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A Rare Ferrari That Caught James Dean’s Eye Is Hitting the Block

The “East of Eden” actor checked out the car shortly before his death in 1955.

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What did international playboy Porfirio Rubirosa, acting icon James Dean, and racing world champ Phil Hill have in common?

Besides being popular with the fair sex, just one thing: this 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider.

The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (Getty/J. Edgar Motorsports)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)

One of only 12 which were built, chassis No. 0438MD was originally purchased by Rubirosa – who was basically an Archer character considering that he was a Count, a diplomat, and even an alleged assassin – when he was dating Zsa Zsa Gabor. 

Wanting to show off his purchase and his paramour, Rubirosa had the new Spider shipped to Santa Barbara so he could race it over Labor Day weekend.

A looker because of its coachwork as well as its deep blue color scheme (Gabor wore a matching blue dress), the car took second in class and seventh overall with Rubirosa behind the wheel.

The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (Getty/J. Edgar Motorsports)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)

Despite the fairly successful debut, Rubirosa decided to move on from prized Prancing Horse and sold it to sports car dealer and racer John von Neumann.

One of the founders of the California Sports Car Club and the owner of Porsche factory distributor Competition Motors, Von Neuman typically favored German cars and No. 0438MD was his first Ferrari.

At the Santa Barbara Road Races in 1955, Von Neuman was able to impress another Porsche devotee with his Ferrari: Dean.

The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (Getty/J. Edgar Motorsports)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)

The Hollywood heartbreaker was at the races to compete in his Porsche 356 Speedster but had to retire early thanks to a blown piston.

Not wanting to leave just because he was out of the race, Dean walked around the paddocks at Santa Barbara inspecting cars and talking to their owners.

One of those cars was No. 0438MD and iconic images of Dean assessing the Ferrari were captured by photographers who were on the scene.

The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (Getty/J. Edgar Motorsports)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)

Though Dean never had a chance to race the Ferrari before taking his fateful trip on California State Route 466 in late September (he died on Sept. 30, 1955), Von Neumann was able to get another notable driver, future motorsport legend Phil Hill, to take the 500 Mondial Spider for a spin.

Along with driver Richie Ginther, Hill raced the Spider at the Torrey Pines endurance race in January of ’56. That race took place towards the end of No. 0438MD’s tenure in Von Neumann’s stable and it was soon sold, sans engine, to Lew Yates. He kept it until mid-1959 and opted to outfit it with a Chevrolet V8 instead of its original inline-four aluminum engine.

The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (Getty/J. Edgar Motorsports)
The 1954 Ferrari 500 Mondial Spider that was raced and/or admired by Porfirio Rubirosa, John von Neumann, James Dean, and Phil Hill. (P. Litwinski)

Now completely restored by Ferrari’s in-house Classiche department in Modena and decked out in its original Pinin Farina blue body paint, the car is crossing the block on January 17 in Scottsdale courtesy of act Bonhams.

Valuable for its pedigree as well as its association with such illustrious personalities, the Ferrari Classiche Red Book-certified Spider “is a very special and highly significant piece of California car and pop culture,” according to the auction house.

For more information about the car and the 2019 Scottsdale Auction in general, head over to Bonhams’ website