Meet Dean Jeffries…
The word “customizer” is thrown around quite a bit in the automotive field. That term is sorely inadequate, however, when it comes to describing the incomprable Dean Jeffries. Although terms like “automotive stylist”, “self-made success” or “devoted husband” better fit him, these qualities only begin to scratch the surface of the man.
Dean was born February 25th 1933, in Compton, California. He grew up in the nearby town of Lynwood, the second of three children. His father owned an auto repair shop and it was there that Dean's passion for cars blossomed. Young Dean used this time to hone his skills on friends' cars after school. Though he didn't care for the grease associated with auto repairs, Dean took a strong liking to metalwork. He often watched the metalworkers in the body shop next door, closely observing how they repaired the twisted metal of wrecked cars. On weekends, Dean could always be found at the local racetrack... enjoying the hobby that one day would play a pivotal role in his career!The Fine Art of Pinstriping…
At 17, Dean was drafted into the U.S. Army. Instead of going to the front lines in Korea, he was stationed in the newly-formed Federal Republic of Germany (a.k.a. West Germany) to work on topography for maps. Jeffries learned a lot during this time and was a natural due to his inherent artistic abilities. While there, Dean sought the expertise of a piano craftsman to teach him the delicate art of pinstriping. With guidance from the craftsman, Dean learned how to decorate pianos and furniture with fine gold stripes. He also learned the importance of selecting the right tools for the job. Valuable groundwork had been covered for Dean's future in modifying.
Once Jeffries returned to the United States, he found employment at a local machine shop. As a sideline, he began pinstriping cars, boats, helmets and furniture. Dean bought himself a ’47 Mercury Convertable at this time. The body was originally dark green, but Dean soon painted it white (since he'd been told by local racers that green was an unlucky color.) Dean utilized his Mercury as a "rolling canvas" to display examples of his fine detail work. The car went from green to white…then from striping to scalloping... and on to ornate flaming. An eye-stopper for certain!
In 1953, Dean Jeffries received a phone call from J.C. Agajanian, the then current owner of Ascot Speedway in California. Dean was asked to letter and stripe the newest Champ car and was also invited to attend the event. This was the start of a life-long interest in professional racing for Jeffries.
Dean ultimately earned the privilege of painting Indianapolis 500 participants' cars for many years. The Indy 500 trips fast became customary. He found himself striping and attending the event annually. In one year alone, Jeffries had painted and lettered 22 of the 33 cars in the race.The Little Bastard…
Due to his shop's proximity to Hollywood, it wasn’t long before celebrities started seeking out Dean's talents. While working at the shop one day, actor James Dean stopped by with his Porsche 550 Spyder and asked for it to be painted. In the course of conversation, James joked that he was a “Little Bastard”... so Jeffries offered to paint that phrase on the back of his Porsche. The two men became fast friends and they often attended races together.
In 1962, Jeffries started on Carroll Shelby’s infamous Cobra project. He began by redoing the metalwork on the Cobra, then giving it a new paint job. Dean ended up painting the car a different color almost every night, so it could be shown the next day. This made it appear as though Shelby had several cars... when in reality, there was only one.
Around this time, Dean had begun to take notice of some fine customized autos appearing in the Hollywood area. Convinced that he could do as well as any of his “famous” competitors, Dean started to conceptualize his first truly custom-built car. While at the beach one day, he observed a mantaray gliding through the water. Jeffries was fascinated with its elegant shape and graceful movement. Inspired by the experience, Dean set out to create one of his most famous, award-winning vehicles: The Mantaray!