Having written a book called "James Dean Died Here," I have been there many times, including the 50th anniversary of the crash, when the site was christened the "James Dean Memorial Junction."
Those hypnotic, rolling hills at the bottom of the Polonio Pass that would have sucked up the sound of the crash are still the color of yellow death. The stubborn, suffocating breeze still blows hot, and the fading autumn sun that kissed this curvy machine a blink before it was crushed by the big Ford is dipping fast into the hills.
And the numerics are interesting this year. The accident happened in 1955, which is 55 years ago, and the Porsche Spyder Dean was driving was a 550.
While that may seem slightly cosmic, the primary mystery usually associated with the accident is less ethereal and more physical: What happened to the car Dean was driving?
Even the most basic Internet search produces a myriad of sensational claims, stories and "facts" regarding the vehicle:
"The Curse of James Dean's Porsche"
"James Dean and the curse of the Little Bastard" (the car's nickname)
"James Dean's Death Car Keeps Killing!"
But the mother of all Dean car myths is that it mysteriously disappeared in the late 1950s while in the middle of a cross-country PR tour to encourage safe driving. A few years ago, $1 million was even offered to anyone who could produce it.
"That money was safe because the car no longer exists," Lee Raskin told AOL News.
Raskin, a Dean historian, Porsche historian and author of the book "James Dean: At Speed" added, "That offer was a cynical attempt to prolong what I consider to be a scam that has gone for way too long."
But Raskin has serious doubts.
"All George owned was the shell of the car in the first place. The guts were parceled out to other drivers, the engine is still in private ownership, and he had refurbished what he had -- so even in its touring days when it was presented as an example of how not to drive, the car was barely a shadow of Dean's original. And that said, it did not simply vanish, though a romantic story like that allows you to market the myth for a long time. In fact, the car never left California, though George said it was all over the country."
So what does Raskin think became of the car?
"My sources from inside the camp that owned it, the Barris people, is that it was simply junked in the early 1960s when the fascination surrounding Dean started to ebb. Culture was changing, all of a sudden surf music about cars and girls took over and the Dean story was old news. We forgot about him and so the car had no value."
George Barris told AOL News that the car did in fact disappear after being displayed in Florida. "We opened the truck and it was gone," he said. "The driver swore he didn't know what happened to it so I hired a private detective, Jay J. Armes, to investigate."
(Armes is the famed detective that lost both of his hands in a childhood accident.)
"As it turned out," Barris continued, "Armes determined that since the weight of the truck carrying the car never fluctuated at any of the cross-country weigh stations, that the car in fact never even made it into the truck and was obviously stolen in Florida. There are some parts of the car in private ownership, but I have nothing left of it. Originally we bought it form the family, but at that point it was rally just the shell. The guts had been sold."
Interestingly, Barris (who got to know Dean while assisting with the car sequences in "Rebel Without a Cause") was with Dean the day he died. "I met him at the gas station in Sherman Oaks when he decided to drive the Spyder that day. A fateful decision, taking it off the tow truck, but he wanted to get some time behind the wheel," Barris told AOL News. "Several hours later, he was dead. That was a terrible accident, but regardless, that kid was a hell of a driver. It was in his blood."
So when did the "Rebel Without a Cause" star re-enter public consciousness?
"In the '70s," Raskin said. "When that era came back to life in the form of films like 'American Graffiti' and shows like 'Happy Days.' There was always a cool, Dean-like character present. That re-established him, the kid in the white T-shirt and jeans, racing off into the sunset."
Raskin also credits the numerous books that started to enter the market around then, particularly "The Death of James Dean" by Warren Beath. "That was the first one that really got into the specifics of the accident, and the car."
Beath agrees with Raskin that the myth of the "disappearing car" has been fictionalized to almost ridiculous lengths.
As to why he feels the image of Dean still excites the imagination of so many, Beath (who will be at the crash site on the anniversary) waxed philosophical.
"It's like the headless horseman ride, that last ride Dean took. It was a death ride, an ironic, matador type of death that strikes many as romantic. It resonates because Dean was so mysterious, and he seemed to be speeding away from life. When you visit the site today, it feels almost the same as it must have been back then, which adds to the intrigue, because all of a sudden you're in that same exact space with him."