I have been an admirer of Dean Jeffries for a very long time.
Enthusiasts have long heard of and seen the works of California Customizers like George Barris, self proclaimed K ing of the Customizers and Big Daddy Ed Roth. There was a lesser known pantheon that included such gifted Rodders as Daryl Starbird, Bill Cushenberry, Dick Dean and of course Dean Jeffries.
I met Dean Jeffries in his Hollywood shop in the early nineties. Incidentally it was also the same day that I met George Barris for the first time.
Dean was a gracious host and took me for quite an exhaustive tour of his shop. In it were several iconic vehicles both of the golden age of custom cars and cars he had built for the movies.
The most arresting vehicle was also his most famous, the Manta Ray. This car caused quite a stir when it first appeared on the show circuit and was a superb example of asymmetrical styling in which the design is different from side to side. It was an outstanding success and vaulted Jeffries to immediate acclaim.
Jeffries started his career as a kid doing pin striping and he was good enough that he got the attention of George Barris and was invited to stripe at Barris's shop. Jeffries also got into painting monsters on T shirts, a market made famous by Ed Roth's Rat Fink and other crazies.
During that time Jeffries actually created a flying eyeball well in advance of Von Dutch's. Similar flying eyeballs ended up being the Von Dutch trademark which you can still find on apparel at eh local mall.
For some inexplicable reason even though Jeffries was often first others became famous sometimes at his expense. Perhaps he lacked entrepreneurial aggressiveness or perhaps he was just not very lucky.
Manta Ray changed that and over the following years he designed and built some wonderful custom cars. His talents caught the attention of Hollywood and he designed and built several very famous cars. The Monkeemobile was one and the Green Hornet's Black Beauty another.
Both of those cars became lighting rods for a life long grudge between George Barris and Jeffries. Barris had the annoying habit of buying movie cars from the TV producers once they were finished and then taking credit for them.
In the Monkeemobiles case Barris actually bought one of two Jeffries built and took it to the model making companies where he persuaded them to remove Jeffries name and add his own.
When I met Jeffries I mentioned that I had met George that same day. I saw the people accompanying me cringe and I immediately realized I had made a faux pas. Jeffries turned red, turned to a shelf and grabbed a book from it. As he slammed it down on the desk I saw it was one of George Barris's new books chronicling his career. What ensued was a page by page editing of the book punctuated almost every second word with an old Anglicism beginning with F. One page that featured a lovely girl sitting on a custom bike credited to Barris. Jeffries stabbed the picture and said "See that, that's my bike, and my @#$#@%# girlfriend.
Jeffries had a very special engineering talent that assured that the vehicles that he built even those built for films could actually perform. The articulated monster military machine from the film Damnation Alley could actually walk over obstacles with its triangular wheels system and swim.
When I first saw that vehicle I almost bought it. Jeffries wanted 80 thousand for it and I seriously considered bringing it home, somehow. I have always regretted not going for it.
One vehicle that Jeffries never offered for sale, even though he has been offered five million dollars for it, is not one he designed but it has been sitting in his shop for decades.
My first glimpse of it was a low slung shape covered with a dusty old tarp. Jeffries pulled the tarp back to reveal a Ford GT 40 Roadster.
In the late sixties Jeffries was in Dearborn Michigan at the Ford design studio using their wind tunnel. Spotting the GT he asked if he could buy it. The reply was that as the car had no value being a small block first generation GT 40 he could have it and as many spare parts as he wanted. He loaded up and off he went.
Maybe Jeffries wasn't so unlucky after all. If you are a fan of California Car Culture, this book is a must. Bravo.
I give it five stars.