Dean Jeffries – 50 fabulous years in hot rods, racing & film. Click image to enlarge
By Russell Purcell
The power of both television and film over the last half-century has helped cultivate a segment of the car culture that attracts some of the most talented and creative individuals to ever draw a sketch, engineer a solution, or turn a wrench. The proliferation of cable television and the two-hundred channel universe is giving star power to men like the late Boyd Coddington and Chip Foose. While this may be beneficial for their bank accounts, it also tends to detract from the work that initially put them on the map. By many accounts, the greatest custom car builder of them all is a self-educated native Californian named Dean Jeffries. A man who is often overlooked due to his desire to enjoy a private life, but who is lauded for his drive to think outside the box and really explore the depths of his imagination.
Automotive writer Tom Cotter tackles the biography of American automotive icon Dean Jeffries in his latest book, Dean Jeffries – 50 fabulous years in hot rods, racing & film. Jeffries is without a doubt, one of the most influential characters to ever turn his attention to the automobile. His designs like the GTO-based Monkeemobile and the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty became stars in their own right, almost overpowering the actors whenever they rolled onto the screen. His Hollywood shop attracted celebrity car guys like Steve McQueen, James Dean and James Garner. If these three liked what you were doing, you knew you were on the right track.
Speaking of tracks, Jeffries’ business exploded onto the grid at Indianapolis in the 1960s and 1970s, as his unique paint schemes, striping and lettering helped make the cars look quick even while standing still, as well as bring a sense of marketing and flair to a sport that would take off with the emergence of television. This wouldn’t go unnoticed, and soon he was painting cars from other racing disciplines like Carroll Shelby’s Cobras and the awesome Scarabs of the same generation.
Unlike some of his more flamboyant rivals, such as George Barris, Jeffries always let his incredible work speak for itself. This may be part of the reason his name is less known by the masses, but his expansive body of work, huge list of famous clients, and prominent place in automotive history prove that if you have the skills, you can pay the bills.
After leaving school early to join the army, Jeffries found himself in Germany for a year, using his skills as an artist to draw maps for the military. While overseas Dean purchased a pre-World War II Horch for $25, as every California-born teenager needed something to cruise in. Utilizing the mechanical skills he had learned from his father he hot-rodded his obscure German ride to the point that its raucous straight pipe exhaust almost landed him in jail. A desire to give the stalwart looking Horch some extra curb appeal lead young Jeffries to befriend an older German gentleman who taught Dean how to pinstripe, adding to the toolset that would eventually make Dean Jeffries one of the most sought after customizers in the business.