The HAMB website also has a really great appreciation of automotive art, vintage photography, and Hollywood culture. So imagine my suprise when I came across several pictures of James Dean behind the wheel of a 1955 Chevrolet Delray Club Coupe in their nearly 3000 page-long "Vintage Shots From Days Gone By" post. Apparently, besides driving his race-prepared Porsche 550 Spyders and sleek Mercury coupes, James Dean enjoyed a stripped-down six cylinder Chevrolet now and then.
All photos courtesy of the HAMB, Richard Miller, photographer.
The first photo is great because, well, he's smoking. He's also wearing shades. And he's reloading a cooler full of beverages somewhere in the middle of West Texas. You can tell a lot from this photo. Here's a couple of breakdowns:
The Film Geek Analysis: In 1955 Dean would have been filming exterior shots for the George Stevens epic Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Rock Hudson. Exterior scenes were mostly filmed near Marfa, Texas, way out on the western edge of the state. I can't say this for certain, but I assume that while filming on location, Dean probably either rented or bought the Chevy and kept his leadfoot & Porsche at home because he was actually prohibited from auto and motorcycle racing under the terms of his contract with Warner Brothers! It seems they were worried that his risky pastime could cause a deadly accident, and they wanted to protect their investment in the young star. So its only fitting that he skipped the "Turbo Fire V8" option and stuck with the six. After all, once filming wrapped, he could go home and hop back into his Porsche and blow out the carbon, right?
The Car Geek Analysis: Dean's Chevy is a 1955 Delray Club Coupe. It appears the car was painted in Onyx Black with an India Ivory top. His car is also missing the V8 emblems under the tail lights, so that means it sported the standard 235 cubic inch "Blue Flame Six" of that year. We can also tell that someone backed the car into something hard, as evidenced by the collapsed exhaust pipe. Oops.
Check out that pleated waffle pattern on the vinyl interior! That's standard equipment, baby. Kinda looks like a 50's custom "tuck and roll" job you see at car shows today. The Delray coupes actually looked good for a cheaper car. Not as upscale as a Bel Air Sport Coupe, but nice. From 1954 to 1958 they were produced and geared towards thrifty buyers, fleet purchasers, and customizers that wanted a cheap two-door with a little more style than your basic 150 or Biscayne model.
|The 1955 Chevy Delray Club Coupe|
The last two images were taken while driving down the highway and running in third gear. I can't tell if there's an overdrive unit on the car, but it could definitely use one out there on the West Texas highways. Another interesting note is that the original stamped aluminum dash trim is missing* and the 'cove' area has been painted the same white as the two-tone exterior. Dean did enjoy a custom touch or two on his cars and bikes.
*Reader Jonathan Peters informed me that the Chevrolet 150 and 210 models did not actually have the stamped dash trim that Bel Air cars did, so this car is 100% stock. Thank you for the info, Jonathan.
This last photo suggests that he's really not digging the ride, or he's deep in thought. Should have opted for the 265 V8, Jimmy. You would have been there much quicker. At least the cigarette lighter worked.
And those are the pictures of the mysterious James Dean Delray Coupe. Tragically, we all know what happened to the legendary actor from Fairmount, Indiana. Filming wrapped on Giant, and he went back to California and returned to racing and living the life of a Hollywood star. In September of that year, he met his fate behind the wheel of his beloved Porsche 550 Spyder that friend and stunt driver Bill Hickman had nicknamed "Little Bastard". A car that fellow actor Alec Guinness called "sinister" and predicted would claim the life of Dean. I can only imagine how different his life and career would have been if he stuck to stripped down six-cylinder Chevrolets.