James Dean’s final ride in his Porsche 550 Spyder

James DeanOnly 24 and a fast rising ‘star’ in Hollywood James Dean’s life was cut short when, at the wheel of his new Porsche 550 Spyder, he was involved in a terrible car accident and was killed only a day after wrapping the filming on what would be his last motion picture.

Indeed the fact is that the accident, and the subsequent release of Rebel Without a Cause, made Dean into a cult star whose fame has now extended to almost 3 times the years that he was actually alive.  Even today Dean remains the symbol of teen angst, a talented but misunderstood young man who the world unfortunately never really got a chance to know very well.

James Dean the race car driver.

What few people knew back then and know less about today was that, as Dean’s star status grew, he started to use his new-found money and fame to take up a new hobby; racing.  He had been in 3 races in 1955 leading up to his death, the Palm Springs Road Race,  the Minter Field Bakersfield Race and the Santa Barbara Road Race.  He didn’t make much of a showing but, racing his Porsche 356 Speedster, he did good enough to get some attention.

In September of ’55 he traded in his 356 for a new Porsche 550 Spyder, one of the fastest cars that Porsche had ever produced and a car that looked as dangerous as its name.  He was so enamored of the car that he had the number 130 painted on both the front and the back of the 550 and, on the back, he had the nickname that he had picked up when filming the movie Giant stenciled; ‘Little Bastard’.  He had been given the nickname for some reason by his voice coach for the film Bill Hickman.

The final ride of James Dean and his Porsche 550 Spyder.

The day he died Dean was on his way to Salinas, California to enter the 550 in a car rally.  As fate would have it he decided to get a better ‘feel’ for the car (he had just purchased it) and drive it there, even though he already had a trailer to tow it.  He and his mechanic Rolf Wuetherich were in the Spyder and photographer Sanford Roth and Bill Hickman (his voice coach) followed in a Ford station wagon.

As Dean and Wuetherich drove westbound on Highway 466 a 1950 Ford Tudor driven by Cal State student Donald Turnupseed made a left turn directly in front of them, leaving them no time to react at all and causing a practically head-on collision.  While Turnupseed suffered minor injuries  Wuetherich was thrown from the Spyder and received traumatic head injuries and a broken leg.  James Dean, however, did not survive

Ironically just a week before the accident that took his life Dean sat down to lunch with fellow thespian Alec Guinness (before he was knighted, natch).  Guinness took one look at the 550 and told Dean that, if he decided to race the car,  he would be dead within a week.  One week later James Dean was dead and his Porsche 550 Spyder was a smoldering heap.

If you’re keen on learning more about the Porsche 550 Spyder or any Porsche model Automobile Atlanta is the place to go.  Dr. 914, George Hussey, has been talking Porsche for over 35 years and if he doesn’t have the answer, NOBODY will.  They also sell Porsche parts for every model they have ever made.

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The history of the ill-fated Porsche 916.

916

Possibly one of the rarest cars in the world the Porsche 916 was a dream that never made it to production reality. In the end only 11 of the 916 model, all prototypes, were ever produced and only one was shipped at the time to the United States.  If you’re keen on seeing a 916 in person all you have to do is take a quick ride over to Automobile Atlanta in Marietta, Georgia and you’ll see one of the 11 prototypes there in all its glory.

The 916 was basically a 911S powered automobile and had a fixed roof unlike that of the 914 which came with the famous ‘targa’ top. The bumper panels were painted to match the color of the car and it had flared out fenders as well but the thing that separated it from any of the other Porsche models of its day was the fact that it was the fastest sports car that Porsche had ever built and, at top speed, could reach 145 mph which was pretty darned impressive back in the mid-1970’s. In fact the 916 had a 2341cc fuel injected engine that was built on a 915 Type trans-axle and could deliver 190 hp at 6500 rpm.

When it was being developed the Porsche 916 was planned to have a retail price of $14,000.00 which would have made it the most expensive Porsche built up until that time.  Yes it sounds like a ridiculously low number today but, when you compare it to the price of the best Porsche 911 of the day at $10,000.00 you quickly see that the 916 was in a price range all by itself.

And that was the problem.  The 916 was intended to be a competitor to the Ferrari 246 Dino but, because of a decline in Porsche sales overall that was taking place at the time it was being developed, the Porsche 916 was dropped and the 11 prototype models were the only ones that ever were actually produced.

It’s a real shame too because the 916 was a better, stronger and faster car than the 914 and, in many people’s opinion, a damn sight better looking as well. It was going to come with stiffer springs, pressurized shocks for competition, 4 wheel vented disc brakes and sway bars at the front and rear. The fact that it weighed slightly less than the 911S also helped to make it the fastest car that Porsche had made up until that point.

Interestingly all 11 of the Porsche 916 models that were produced had differently configured interiors and different colored paint.   Some had the 2.4 liter six cylinder from the 911 S and some had the 2.7 liter 911 Carrera engine.  As we said only one was actually made for and shipped to the United States and it was also the only one that had AC as the buyer was from southern Florida.

But George Hussey, the owner of Automobile Atlanta, has one of the 11 and it is a real doozy of a car and in absolutely pristine condition at his Marietta location.  Known as ‘Dr. 914’ because of his proclivity for the model George also happens to own the world’s largest classic Porsche 914 collection in the world, a fact that is validated by Porsche itself.

If you’re keen on seeing the 916 or you need Porsche parts and service Automobile Atlanta has been serving Porsche owners for over 35 years.  They have parts for the entire range of Porsche models as well, from the classic 356 to the newest Porsche Cayenne parts and they’re open 6 days a week for your convenience.

What’s so special about the Porsche 914?

Porsche 914 ad from the late 1960's.

When it was abandoned in 1975 few people would have ever thought that someday the Porsche 914 would be one of the most collectible, highly sought after of Porsche models. For collector’s and car restoration enthusiasts it’s one of the most economical ways to own a Porsche sports car and, with its popular mid-engine configuration that is nearly perfect for the track, the 914 has overcome the low sales and enthusiasm that caused its downfall to become a highly sought after classic.

When the 914 was unveiled by Porsche in 1969 they were going through some big changes and the 914 was part of them. Porsche, seeing a slump in sales because of price, wanted to make a sports car that was more affordable than the 911 and the 912, both of which were becoming increasingly expensive to produce. The 914 was their answer. Like the 356 Speedster had been 15 years earlier, the 914 was meant to be a more economically priced sports car that would open the Porsche brand up to a larger market.

(If you’d like to talk about 914s or need other Porsche parts click here.)

The 914 was replacing the 912, a Porsche model that, while popular, was becoming more and more expensive to produce and was suffering from an identity crisis as well.  Mechanics of the day had a bad habit of considering the 912 ‘just another Volkswagen’ and not giving the engine the care and maintenance that it vitally needed, leading to various engine problems.  Also, the 912 was not as fast as it looked, forcing many owners to push the car past its limits and shorten its life considerably. Maintenance of the car was also expensive and the 914 was hoped to cure that problem so that new owners could spend more time on the road and less in the shop.

That’s why they began planning the Porsche in 1966. The reason that they decided to make it a mid-engine sports car was simple; their ‘middies’ were tearing it up at the track.  Porsche looked at this as a way to sell the brand and indeed it was a viable marketing strategy that had been used successfully before.  If Porsche could convince owners that the cars they were purchasing had the same DNA as the Porsches they saw on the racing circuit they knew they would have a winner.

(If you’re looking for Porsche Cayenne parts click here.)

Another reason that Porsche went with the mid-engine design was basically that it was a growing trend.  The Lotus Europa was hailed as a trend setter in 1966 and mid-engine cars were the darlings of the press.  Indeed, the mid-engine design was used a number of time afterwards in production cars.  In the 1970’s there was the Fiat X1/9 and Toyota had their MR2 in the 1980’s.  Italian luxury automakers also have had a keen interest in mid-engine configurations but, frankly, it’s still far from universally loved.

The problems that doomed the 914, although well understood today, were just being discovered back then. As well as it could handle a racing track a mid-engine configuration is just not well-suited for daily driving.  The reason is that, with the drive train directly behind the driver, the engine noise was much higher than normal and at times deafening.  Adding to the problem for the driver because of the closer drive train was heavy and constant vibration.  One last problem was engine heat which had to be solved by increasing the surrounding insulation to epic proportions to protect the driver but still could make the car uncomfortably hot on long drives.

Those were the problems that, unfortunately, Porsche was unable to overcome and doomed the 914 from the start. The model sold poorly during its 5 year run. Today however the 914 offers an automobile that is extremely interesting, relatively easy to restore and economical enough that a great number of people can purchase one.  As a restoration project it’s not overwhelming and the results can be spectacular. These traits that have turned this 1960’s Porsche frog into today’s Prince Charming of mid-engine sports cars.

If you’re keen on hearing more from the expert on the Porsche 914 or any other Porsche models the famous ‘Dr. 914’, George Hussey, is always on call down at Automobile Atlanta in Marietta, Georgia.  If you have a question about the 914, the 912, the fabulous 956 or any other Porsche sports car George is the man with the answer.  Visit George, his wife Mia and the rest of his staff online for all of your Porsche needs including Porsche Cayenne parts.

The most important tip for buying a Porsche 914.

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bumblebee

When you’re ready to buy a classic Porsche 914 one of the first and most vital things to look for is a 914 that has as little rust as possible.  Like any classic car rust is a major problem and, if the 914 you’re keen on buying is loaded with it, you’re in for major restoration expenses down the road. (Pun intended.)

George Hussey, owner of the world’s largest Porsche 914 collection (certified by Stuttgart no less), has seen plenty of 914’s that look pretty on the outside but are hiding rust on the inside, a problem that will inevitably need to be taken care of and usually at great expense.  At Automobile Atlanta, where George has been selling Porsche 914s and Porsche parts for over 35 years, he has seen his fair share of 914 rust buckets and know the misery that it can cause. (he owns over 100 of them in what he calls his “914 grave yard“.

With that in mind, the person who wishes to buy a 914 should be very thorough in their inspection.. For example, taking the rocker covers off and inspecting the inner rocker  is vital as well as checking both of the jacking points.  Checking the back of the floor pan along with the right rear of the longitudinal where the right seat-belt bolts is imperative as well as of course the battery tray, the floor of both trunks (for previous collision damage) and the base of the inner and outer firewalls also.  It is beneficial to put the car on a lift and check the entire under body, and beware of one that has been undercoated, especially if it is fresh!

Keep in mind that most battery trays have been replaced by now so do not let a new battery tray dissuade you from fully inspecting the area.

Indeed one of the biggest problems that the 914s had when new was that, ahem, they occasionally burst into flames.  Why?  Because rain would wash the hot battery acid (especially if a bad voltage regulator let the battery overcharge) out of the battery, onto the tray, and down the longitudinal, and onto the cloth covered fuel lines, springing a leak and catching the engine compartment on fire!  The factory later came out with a kit to replace the fuel lines (the campaign was called “HO”) and future fires were kept to a minimum.

At Automobile Atlanta George Hussey has seen plenty of damaged battery trays, plenty of burned engine compartments, and over the years way too many Porsches that have been destroyed in accidents.  In fact, he owns an entire graveyard full of them from which he harvests parts. Although these days, the big sellers are Porsche Cayenne parts, George’s first love will always be the 914.

Heck, they don’t call him Dr. 914 for nothing.  With purportedly the world’s best 914 collection, the most 914s owned by any one organization, the largest 914 parts inventory, and over 275 custom manufactured parts for the 914, George virtually wrote the book on the car via his (914) “Tech Tips” 700. He is always available for detailed tech advice via the phone or an email and he’ll be glad to help you personally or connect you with one of his tech guys.

In fact, if you’re in the Atlanta area and want to bring by the 914 you’re considering,  Dr. 914 and his staff of Porsche repair experts will give it a thorough exam and let you know just what you’re buying.  Plus if you have any other classic Porsche model and have questions or need , for that matter, any part for any Porsche, do not hesitate to give them a call.

Ten hours a day six days a week, the Dr. is in at Automobile Atlanta!