Thursday, May 16, 2013

Legendary hot rodder, Dean Jeffries, dead at 80.

Perhaps best known for much of his work that was claimed by George Barris, Dean Jeffries was one of the most legendary men in automotive culture. He was the complete package. He was a metal worker, a painter, a designer, a car builder, stuntman. He did it all. I mean, where do you begin?

Jeffries was born in Lynwood, California in February 1933. He had dreamed of attending the Art Center in Pasadena, but instead of doing well in school he gravitated toward cars like most teens do, learning from his  father who was a mechanic. While stationed in Germany during his stint in the Army, he learned the art of pinstriping from a furniture and piano striper, and upon returning home to California, he continued to learn from Kenneth “Von Dutch” Howard. This landed him a  job as the in-house pinstriper for George Barris. Along the way, he learned how to shape metal, as well, and began to take the customization of his clients’ cars further; during that time, he not only striped James Dean’s infamous Porsche 550 Spyder with the nickname “Li’l Bastard,” but also built Chili Catallo’s 1932 Ford three-window coupe, the one that the Beach Boys used on the cover of their Little Deuce Coupe album.

Jeffries also did work for Caroll Shelby. He painted the first Cobra as a favor to Shelby. He sympathized with Shelby’s effort to get the car done on a budget. “The body was a disaster, all heliarced and torched up. I had only three days from start to finish. I asked Shelby what color he wanted, and he said, ‘Any color you want.’ So, not knowing if it was right or wrong, I painted it pearl yellow because I had heard on TV that yellow stood out the best.” Shelby would later provide Jeffries with a Weber-topped Ford V-8 and four-speed transmission for Jeffries’s Mantaray, an asymmetrical single-seater based on a 1939 Maserati 8CTF Grand Prix chassis.

After leaving Barris' shop. Jeffries set up shop in Hollywood. This attracted plenty of celebrity clientele and made way for jobs creating and customizing cars for the movies and for the stars, including the Monkeemobile, the Chrysler Imperial based Black Beauty from The Green Hornet television series, and the Landmaster from Damnation Alley. He didn’t restrict himself to Hollywood cars, however: He also designed and manufactured the Kyote Volkswagen based dune buggies and built a number of custom and concept cars for Ford Motor Company, including a gullwing-door show car called the Cougar, the Falcon Python show car, and the Ford GT40. He also did some construction and painting for several Indy Car teams. 

Jeffries also worked for a while as a stuntman. During the production of Honky Tonk Freeway in 1980, Jeffries performed a jump stunt with a truck in which he broke his back. He also performed stunts in The Blues Brothers and Fletch. What he will mostly rememberh him for if not through his cars then through his feud with George Barris, brought on by Barris’s habit of taking credit for Jeffries’s work throughout the years. “He couldn’t put a dent into something, never mind taking one out, but he’s a hell of a promoter, believe me,” Jeffries said. Barris retorted that he couldn’t “control what magazines write and who they list as the designer and builder.”

Jeffries remained very active in the industry until about five years ago and still maintained a shop in Hollywood. 

Source & Photos: Hemmings Motor News & The Jalopy Journal