Rolf Wütherich at the Le Mans 24H 1954

Born : August 5 1927
Deceased : July 20 1981

Biography Rolf Wütherich

Rolf Wütherich was born in Heilbronn, a city in Baden-Württenberg in Germany, not that far from Stuttgart. Wütherich is probably best known as the man in the passenger seat when James Dean crashed in his brandnew Porsche 550 Spyder. It may be called a miracle that he survived the accident. James Dean wasn’t that lucky.  He died in the ambulance on it’s way to the hospital.

Rolf Wütherich sitting on a Porsche 550-012 Spyder at the 1954 Le Mans 24H Johnny Claes / Pierre Stasse
Rolf Wütherich sitting on Porsche 550-012 Spyder at the 1954 Le Mans 24H. Porsche 550-012 was driven by the Belgian team Johnny Claes / Pierre Stasse. They finished 12th overall and 1st in class.

Rolf Wütherich joined Porsche in 1950 as the 42nd employee. Soon after he joined the factory race team as a mechanic. He participated as a mechanic in different races like the Le Mans 24h, at the AVUS ring in Berlin or in the Mille Miglia and at the Nürburgring

Competition Motors

In 1955 Porsche sent Wütherich to the USA. He started a job at Competition Motors in Hollywood, California. Here he met Johnny von  Neumann and started working on the Porsche 550 Spyders that were distributed to the Californian customers by Competition Motors. Wütherich travelled to different race tracks on the west-coast of the USA to service the race cars of the clients of Competition Motors. It was in Bakersfield that he first met James Dean, who raced a Porsche 356 Speedster at that time. Soon they became friends and James Dean asked Wütherich to be his mechanic at the races where James participated.

James Dean’s fatal crash

James Dean traded in his Porsche 356 Speedster for a Porsche 550 Spyder late september 1955  under the condition that Wütherich would service the car and attend all the races with James Dean. Immediately after James Dean got the car, he filled out the entry forms for the 1955 Salinas Road Races scheduled for October 1st and 2nd. It was on the way to that race that James Dean crashed the car (read more in the book Road to Salinas by Lee Raskin). Rolf Wütherich surviced the crash with several fractures and injuries. Both Wütherich and James Dean were transported to the hospital where Dean was declared death.

John von Neumann made sure Rolf Wütherich received the best medical treatments in Los Angeles, including numerous surgeries. Wütherich recovered slowly from the accident, nearly losing a foot. After his recovery he returned to work at Competition Motors. However the recovery of the accident may not have been as good as Rolf Wütherich wanted, and John von Neumann let him go. Wütherich returned to Germany where he started working in the Porsche testing department.

Rolf Wütherich - Günter Klass at the 1966 Rally of Monte-Carlo
Eugen Böhringer and Rolf Wütherich finish 2nd in the 1965 Rally of Monte-Carlo

Return to the USA

In 1957 and 1958, Rolf Wütherich returned to the USA, but only for the Sebring 12 Hour races in 1957 and 1958.In 1960 Richard von Frankenberg, the chief-editor of the Porsche customer magazine Christophorus, interviewed Rolf Wütherich about the accident. This would be the one and only interview he allowed about the fatal crash of his friend James Dean.

During 1965, Wütherich established himself as a skilled rally navigator for the Porsche factory at the Monte Carlo Rally where he teamed with driver, Eugen Böhringer in a factory-sponsored 904 GTS Porsche to finish second overall and first in class. In 1966, Wütherich and Gunther Klass teamed in a factory-sponsored 911S Coupe to finish fifth overall and first in class. In 1968, Wütherich was terminated by the Porsche factory after 18 years.

Rolf Wütherich died July  20 1981, in Kupferzell, Germany, when he  lost control of his car and crashed into a residence. Like James Dean, Wütherich had to be extricated from the wreck and he died at the accident scene. He was 53 years old

Eugen Böhringer and Rolf Wütherich finish 2nd in the 1966 Rally of Monte-Carlo
Rolf Wütherich – Günter Klass at the 1966 Rally of Monte-Carlo

Pictures courtesy unknown and Porsche AG.