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Dean Jeffries' "The Black Beauty" (And Some Others)

Dean Jeffries From a little out-of-the-way building somewhere between Hollywood and Burbank, California, comes the work of one of the best custom automotive builders in history.

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.

Black-beauty 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:

Monkeemobile Hey, Hey, We're the Monkees! ♫  If you're old enough to remember that song opening a zany musical/comedy show in 1966, then you'll surely remember their hip cruising machine, The Monkeemobile.

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.

Batmobile "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.

USS Enterprise blogspot 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.

007 Moon Buggy 007magazine.co.uk 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.

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I'm not a big custom car fan, so I was unimpressed with Dean Jeffries until we got down to the original NC-1701 Enterprise. Now *that's* a work of art, and Jeffries has my undying respect as a result.

I never knew until now that Dean Jeffries worked on Black Beauty, and the Monkeemobile, and the Batmobile.

I'm not so sure about the Enterprise, though. Might you be confusing Dean Jeffires with Walter M. "Matt" Jeffries, the designer of the Enterprise? (see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Enterprise_(NCC-1701)#Origin_and_design)

Cookie, you are right. Matt Jeffries designed the USS Enterprise. I don't know how I got off track there, maybe a typo somewhere.

I'll keep searching till I find where I went wrong. If and when I find it, I'll let everybody know.

Sorry for the mis-crediting there.

Hi Chuck. Dean Jeffries also played a key role in cherrying out the body on a Model-T Ford that became the basis for the first Cal Automotive fiberglass T-Bucket body in 1961. One of the guys who shared space with Dean back then in Hollywood was Nat "The Glass Man" Reeder, who applied his Corvette skills to building the mould after Dean finished the body. More of the story can be found at my blog http://www.tbucketplans.com/2010/10/04/cal-automotive-fiberglass-t-bucket-body-pioneers-part-2/
Keep it up.
John

The Black Beauty could have been fuel injected. It wouldn't have been the only fuel injected car around in 1966.

The Green Hornet had flat out the best soundtrack ever. Al Hirt did the trumpet part for the title track, but the whole show was chock full of awesome music by Billy May. Kinda big band/swing with some bitchin' '60s rhythms mixed in.

Always liked his car, too. A nice combination of mean and suave.

There is new a book out about Dean...

Dean Jeffries: 50 fabulous yaers in hot rods, racing and film... by Tom Cotter

My review: It's brave enough to tackle the Barris-Jeffries fued, but IMHO pulls some punches in other areas like ignoring J.R. Goodman's alleged troubles with him while trying to restore the original Black Beauty. It's all over the internet, so not too hard to find.
Also, Jeffries comes across a bit odd...demanding Spielberg pay $200K upfront for the streetcar for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit". Somehow, I'd guess Spielberg is good for it.
I do wish he went into kore detail on the Monkeemobile and other film cars.

Personality issues aside, Jeffries is a great talent, did some iconic work.

Let me also highly recommend...
The Legendary Custom Cars and Hot Rods by Gene Winfield by David Grant

Winfield does have a Star Trek connection, he made the full scale shuttlecraft Galileo 7, and the futuristic car seen in the Roman gladiator episode, The Man from Uncle and Get Smart cars and many more customs and film cars.

Both are required reading for anyone interested in customs and film cars.

And as a nod to our host...
I bought mine on Amazon.com.

The wiki entry you linked for the "Ark II" vehicle notes that it was built by The Brubaker Group and not Dean Jeffries.

Jeffries is best known for the TV series cars, but for my money his best effort was the 1964 Mantaray:

http://www.streetrodderweb.com/milestones/0011sr_dean_jeffries_manttray/photo_01.html

All hand-fabbed by Jeffries, including aluminum body panels and tube chassis based loosely on a Formula 1 design. It wasn't made for any particular client, but did appear in the Frankie & Annette beach classic "Bikini Beach." It's on display at the Peterson Museum in LA.

All three cars featured here are on display at this year's State Fair of Texas. Go to bigtex.com for details. While you are at the fair, you can also enjoy a deep-fried margarita or fried beer, if you are over 21.

"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."

That's all it is, a story. Nesmith and Tork were already professional musicians when they auditioned and while Dolenz wasn't exactly Ginger Baker, he could play drums. While their first album used session players (the studio hired the best songwriters and session players to record it), the guys in the Monkees rebelled and insisted that they be allowed to play on later recordings. They had pretty good taste in music - they invited Jimi Hendrix to be the opening act on a national tour, his first major exposure (though the Monkees' teenybopper audience didn't exactly appreciate him).

BTW, Mike Nesmith's mother made a decent sized fortune from inventing Liquid Paper. She was a secretary tired of having to retype things because of typos. She started experimenting with nail polish and eventually came up with a formulation that worked.

Erm, guys, neither Jeffries nor Barris built the TV Batmobile; it was made in 1955 by Ford, and called the Lincoln Futura: Go to popsci.com, and search the archives for "lincoln futura bubble", and you'll see both the July 1966 article that showed what George Barris did to it (no mention of Dean Jeffries), and the March 1955 article showing the original car (the second one is on the non-linked page 128; type "lincoln futura bubble" into the Search bar that shows up on top of the cover).

P.S. That Car Guy ought to remember that, since he wrote an article about the Batmobile right here in Car Lust, in May of last year ... ;)

Challeron, the Futura had been abandoned. Ford sold it to Barris for one dollar because they didn't want it, and it was parked at Barris' shop.

Please go to the Batmobile post and compare the before and after pics of the Futura/Batmobile. Thanks.

You guys DO realize that "Car Parts" and "Nike Dunks" are automated SPAMers....

John B... And they (And others) will be deleted as soon as possible! Thanks!

The quality in the detail is amazing! The Batmobile is a classic. I'm humming the theme song in my head. :)

Challeron:

We all KNOW it was the Lincoln to begin with...we assume every other "real car guy" does to. Barris and the many books that mention it have never been shy about the fact that the basic car came from Ford.

But you have to give Barris and his crew credit for turning it into the Batnmobile. Notice the bat "Face" and lots of other nice details.

It was Matt Jeffries that designed the Enterprise

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