|Jeffries Studio of Style - Dean Jeffries - Hollywood, California 1957-
In 1957, Californian Dean Jeffries sold his first car, a 1948 Mercury convertible, purchased a 1956 Porsche 356 Carrera and immediately started modifying the car to showcase his abilities as a custom car builder. He had already established himself as a talented custom painter and is credited with refining the art of painting elaborate flames and detailed pinstripes on the hot rods of the mid fifties. There are many articles showcasing his techniques in the small hot rod magazines of this era. He also cultivated friendships among the sports car owners of the Los Angeles valley.
Some of these friends such as Lance Reventlow and Carroll Shelby would later use Dean Jeffries talents as a painter on their own cars. Carroll Shelby himself tells the story of how Jeffries repainted the first Cobra the night before it was to presented to the Ford executives for their approval. Jeffries' also repainted the same car several times between road tests so the different magazines would think that Shelby had more than one running prototype. Dean Jeffries also applied the "130" and "Li'l Bastard" to James Dean's fateful 550 Spyder.
At the time he built the Porsche he was working out of George Barris' shop on Atlantic Boulevard and their are several photos in Andy Southard's book Custom Cars of the 1950s that have the custom coupe in the background. The car was almost burned up in the Barris shop fire of 1958 that claimed fourteen cars including Jane Mansfield's Jaguar. A color picture of the car as it looked when Jeffries finished it appears in Barris' book Barris Kustoms of the 1950s.
Among the custom touches that Jeffries added to the Carrera are an extended nose that included frenched headlights and a set of Lucas Flamethrowers, also frenched, directly below the main lights. The new nose was formed over a buck from a single sheet of steel and welded on at the original nose seam. The bumpers at both ends were removed, the front and rear pans rolled under and a beaded edge applied. Jeffries fabricated custom taillights, an elaborate custom rear grille and hood scoop combination and a set of 300SL like rear roof vents above the rear window. The engine compartment was lined with turned aluminum panels, the 4-cam motor was brought up to Spyder specifications, and the engine sheet metal and hinges were chromed.
In the interior, the door panels and rear compartment were treated to some roll and pleat panels, a rear shelf was constructed and a custom headliner was installed. The dash had silver leaf applied to the surface and custom knobs for the major switches were fabricated. The door jams were also lined with turned aluminum panels. The front trunk area was carpeted and the hood hinges and fuel tank straps were chromed.
The car had a set of Maltese Cross torsion bar covers installed and was painted with a special Silver Pearlescent paint that used fish scales in the pigment. The cost of these modifications in 1958 was about $8,000. When Dean Jeffries was asked years later in an interview "Why customize a Porsche?"; he answered, "Because, back then only the sports car guys had any money. All of the hot rodders were always broke."
The Porsche appeared on the cover of the October 1959 Rod & Custom and was also featured in:
The Carrera won 30 first place trophies in car shows around the country and Gary Emory has related a story of seeing the car at a show in the early sixties and using it as an inspiration for some of his modern "Outlaw" 356 Porsche Specials.
Jeffries put the car up for sale September of 1960, asking $6,000 for a car worth $9,000 according to the ad in the back of Road & Track magazine. According to Dean he only sold the car because he was going through a divorce and couldn't keep the Carrera.
He later went on to build the Mantaray custom roadster; an aluminum bodied special built on a birdcage Maserati chassis. This car can be seen today in the Petersen Museum in Los Angeles along with several other Jeffries creations. He was initially contracted to build the original Batmobile but because of time constraints he passed the job on to his old friend George Barris. Jeffries did construct cars for the Green Hornet show as well as many movies and built the GTO Phaeton for the Monkees. He worked with A.J. Foyt and the Ford teams at Indianapolis and was later given one of the two Ford GT-40 roadsters ever built when Ford decided to quit racing after winning Lemans for the third time.
About two weeks after he sold the Porsche to a man named Albert Nussbaum, the FBI showed up at Jeffries door asking about the new owner. It turned out that Nussbaum was on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for bank robbery and murder and he has a whole chapter devoted to him in one book about the FBI's most wanted criminals. The FBI traced Nussbaum to Florida through the Carrera's registration and almost caught him. He escaped and the Carrera sat in his sister's driveway for several years while he was tracked down and put on trial.
The Porsche disappeared from about 1965 until 1969 when it was purchased by a mechanic named Sandy in central Florida and brought to Atlanta, Georgia. The four cam engine had been replaced by a more conventional pushrod Porsche engine and the car was now painted white but the rest of the custom features were intact. During the short time he owned it Sandy managed to slide into the back end of a Ford pickup truck, causing heavy front end damage.
Sandy sold the Porsche to Peggy Daole, one of his customers who had been struggling to keep her Fiat 124 Spyder alive and running. Peggy decided to buy the car when Sandy needed to raise some money to pay off a gambling debt in a hurry - like that evening - and the only thing of value he could use for collateral was the Porsche.
The next weekend when she went to visit her parents in the north Atlanta suburbs I saw the car for the first time. Peggy's younger brother Paul and I have been close friends since we first met in 1963. When I saw the car in early 1970 I was driving my first car, a 1965 Turbocharged Corvair Corsa convertible. It had been my second choice as I had found an early 356 Speedster at Jim Downing's shop on Bankhead Highway. The Speedster was resplendent in gray primer and the asking price of $600 would have included a paint job in the color of my choice (black of course). Unfortunately I had only $400 so I appealed to my father for the loan of the extra $200 to buy this wonderful treasure. He was singularly unimpressed with the appearance of the primer gray Speedster (I think my big mistake was that when he saw the car the top was up - never a pretty sight) and insisted that I find something else. After another thumbs down on a pair of disassembled Mini-Coopers we finally dragged the Corvair home on the end of a tow rope for $275. Much engine work later I had a 240 HP screamer that was a holy terror on the autocross course but I still knew it wasn't a Porsche.
As soon as I saw the weird looking Porsche in the Daole's driveway; I knew I had to have that car. The front end was like no other Porsche I'd ever seen even though it had taken a shot right across the headlights. When I walked in the house my first words to Peggy were "You've got to sell me that car!" I continued to pester her for the next year and a half trying to convince Peggy to let me have the Porsche. She lived in downtown Atlanta in an old four story apartment building and parked in the street directly across from the exit of a bar's parking lot. I lived in fear that some bar patron would T-bone the Porsche before I could rescue it. Finally, late in 1971 Peggy was trying to gather the funds for a trip to Katmandu and Nepal. She called and asked if I still wanted her car. Of course the answer was yes and I was able to buy myself a very nice twentieth birthday present a few weeks early.
At this time none of us knew exactly what the Porsche was. It was listed on the registration as a "Sebring Coupe" and we knew it came from Florida so we thought it might have been some kind of special modification done locally. Several months later, after I had the nose repaired, I responded to an ad in Autoweek from an enthusiast who was looking for magazine articles about a custom Porsche built by Dean Jeffries in the late 1950's. I sent along a picture of the Porsche and I got back a six page letter describing the car and a list of the magazines that the car had appeared in. This gentleman was extremely excited at locating the actual Jeffries car and he had no doubt that there was any question about the car's authenticity.
About this time I was at a local sports car accessory store and one of the other customers recognized the Porsche. He had grown up near Barris' shop and saw the car being built. He filled me in on some of the history of the car including some details that I was only able to confirm years later. Now that I had some idea of the car's origins, Ray Ringler of the local PCA was able to help by locating a copy of the October 1959 Rod & Custom Magazine with the Porsche on the cover.
The next year a good friend of mine, Ernie Cabrera, who had been one of my most formidable opponents on the autocross course with his 356 SC acquired a Porsche 550A Spyder. He knew a guy down in Jacksonville who had some spare 4-Cam engines and he said that I should buy one for my car since that was what it had originally come with. He offered to pick one up for me on his next trip down so very shortly I had bought a 547/1 serial #90009 complete with the "Sebring" exhaust. He delivered the engine to me in the back of his Honda Civic - he said it earned a few second looks as he came back up I-75 with this huge engine sitting upright in the back of the Honda.
Reactions to the car are mixed; especially among enthusiasts who don't know the Porsche's history. It looks different enough so that I've had 911 owners ask me what kind of car it is. Some 356 owners are absolutely appalled that anybody would do this to a classic Porsche - especially when they walk around and look in the engine compartment and see a 4-Cam engine. I tell them it's OK, I also have a stock 1956 Sunroof coupe that is 641 serial numbers later than the Carrera.
I have enjoyed owning this piece of history for the last 29 years and hope to be able to complete it's second restoration in time for our 30 year anniversary. The paint is chipping due to too much hardener and the white/blue color scheme is dated but the Porsche is solid and most of the original custom work is intact. This time it will be repainted in the original pearlescent silver and Brett Johnson has been kind enough to present me with a replacement set of Maltese Cross torsion bar covers. I hope that other Porsche owners get as much pleasure out of their cars as this one has given me over the years. I am a very lucky custodian of a great blend of a sports car and a hot rod.
From pinstriping his toy wagon to building cars for the stars, Dean Jeffries has done it all. Born in Compton,
California where his father was a mechanic, Jeffries loved cars and worked on them with his father when he was
young. He opened his own shop in Compton and his customers came from all over the United States as his pinstriping
work became known. Jeffries began doing work for Hollywood stars like James Dean and at one time painted all of
A.J. Foyts’ race cars. However, like “Big Daddy” Ed Roth and George Barris, Jeffries is known best for his
customized hot rods. Out of his shop, “Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling,” Jeffries has built his special brand of
“hot rods” for top shows, such as: The Green Hornet and the Monkee Mobile. But Jeffries’ most famous creation was a
Ford-powered, scratch-built, custom car named the Manta Ray – a car that looks modern today despite being built in
1964. Jeffries is now trying to retire, a job he’s finding not so easy. “Quitting the custom work isn’t easy,”
says Jeffries. “The hardest thing in the world for me is turning down work. It’s really hard to quit.” Jeffries
is still doing some customizing, but he’s doing it for a very fussy customer, himself.
"Custom car designer Dean Jeffries was hired to create the famous red Monkee mobile.
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