Speed Reads- Dean Jeffries, 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing & Film

You probably saw Dean Jeffries work before you knew his name. Whether it was the Monkeemobile, the Streetcars from Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Old Number 98, the Agajanian Special, Jeffries influence across TV, movies, racing and the Southern California hot rod scene are the stuff of legend. Now, Jeffries is a modest man, not given to self promotion, who prefers letting his work speak for itself. That’s what makes this biography so engaging. Unlike his contemporaries- Big Daddy Roth, or George Barris (more on that later), there’s little preconception about Jeffries and that makes Dean Jeffries: 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing & Film, written by best selling Motorbooks author Tom Cotter, all the more revealing. Born in 1933 and raised in Lynwood California- essentially the epicenter of the So Cal Hot Rod scene, Jeffries took an early interest in cars. Having Ascot Raceway just a few short blocks away didn’t do anything to dull his ambitions either. A stint in the army, working as a map maker honed his skills and he began practicing pin striping while working for Uncle Sam. Upon returning home, he worked as an apprentice to Ken “Von Dutch” Howard, and eventually became the house striper for George Barris. Tom Cotter, author of the fantastic “In The Barn” series, as well as the essential book on the Holman-Moody partnership, is the perfect individual to bring Jeffries’ story to the page, as long-time Jeffries friend and car enthusiast extraordinaire Bruce Meyer notes in the forward. Cotter goes into detail about both the professional work in TV – the Green Hornet Black Beauty and Monkeemobile, Movies- including the aforementioned Roger Rabbit trollies, Damnation Alley Landmaster and Death Race 2000 feakinalia, and Motorsport- where Jeffries painted three of Lance Reventlow’s private team Scarabs, among other racers. The hardware is one side of Jeffries’ life, the other side is his relationships with those around him, including his competitors and his wife. While Cotter doesn’t spend much time on the negative – excluding much of the animosity that developed between Jeffries and Barris – he does do justice to Dean’s marriage, and how his unflagging love for, and eventual loss of his wife, Row shaped him. While this is a biography, it’s also a coffee table tome, and is filled to the brim with not just the recollections of Jeffries and his contemporaries, but black & white and full-color pics of his creations. I recommend a multi-pass attack on the book- first going through and marveling at all the amazing machinery, and then going back and reading about the remarkable man that created them. No matter what your particular automotive penchant, you’ll find this an engrossing read. Motorbooks

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