid number on it. The Pop Culture auction they are being included in is an online-only auction that will run from Aug. 8 to Aug. 15.
As for the whereabouts of the wreckage, it remains unknown today. The car was stripped for parts in the aftermath of the accident and the body eventually came into the possession of famed car customizer George Barris. Barris planned to restore it, but never got around it and started loaning it to the National Safety Council for educational events until it disappeared as it was being shipped back from one in 1960.
In 2015, a Washington man named Shawn Reilly came forward claiming the body of the car was hidden behind a wall of a building he knew of, but didn't reveal the location at the time because of an ongoing debate over who owns it today. If it ever comes to light, the Volo Auto Museum in Illinois has a standing offer of $1 million for the vehicle.