Dean Jeffries American car customiser, vehicle designer, painter, fabricator, stuntman and stunt coordinator for motion pictures and television programs based in Los Angeles, California died on 5 May at his home in North Hollywood, California. He was 80 years old.
Jeffries served in the US Army during the Korean War. He was stationed in Germany and while he was there he he saw fellow soldiers and locals custom painting their motorcycles which gave him the idea to start pin-striping. After he returned from Germany, he began doing pin-striping as a sideline while working as a grinder in a machine shop. As the look took off he opened a custom pin-striping shop that would became famous with the Hollywood film industry.
Actor James Dean was one of his early customers, and Jeffries painted “Little Bastard” on the Porsche 550 Spyder that Dean owned. He would go on to become one of the best custom car painters of the late 1950s and early 1960s and an early pioneer of painting flames on cars. He also developed his own paint, Jeffries Indy Pearl.
He began custom fabrication in the 1960s and built the Mantaray (from Bikini Beach), Black Beauty (from the The Green Hornet), the Monkeemobile, the Landmaster (aka Land Master; from Damnation Alley), the moon buggy (in Diamonds Are Forever) and the trolley (from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Jeffries was also an expert on dune buggies, who produced his own models and contributed to books about them. He did all of the custom fabrication work on the movie Convoy in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jeffries worked on the design and initial fabrication for the Batmobile (for the 1966 Batman TV series).
Jeffries was a certified welder and custom built stunt vehicles used in numerous Hollywood productions through his company Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling (Jeffries Automotive Styling), on Cahuenga Boulevard West in Los Angeles.
Dean Jeffries also drove the stunt cars he built, developing a specialty in overturning and rolling at high speeds. He broke his back in 1981 while shooting a scene for the action comedy Honky Tonk Freeway.
He later recovered and while working on the 1984 film Romancing the Stone he reinjured himself in a stunt that required him to drive a five-ton truck off the edge of a ravine, steer it over a 100-foot chasm and crash-land on the other side.
Dean Jeffries was a “self taught” painter. He had wanted to attend art school but his family could not afford the tuition. After he returned from Germany he apprenticed throughout the 1950s with some of the custom-car artists in his neighborhood — a group that included George Barris and Kenneth Howard (known professionally as Von Dutch).
Jeffries related in the 2009 biography; Dean Jeffries: 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing & Film by by Tom Cotter that his father, a car mechanic, tried to teach him the trade. But he preferred drawing and hated the grease and dirt of mechanical work.
Mr. Jeffries is survived by a son, Kevin Dean Jeffries and a sister Evonne Jeffries.
By Michael Smith