|Birth: ||Aug. 5, 1927, Germany|
|Death: ||Jul. 20, 1981|
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Rolf Wuetherich was the Porsche mechanic and close friend of iconic actor, James Dean. He was also the passenger on the fateful day of September 30, 1955, when Dean was killed in Cholame, California, in a near head-on collision.
Rolf Wuetherich was born in Heilbronn, Germany on August 5, 1927. The identity of his parents is unknown.
On November 1st, 1950 he joined the Porsche firm in Zuffenhausen and made a quick career as a gifted mechanic. In 1955 the 28-year old Porsche mechanic was sent to the USA for four years. There he met James Dean. He was on attachment to Competition Motors on Vine Street in Hollywood, CA - the west coast dealership for high-performance cars.
On Sep. 19, 1955, Wuetherich ran into Dean on Hollywood Blvd. and told him about the arrival of a new Porsche. Dean was looking for something more powerful than the Speedster he owned for the racing circuit. Two days & one test drive later, Dean walked into Competition Motors, near Hollywood & Vine, & purchased the new silver Porsche Spyder. Dean had one stipulation with the purchase; that Rolf Wuetherich service the Porsche & accompany him to races.
On the morning of September 30th, Wuetherich serviced the new Porsche, making it ready for its first race in Salinas California, that weekend. He also installed one seat belt – for the driver. The car was to be towed on a trailer behind Dean's '55 Ford station wagon, but before they departed on their 300-mile trip Dean decided to drive the Porsche. It's been said that Wuetherich told Dean that the car needed to be broken in before the race & Dean needed to see how it performed.
Near the junction of Hwy 466 & Hwy 41, in the small town of Cholame, the collision occurred that would forever change the lives of many people. Upon impact, Dean was gravely injured and trapped inside the Spyder. Dean would die on the way to the War Memorial Hospital in Paso Robles.
Wuetherich was thrown clear of the car and lay seriously injured on the ground. He suffered from a shattered jaw, a fractured leg & both hips, and numerous cuts & contusions. He was unconscious for four days and was hospitalized for nearly 12 months (other reports say 18 months) recovering from his injuries; but the psychological trauma from the death of his friend, James Dean, would never heal.
In 1959 he returned to Germany but he was a changed man. He was mentally unstable and sporadically depressed. He suffered headaches and towards the end of his life developed a stuttering problem. He became estranged from his family. He had four failed marriages and spent time in a pyschiatric hospital. James Dean's shadow hung over him the remainder of his life, though he was a gifted mechanic and participated in numerous races.
In February 1968 he left Porsche for whom in the 1960s he had contested rallies finishing second in the 1965 Rallye Monte Carlo together with Eugen Böhringer. He went to Northern Germany then to Cologne and in 1979 he joined a Honda dealer in Hohenlohe near his native Heilbronn. After that he had a job at Neuenstein where he assembled turbo engines for Porsche.
He resided in Kupferzell when he was invited to a game of skittles on July 20, 1981 in the nearby village of Haag. At 10:50 pm the Honda Civic he was driving at high speed left the road in a sweeping corner in the town of Kupferzell and smashed head-on into a house wall. Wuetherich, who hadn't used his seat belt, was killed instantly at the age of 53.
It appears that Wuetherich had an appetite for fast cars before the accident that killed James Dean. He was in two serious crashes while racing in Germany.
Cause of death: Auto Accident
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Created by: Strings Of Heart
Record added: Jul 23, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 28484318