Dean Jeffries' "The Black Beauty" (And Some Others)
Mr. Dean Jeffries was born not far away, in Compton, Calif., the mecca of custom car design; presently he operates Jeffries Auto Styling. His career started with automotive pinstriping, and one of his first notable car modifications was to paint "Little Bastard" on James Dean's Porsche 550 Spyder.
Race car owner and promoter J.C. Agajanian hired Dean to stripe cars, and took him to the 1952 Indy 500. Mobil Oil hired him to paint race cars, and he would also paint and stripe helmets of racers such as Jim Rathmann, Parnelli Jones, and A.J. Foyt. He also worked with Carroll Shelby on the Cobra, and gained fame for painting flames on cars.
Today, some of us TV addicts can remember "The Green Hornet," a short-lived 1966/1967 TV show about a comic book crime fighter, played by Van Williams. His trusty chauffeur and karate-wielding bodyguard Kato was none other than a young martial-arts legend named Bruce Lee.
Of course, what's a chauffeur without a limousine, so The Black Beauty was built by Mr. Jeffries. Originally a 1966 Chrysler Imperial, the lines of this car are timeless and look clean and fresh today. The car had many "extra features," but those green headlight covers still arrest my eyes every time I look at them.
The car was stored in Britt Reid's garage, who was The Green Hornet's alter ego in everyday life, just as Clark Kent is to Superman. To keep it hidden from the general public, the car spun on its roll axis and was concealed under the floor. My cousin always said that this was impossible, as a carburetor could not be stored upside-down and expected to work at the turn of a key. But maybe valves would shut off any fluids entering or leaving the intake manifold. Who knows--after all, this is Hollywood, anything is possible.
Coming in January, 2011, "The Green Hornet" hits the big screen. The producers, writers, and staff were smart enough to retain the '66 Imperial's good looks for the movie, though many real vintage Imperials gave their all for the film. From the movie trailer, it looks like some of the "extra features" of the car have been both retained and updated.
The Black Beauty was not the only famous vehicle to come out of Mr. Jeffries' shop. We all remember these:
We have all heard the story that The Monkees could not play instruments or sing when they were first formed. But at least they all could drive.
Without today's emissions, bumper, and most current safety regulations, Mr. Jeffries was free to customize the car with very few constraints. Or, maybe I should say "cars." Two Monkeemobiles were originally built, one for the TV show, and one to tour, and the two were not exactly identical.
According to Wikipedia: "The Monkeemobile is a modified Pontiac GTO that was designed and built by designer Dean Jeffries for The Monkees, a pop-rock band and television program. The car features a tilted forward split two-piece windshield, a touring car T-bucket-type convertible top, modified rear quarter panels and front fenders, exaggerated tail lamps, set of four bucket seats with an extra third row bench where the rear deck should have been, and a parachute. The front grille sported the GTO emblem." And yes, I copied that right off the web.
Like so many other 1960s custom cars, the Monkeemobile was available in a 1/24th plastic kit for anybody to build, as was most everything else that Mr. Jeffires built. And why not? He was also a consultant and designer with AMT Models on many of their custom automotive kits.
"Holy impossible network executives' deadlines, BATMAN!" Ah, savor The Batmobile, maybe the most famous TV car of all time. George Barris seems to have received much of the media coverage and credit for this small screen icon, but Mr. Jeffries was actually building it. The rush to finish the car by yesterday's call time was overwhelming, Mr. Barris had the resources to get the project ready at warp speed, so it was turned over to him for completion.
Luckily, the Batmobile has enough ZOWIE!!! to get over its BIFF. Watching the car tumble and roll in heavy Bat-driving can make one dizzy, especially compared to the tighter suspensions of today's cars. And one of my favorite Bat-scenes was watching the Caped Crusaders perform the Bat-Turn, followed by rapid dispatch of the Batmobile Parachute Pick-Up Service van.
Speaking of warp speed, Mr. Jeffries designed more than just cars for TV shows. Starships are also on his resume, and he built the most famous one of them all, "Star Trek"'s USS Enterprise, NCC-1701.
The imaginary machine features pulsating warp drive nacelles, a saucer-shaped main hull, and a somewhat cylindrical-shaped engineering section. This craft has graced both large and small screens, as well as the desks and bookshelves of many of today's NASA engineers, astronauts, and Car Lust contributors.
Mr. Jeffries is also credited for building other vehicles for movies and TV shows, including "Damnation Alley," "Ark II," and "Space Academy." One of his vehicles has been used in multiple TV science fiction shows.
Our favorite Double-Naught Spy, James Bond, has also crossed paths with Mr. Jeffries. In "Diamonds Are Forever," Agent 007 decided to take Willard Whyte's Moon Buggy out for a spin, creating all the usual havok. This was 1971, right in the middle of our moon exploration program, and EON Productions needed a timely lunar surface roving vehicle, of course.
So Mr. Jeffries designed and built the vehicle, and did exactly what the producers asked him to do--he built a vehicle for a soundstage. Then the film crew got the bright idea of taking it outside into the desert for a chase scene. And not being designed for virtual moonscapes, it often broke down. In one scene you can see a wheel, now broken off of the moon buggy, roll past the camera--a rare blooper in a Bond movie.
The Moon Buggy was for sale recently. I would have loved to have it as a farm vehicle. No cow would have ever escaped me.
I don't know if or when I'll be in Los Angeles again, but I'm going to stop by this man's shop if I can. Actually I've driven by it a few times long ago and never knew it. Next time, I'll be ready, with camera in hand and a phaser set on "fun.".
--That Car Guy (Chuck)
The first portrait/image is from ImperialClub.com. The Black Beauty photo is from Automopedia.org. The Monkeemobile image is from www.assets.speedtv.com. The Batmobile image is from Images3. TV's Star Trek USS Enterprise image is from Blogspot.com. Willard Whyte/James Bond's Moon Buggy picture is from 007Magazine.co.uk.