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The fate of the James Dean 550 Spyder involves Lotus Nine!


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#1 David Birchall

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 15:56

I found the following discussion on the fate of the Dean 550 Spyder on the "Pelican Parts" Porsche forum based in California. There is some amazing information on the fate of this car and it involves the engine was/is in a Lotus IX.
This is quite a long discussion but very well worth reading:

http://forums.pelica...550-spyder.html


Edit:
For those who want a quick read hear is the gist of the story:

"Hello,

I am the old gieser that the guy who started this tread met at the San Clemente DNV while waiting in line for our Specially Constructed Vehicle Sequence numbers. I would like to correct several things that he didn't remember correctly. FIRST I was 62 at the time, not 65 -70!
I wrote a very detailed reply last week but I didn't save it and it hasn't been posted so I will summerize:
I was a young boy (10) in Burbank and my father did not race cars.
My dad met Dr. William F. Eschrich when our family chose his medical practice as our "family doctor" in about 1952. My dad and "Doc" hit it off right away because they were both very mechanically inclined and liked all sorts of vichiles.
Doc had a Simca bodied, Offenhouser powered, sports racing car. My dad became his entire crew for So. Calif. Sports Car Club of America and Cal Club events (today this would be the Engineer, Crew Chief and pit crew all in one)
from 53-56 with the agreement that he could bring his famaly to the races.
Doc was mostly an "also ran" with the Offy and we saw the introduction of the new Porsche Spyder when Johnny Von Newman (Neumann?) brought a prototype to an indurance race at March Field (before Riverside Raceway was built just to the north). We saw the number of Spyders increase and when Doc heard about Dean's wrecked car (he had a newspaper clipping taped to the wall of his shop) the next thing I knew Dean's car was parked under a green canvus tarp situated between Doc's medical building (an old house) and his shop in the back. This was 56. Jay Chamberlaine, the local Lotus dealer, was anxious to sell Doc a Lotus IX rolling chassis and let Doc drive his Mk IX at Palm Springs during Saturday practice to see what Doc throught of it. Doc ordered a rolling chassis and he and my dad began the engine installation.
In June of 56, when school let out, my dad took our family (my mom and older brother and I) on a road trip to see the USA before he was to start his own small aircraft valve and seal company. While in Florida my dad drew up, and mailed, Doc the plans for a tuned extractor exhaust system that was not possible on the Spyder because of the engine being right at the back of the car. Dick Stowe was helping Doc while we were away and when we returned home in September, Doc had completed the exhaust system and he and Dick had taken the "Potus" to it's first race at Paramount Ranch. I don't remember how it did. The next race ws at Santa Barbara and this is where Rolf (Dean's mechanic) came by to help. He had a box of carburetor jets and, because my dad's exhaust system breathed so well, the main jets had to be doubled in area. The car did very well in Saturday practice giving Ken Miles, in Von Newman's Spyder, a run for his money. I don't remember how he did in Sunday's race but there was a problem. Doc had a doctor friend who also raced. Doctor Troy McHenry, who generally raced a Allard, also bought a Porsche Spyder and, while not doing as well as some of the others, he had his car dissassembled to figure out ways to lighten it. I did not know it at the time but evidently Doc Eschrich gave some of Dean's Spyder parts to McHenry because they were specific to a Spyder and Doc E. was essentually running a Lotus.
The next race was at Pamona Fairgrounds and we were pitted right next to Mc Henry. Neither would race again. Doc McHenry would be motioning that something was wrong with his car as he came by the pits and within a couple of laps he lost control and hit a small tree and was killed. It was not the Doctor that bought Dean's car that was killed and this is where the myth that the car and parts were jinxed started. Eschrich was leading the race with Richie Ginther coming up the challenge. They both spun "in some gravel" and were out of the race. The car was hurt badly enough to need serious repairs but his medical practice was directly in the way of the planned "Golden State" freeway and he had to put off his racing plans until he got this practice relocated further down Magnolia Blvd. When Doc was back in bussiness and wanted to pick up his racing where he had ft off my dad told him that the "Potus" would be obsolete if they just rebuilt it as was. My dad drew up a sketch of what he thought should be made. Pete Lovely had already shown a new direction with a Porsche powered (not Dean's engine) Cooper F1 car called the "Pooper" several years earlier. Doc was not ready to start again from scratch and so the "Potus" chassis was raised up to the rafters in the new shop and that was the end of it. Doc's three boys were getting old enough to get involved in outings and they got motorcycles (Triumph Tiger Cubs and "21"). My dad bough a Cub "in a basket" that he re-built for my brother and I. Doc bought a bus that had been used by a guy with a seal act and took out the seal tank to make room for Bikes. We would all go to the dessert outside Palmdale. Doc had been somewhat of a motorcycle champion and liked to ride. Doc had boats, bikes, Jeeps, race cars, trucks, a Munce Jet, a Cadillac powered Wildfire and a 65 Corvette that he took to Bonneville after going with us and my dad's 300SL in 62.
Doc died, of caner I believe, in late 89 and my dad died of a Heart Attact, Stroke and eventually caner in January of 90. At Doc's funeral reception his boys confirmed that the engine was still on it's stand with a plastic cover over it.
Doc's boys are VERY reluctant to talk about the Dean equipment or "Potus" because of the harrasment that they have received over the years but I think that it is a tribute to their father's life of skill, resourcefullness, ambitition and ability that he was able to do all of these things and enjoy his passion for mechanical equipment. He help with my Burbank "Cracker Box Durby" car when my dad was out of town and crewed on my dad's 50 ft. sail boat around the channel islands. There wasn't much he hadn't done."

Edited by David Birchall, 04 May 2011 - 16:38.


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#2 Sharman

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 18:35

David, it doesn't gel. A Lotus lX is front engined and this bunch put an aircooled twin cam flat four in it and won races. My other leg is attached to Big Ben.

#3 Mistron

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 19:08

I think there was a picture of this Lotus in a recent issue of the Historic Lotus Register magazine. there was certainly a front mounted Porsche engined car, but whether it was a IX or an XI, I can't recall

Reading the rest of the thread it's interesting to see that George Barris may actually have only owned parts of the original Dean car which he attached to another spyder wreck which was sent on the tour of county fairs as a road safety 'device'. I'd always understood that owned the original.

So much smoke an mirrors with this car that I doubt any believable 'truth' will ever be established as to whether the remains still exist. it's all a bit macabre.

#4 David Birchall

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 19:18

David, it doesn't gel. A Lotus lX is front engined and this bunch put an aircooled twin cam flat four in it and won races. My other leg is attached to Big Ben.


You have to read the whole thread! There are photos of the Porsche engined Lotus and I was interested to hear Mistron report that the car has been pictured in the HLR publication.

The story is not a hoax-I am convinced of that.

#5 Mistron

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 19:44

HLR summer 2009 and a further piece in Winter 2009/10 (showing the Potus MkIX at Pomona in Oct '56 having a fairly spectacular coming together with a Porsche spyder, but escaping with what looks like fairly superficial damage)

The original article (summer) shows the engine mounted in the front of the car (albeit seen in a rear 3/4 shot). This piece describes Dr Eschrich buying the Dean wreck directly from the insurance company, removed the engine, transaxle, steering and other components (whatever that means) and scrapping the rest. The tale is recounted by the same source as in the forum linked to above.

it doesn't really add anything to the details related in the posts on the Porsche forum. I wonder if it used the Lotus rear axle? I assume so, but which 'box? and how would you link them? Porsche engine straight onto the original Lotus 'box, I suppose.

So whether this was truly the engine from the wrecked James Dean car or not, the Potus existed, and the lump was in the front, where God intended!

Edited by Mistron, 04 May 2011 - 19:56.


#6 Mistron

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 20:03

The other irony is of course is that had he lived, Dean would have taken delivery of the Lotus X he had ordered shortly before his death.


#7 ERault

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 20:21

You have to read the whole thread! There are photos of the Porsche engined Lotus and I was interested to hear Mistron report that the car has been pictured in the HLR publication.

The story is not a hoax-I am convinced of that.


There is no doubt the Lotus-Porsche raced in period. It is mentioned in contemporary entry lists and race reports. A quick look in my bookshelf resulted in a period photo in Pace & Brinker's Vintage American Road Racing Cars, showing a nasty bulge on the bonnet to cover the Porsche engine.

#8 David Birchall

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 20:32

As I read it, the sons of Dr. Eschrich still own the Lotus IX and, possibly the Porsche engine but have been "approached" by so many people that they have kept the car and engine under wraps.

#9 Mistron

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Posted 04 May 2011 - 21:05

but at some point the transaxle made its way to a MB restorer in New England?

Didn't the wheels get sold on to someone who was killed driving the car he fitted them too? I think the 'curse' has him having 4 simultaneous punctures!

#10 David Birchall

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 00:10

There are some stunning photos of the James Dean 550 following the accident on the "Pelican" thread-the chassis must have been unusable and very little of the body survived. It would be fascinating to see current photos of the Lotus with/without engine. I wonder if the guy who knew the family and told the story at the beginning of this thread could be persuaded to get photos? I think I will try.

#11 David Birchall

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 00:23

There is a photo of the "Potus" on Tams Old Race Car site". Apparently it retained the MG transmission:
http://www.tamsoldra...hWoodardPR.html


#12 gray chandler

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Posted 05 May 2011 - 08:42

David, it doesn't gel. A Lotus lX is front engined and this bunch put an aircooled twin cam flat four in it and won races. My other leg is attached to Big Ben.



Sharman,at least you are not hanging by the GOOLIES.This has been done before and not all that long ago. In 1989 Terry Nichols installed a Porsche 962
Turbo [700bhp] engine in the Front of a Ford Sierra. Suffered some handling woes caused by the air cooling fan creating a high pressure under the car.
From memory there was an article on it in Cars and Car Conversions.

Edited by gray chandler, 05 May 2011 - 08:57.


#13 David Birchall

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 19:01

Bill Krueger sent me these interesting photos of the Lotus Nine with the Porsche engine fitted:

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Photos copyright Bill Krueger

Edited by David Birchall, 16 July 2011 - 19:07.


#14 Mistron

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 19:24

you can almost hear Frank Costins screams over the shape of the bonet!

#15 llmaurice

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 20:35

you can almost hear Frank Costins screams over the shape of the bonet!


Yes indeed !A typical reinvention of the wheel from the New World If Len and Charlie were still around they would cringe !

#16 David Birchall

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Posted 16 July 2011 - 23:02

Come on guys!! :rolleyes:
It is a very creative use of a very competitive engine-it made the Lotus competitive with a well driven 550 Spyder.

#17 lazzHAR

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 00:42



Thanks David , this was a most interesting read ( and yes i did read all of the pelican thread !) . it seems there are members of the flat earth society over there too!

I have found that you need to talk to as many of the players from the day as is possible and that you can then compare the 'facts' / info gained. A lot of people have stopped looking for info on many cars years ago but experience tells me there is always something else to be learned , some more pics that will surface.

As is the case in this 'story ' there are many opinions that have been formed but not many / any have been based on talking to the people from the day and when someone does stand up who was there they get subjected to pot shots. Probably why he has gotten a little gun shy.

Laz

#18 richardspringett

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 08:28

DB - brilliant thread, thanks for sharing. Being an oldie this is my time frame!

Richard

#19 Mistron

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 09:24

Come on guys!! :rolleyes:
It is a very creative use of a very competitive engine-it made the Lotus competitive with a well driven 550 Spyder.


I agree completely David, and I'm always intrigued by interesting one offs, be it complete cars or unusual engine swaps.

My point was purely that having undertaken such an intriguing engineering challenge, it's a shame they seem to have left creating the bonet to a blind man with a spoon. For such a scientifically crafted body as this, the bonet stands out a mile as a hatchet job. perhaps it was a work in progress, created on race day?





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#20 Catalina Park

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 09:54

If only they had fitted the cooling fan on the front of the motor and fitted sidedraft carbs it all would have fitted under the stock hood. But I suppose they just wanted to keep the stock Porsche engine.

#21 Patrick Fletcher

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 10:44

I agree completely David, and I'm always intrigued by interesting one offs, be it complete cars or unusual engine swaps.

My point was purely that having undertaken such an intriguing engineering challenge


I like what they did at that time. Maybe Mike Costin had a look at the underside of this engine cover and said 'yes' with a few cut outs this will do for the front of our new F1 car.

Edited by Patrick Fletcher, 17 July 2011 - 10:49.


#22 David Birchall

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 15:10

What I meant to say was that with a "Weekend Warrior" owner driving it this car was competitive with Miles and Ginther in 550s--imagine if one them had been driving the "Potus".

#23 arttidesco

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Posted 17 July 2011 - 23:57

Fascinating thread about a vehicle I had never heard of before, some results for the Potus are listed on racingsportscars.com scroll down to 1956.

#24 Kevan

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Posted 19 July 2011 - 19:59

Yes, it's a fascinating story- I knew the basics of the Dean Porsche story, but not the subsequent homes of it's constituent parts... It's always interesting to see the ingenuity of sportscar privateers of the period.



Sharman,at least you are not hanging by the GOOLIES.This has been done before and not all that long ago. In 1989 Terry Nichols installed a Porsche 962
Turbo [700bhp] engine in the Front of a Ford Sierra. Suffered some handling woes caused by the air cooling fan creating a high pressure under the car.
From memory there was an article on it in Cars and Car Conversions.


50's American sportscar racing specials to late 80's British Thundersaloons is a bit of a tangent in the thread to say the least, but I certainly remember the Nichols/Birley Sierra-Porsche; a fearsome beast in the few races it did before a shortage of funding to develop such a complex project intervened
http://www.rodbirley.....in sierra.JPG
http://www.rodbirley...20Clearways.JPG
http://www.rodbirley.com/Sierra.htm