Dean Jeffries, famed car customizer known for creating the Black Beauty for “The Green Hornet” and the Monkeemobile for “The Monkees” TV show and giving James Dean’s Porsche a custom paint job, has died at 80.
Jeffries’ son Kevin tells the Los Angeles Times that his father died in his sleep Saturday at his Hollywood home.
In 1955, Jeffries custom-painted Dean’s Porsche 550 Spyder just a month before Dean wrecked that car and died on his way to a race in Salinas, Calif. Jeffries’ custom paint job included painting “Little Bastard” on the car’s rear engine cover, according to Porsche historian Lee Raskin.
Jeffries created several classic TV cars, including the Monkeemobile for “The Monkees,” which, as was often the case at the time, was created on a tight turnaround — just 10 days. He also made the Black Beauty for TV crimefighter “The Green Hornet.”
He also had a near miss on another TV car — he was initially tasked with building the Batmobile for the 1960s “Batman” TV show, but when he couldn’t turn around the vehicle fast enough for that production, he turned it over to customizer George Barris, who had it made in just 10 days.
He even built vehicles for outer space — or at least fictional ones. He built a moon buggy used in the James Bond movie “Diamonds Are Forever.”
If you’re from Chicago or just like good blues music, you might be more interested in his stunt driving career — he served as a stunt driver and stunt producer on a film with some of the most elaborate car chases of the time, “The Blues Brothers.” Some of the other movies he worked on in the stunt department include “Romancing the Stone,” “Fletch,” “The Rookie,” “The Fugitive," the third "Die Hard" movie and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?"
"We work in a town where the squeaky wheel gets the grease," "Tonight Show" host/famed collector of more cars than your local dealership Jay Leno told the Times. "That wasn't Dean. He's just a regular car guy who happened to create some of the most gorgeous cars you have ever seen."
Leno made his way through Jeffries' shop, as did other celebrities, including Steve McQueen, James Garner and Gary Cooper. Jeffries painted many cars at the Indy 500, as many as 22 of 33 cars one year.
Jeffries moved with his family to Compton as a kid, making his career in Southern California for decades. He first got into vehicle customization while serving in Germany during the Korean War.
In his later years, Jeffries still spent five days a week at his custom car shop in North Hollywood.
A private burial is scheduled, but the family also plans a public "Celebration of Life" for Jeffries in late May, with details to come at DeanJeffries.com.
This story has been updated.