Saturday, May 11, 2013

Godspeed Car Customiser Dean Jeffries

Dean Jeffries, the car designer and customiser who created such iconic vehicles as the Monkeemobile from The Monkees and Black Beauty on The Green Hornet, died 5 May 2013 at the age of 80.

Dean Jeffries was born Edward Dean Jeffries on 25 February 1933 in Osage, Iowa. It wasn't long after his birth that Mr. Jeffries' family moved to Compton, California. It was there and in neighbouring Lyndwood California that Dean Jeffries grew up. As a child he was interesting in painting and even wanted to attended the Art Centre in Pasadena, California, but his family could not afford the tuition. His father was a mechanic by trade and taught him much about the craft.

During the Korean War, Dean Jeffries served in the United States Army in Germany. It was while in Germany that he developed an interest in car customisation. He learned the art of pinstriping from an older German gentleman who painted stripes on custom furniture and pianos. Once he had completed his stint in the Army, Dean Jeffries returned to California where he went into the car customisation business.

Mr. Jeffries rented space in soon to be legendary car customiser George Barris's shop in Compton, California. It was there that he worked alongside fellow pinstriper Kenny Howard, who would become better known as "Von Dutch." It was during this period, in 1955, that Dean Jeffries painted “130” and “Little Bastard” on a Porsche 550 Spyder for James Dean. Sadly, it was the car in which Mr. Dean would die in a crash less than a month later.

Dean Jeffries first real success would come with the 1964 Grand National Roadster Show competition in which his customised, futuristic looking race car called Mantaray appeared. The producers of Bikini Beach (1964) were looking for several cars to be featured in the drag racing sequences and as a result Mantaray was featured in the film. It was the beginning of Dean Jeffries' work with Hollywood. He also designed the cars that appeared in the film The Great Race (1965). It was in mid to late 1965 that 20th Century Fox contracted car designer Dean Jeffries to create the Batmobile for the series Batman. Unfortunately ABC decided they wanted the show to debut in late December 1965 or early January 1966 rather than September 1966 as previously planned. As a result Dean Jeffries was unable to complete his Batmobile and the job went to George Barris (who simply customised the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept car that he had bought.

While Dean Jeffries did not get to design the Batmobile for the 1966 series, he would get to design other iconic vehicles. It was Dean Jeffries who designed the Monkeemobile (a modified Pontiac GTO) for The Monkees and Black Beauty (a modified Chrysler Imperial) for The Green Hornet. Mr. Jeffries would go onto design the Moon Buggy in Diamonds are Forever (1971),  the cars in Death Race 2000 (1975), the Land Master in Damnation Alley (1977),  cars in The Blues Brothers (1980), the trolley in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), and the Paperboy 2000 in Get a Life (1990).

Eventually Mr. Jeffries would not only design cars for Hollywood, but he also became a stunt driver. Over he years he performed stunts in such films as What's Up, Doc? (1972), Damnation Alley (1977), The Blues Brothers (1980), Romancing the Stone (1984), Fletch (1985), The Rookie (1990), The Fugitive (1993), and Die Hard: With a Vengeance (1995).

If Dean Jeffries was one of the best known car customisers of his era, it was with good reason. He combined  artistic talent with a knowledge of mechanics, making him able to not only design and paint cars, but to actually build them as well. Indeed, only George Barris would design cars as iconic as those created by Dean Jeffries. The Monkeemobile and Black Beauty remain two of the best known vehicles to ever emerge from television shows, as well known as the Batmobile of the 1960's Batman. Dean Jeffries' lesser known vehicles, whether the cars in Death Race 2000 or the Land Master in Damnation Alley, were equally impressive. Dean Jeffries was among the greatest in his field, a talent rarely matched and never really surpassed.

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