Dean Jefferies: The Quiet Customizer

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One of the stars of the movie car and customizing world died this week.

Dean Jeffries
Dean Jeffries Left His Mark in the Automotive World

His name was Dean Jefferies, and a lot of folks (including car people) have never heard of him. That’s despite the fact that he designed the Monkeemobile and the Black Beauty from the 60s TV shows.

I knew his name for two reasons. First, I built some his models when I was a kid. The first one I remember was a dune buggy. I had no idea who Dean Jefferies was, but his name was in big letters across the front of the box so I figured he must be someone important in the automotive world.

Jeffries Station Wagon Buggy
Jeffries’ Station Wagon Buggy

It was about that time that I spotted his studio. I lived in Los Angeles and every now and then we’d drive pass the Jefferies Automotive Styling shop at 3077 Cahuenga Blvd. near Hollywood. Unfortunately, we were always on the 101 Freeway at the time so I could do was gawk out the window at whatever amazing piece of automotive styling was parked out front. I guess I’ll always regret never getting my dad to actually drive up to the shop to meet the man and his creations.

Dean Jeffries Started as a Pinstriper
Dean Jeffries Started as a Pinstriper

Jefferies had an amazing career. He started out as a pinstriper. Back then he chummed around with Von Dutch, the iconic pinstriper of the 50s and 60s. He lived down the street from Troy Ruttman (1952 Indy 500 winner). Through that friendship he met J.C. Agajanian who took him to Indianapolis where Jefferies became Mobil’s official painter. Teams could get their cars painted for free by Jefferies as long as they put the Mobil name on the side. In a Motor Trend article he said one year he painted 21 of the 33 cars in the 500.

Dean Jefferies Mantaray
Dean Jefferies’ Mantaray Launched His Custom Career

One day Jefferies decided to get into the custom business. He designed a car called the Mantaray that won the 1964 Grand National Roadster Show and immediately shot him to fame. That car was used in the movie Bikini Beach in 1964 which started his connection to Hollywood. His creations ranged from the Monkeemobile and the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty to the James Bond Moon Buggy and even the trolley from Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Jeffries Designed the Monkeemobile
Jefferies Designed the Monkeemobile

One thing Jefferies didn’t do well was self-promote. While he admired the hustling skills of competitors like George Barris (who Jefferies said stole credit for the Monkeemobile), Jeffries did his work quietly.

Jefferies was 80 years old when he died in his sleep this week. A quiet and peaceful end to a man whose creations excited kids like me for decades.

Memorial information will be posted on Jefferies’ (not surprisingly) simple website.

 

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