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James Dean's Motorcycles

From BIKE AND RIDER magazine

Winter 1996 - 1997 issue


James Dean.

In just three movies (EAST OF EDEN, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, GIANT) James Dean did what other actors try to do for a lifetime, but never seem to succeed. James Dean became a legend.

James Dean.

Misunderstood. Loner. The original Rebel. He's become a rite of passage to adulthood for every teenager from 1954 on. Who hasn't, at one time or another, identified with his character Jim Stark in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE?

He drove a '49 Merc in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, raced Porche Speedsters and died in a car wreck while driving his Spyder to a race. He lived fast and died at the young age of 24. Although he's mostly identified with cars, James Dean had a love for motorcycles. Here's what's known about them.

Growing up in Fairmount Indiana, they called him "One Speed Dean", wide open. He got his first bike, a 1 1/2 horse Czech, on his 16th birthday. His family called it the "Popsickle," because you could hear the exhaust popping, announcing his arrival wherever he went. The bike was black in color, and purchased at Marvin Carter's, a local Indian dealer.

Although long since closed, the old shop building still stands in Fairmount, where James Dean was raised.  (UPDATE - I stopped by the old shop in July 2000.  It's now been purchased by the Dean family and undergoing restoration!) The CZ's location is known as well. It's yellow now (painted by a former owner in the late 1950's) and sits unrestored at the Fairmount Historical Museum.

When he was acting in New York, Dean rode around on a Royal Enfield. On a trip back to Fairmount, a bearing on the bike went out, and he was stranded for four days near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. While waiting for repairs to be done, he noticed a new Indian 500 in the showroom. He had to have it. His family sent the registration papers from Indiana and his agent sent him some cash from New York. Now James Dean had an Indian. Maroon, with gold stripes.

During the course of James Dean's life, he also owned a Harley, a 500cc Norton, a Matchless and a Lancia scooter. Not much is known about these bikes. If you can fill in any details, please drop me an eMail at the address at the bottom of this page.

The final bike that James Dean owned was a Triumph Trophy 500 named "Dean's Dilemma." Purchased at a Southern California shop, there are many photos of Dean astride this bike. When he died on September 30, 1955, his estate went to his father. Not being a motorcycle enthusiast, the bike was promptly sold back to the dealer. It was then resold and changed hands several times.

A couple of years ago, Dean's cousin, Marcus Winslow, located the serial number to the bike and hired a private investigator to track it down.

Although the odds of a 40-year-old bike still being around were second to none, he found it about a year later, in bad shape. The bike spent it's 40-odd years in California. The investigator learned that Dean never registered it in his name, which may explain why the previous owners never knew what a famous bike they had.

The bike was restored in Michigan, and treated to the same modifications Dean made in 1955 to the handlebars, exhaust, seat and rear fender. The bike can usually be found at the Fairmount Historical Museum, but it is temporarily on loan to the Warner Brothers Museum in California.

So there you have it. James Dean's motorcycles!

 

If you have any additional info on Dean's bikes, please eMail me!