STEVE McQUEEN’S MEAN MACHINES | THE 1957 JAGUAR XK-SS “GREEN RAT”

steve mcqueen 1957 jaguar green rat bw

Jaguar’s epic 3.4 liter, DOHC inline-six powered D-Types were originally built for competitive racing– with a few also falling into the hands of privileged private owners. But by 1958, the D-Type had become obsolete– new racing mandates now called for smaller 3.0-liter engines, which would hurt the D-Type’s performance on the track. Ferrari had proven themselves to be the masters of small-displacement, high-performance racing, particularly with their iconic Testa Rossa that could handily eat the 3.0 liter D-type’s lunch. Jaguar found itself needing to unload 25 of the 3.4 liter D-Types.

Jaguar execs decided to convert the old D-Types to street legal sports cars and sell them to the public as limited-edition GTs. The Jaguar was subjected to a series of street-legal retrofits, including– a full-width windshield, and a bare-bones top and luggage rack added to the rear deck replaced the original racing dorsal fin. Removable fixed-pane side curtains were then mounted to the Jaguar’s doors. A vestigial exhaust system was devised by engineers– complete with a guard to prevent laymen from burning themselves on the Jag’s exposed, aggressive sidepipes. The roadster’s lighting was converted to meet street specs, two nicely-appointed seats were added, a passenger side door and sleek bumpers were tacked-on, and they were ready to roll.  Tragically, 9 of the 25 XK-SS D-Types were destroyed by a fire at the Jaguar factory in 1957, making the remaining 16 all the more special.

One of these iconic roadsters would find its way into the hands of Steve McQueen– who enjoyed an on-and-off love affair with this special Jaguar up until the very end.

Perhaps no other car is more strongly identified with Steve McQueen, aside from the iconic Highland Green Mustang GT from the epic Bullitt, than his 1957 Jaguar D-type XK-SS.  He had his buddy Von Dutch custom craft a locking glovebox for the Jag to keep those Persols from flying out when he punched the gas. via

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Steve McQueen first saw his Jaguar XK-SS parked on a studio lot on Sunset Boulevard, back when it originally belonged to Bill Leyden (a local LA radio/television personality).  McQueen bought the Jag from him for $5,000 in 1958– though some historians claim the purchase price was $4,000. Wife Neile recalled, “I know exactly how much we paid for it– I signed the check.” Once, McQueen was pulled over for speeding with Neile, 6 months pregnant at the time, sitting beside him.  He lied and told the cop that she was in labor.  They got an official police escort to the hospital, where nurses were waiting to rush Neile in. After the police left, McQueen told the staff that it was just ‘false labor’, and off they went. He was later quoted as saying, “Neile was pissed. She didn’t speak to me for the rest of the day. But, by God, it worked. I didn’t get the ticket!”

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THE DOORS | WHEN THE MUSIC’S OVER MORRISON HOTEL & HARD ROCK CAFE

After shooting the ‘Morrison Hotel’ images for said album, Jim Morrison’s need for drink drove the band down to L.A.’s skid row, where The Doors happened upon a little dive bar called ‘Hard Rock Cafe’. The boys were all piled in John Densmore’s VW van with photographer Henry Diltz, when they collectively spotted the joint with the now famous name on East 5th St. and all said, “Oh, we gotta go in there!”

Side one of  ‘Morrison Hotel’ would end up being named ‘Hard Rock Cafe’, and famously pictured on the back of the album.  The shots taken that day back in December of ’69 are some of my favorite Doors’ pics. Years later photographer Henry Diltz recalled–

“I guess though sometime the next year after the album came out with that picture on the back, they [The Doors] got a call from England and this guy says, ‘Hello. Would you mind if we use that name on the back of your album? We’re starting a cafe over here in London and we would like to use that name.’ And they said, ‘No, go ahead,’ and that was the beginning of it. Now every time I go into a Hard Rock Cafe, whatever city I’m in, I always feel like I should get a free hamburger.”

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December 1969, Los Angeles, CA — The Doors barside at the original Hard Rock Cafe on East 5th Street in Los Angeles’ Skid Row. Sadly, it’s no longer there. — Image by © Henry Diltz/Corbis

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December 1969, Los Angeles, CA — The Doors outside the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Los Angeles — Image by © Henry Diltz/Corbis

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THE BROODING BAVARIAN BOMBSHELL | ’60s & ’70s SEX ICON– USCHI OBERMAIER

Keith Richards with German model/actress Uschi Obermaier during the Rolling Stones’ 1975 Tour of the Americas. –Photo by Christopher Simon Sykes/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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The sexy German model was with the Rolling Stones on their ’75 tour, and bedded both Mick & Keef. Uschi later rated the boys, saying, “Mick is the most charming man in the world, but Keith is the better lover. He just knows the anatomy of women…”

When Anita got word of Keef’s tryst with Uschi, she furiously charged at him, and grabbed him by the hair and screamed, “You f*cking messer, You’ve been messing with this bird!”

Uschi makes it clear that she and Keith loved each other– and that while Anita often lamented over Keef’s lacking libido, Uschi, by her account, had no problem keeping her man in bed for days at a time. “With me, there was never a problem.”

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December 18th, 1968– The Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards with Anita Pallenberg in a departure lounge at London’s Heathrow Airport. –Photo by Central Press/Getty Images

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HOLLYWOOD’S INNOVATIVE KUSTOM KULTURE LEGEND | DEAN JEFFRIES

Dean Jeffries Pontiac GTO Monkees Car - Monkeemobile

Pontiac GTO Monkeemobile built by Dean Jeffries. The car was featured on the NBC network’s comedy television show “The Monkees” starring Davey Jones, Mike Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Peter Tork. Created from two Pontiac GTOs, the visually radical Monkeemobile was an instant hit with fans of the show. This shot shows the dragster-inspired parachute deployed at Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling offices on Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles. 

Legendary painter, customizer, racer, and stuntman Dean Jeffries is one of those guys whose soft-spoken nature has allowed other, more self-promoting figures (read: George Barris, the Don King of Kustom Kulture) to steal a lot of his thunder. Barris has tried to hire on Jeffries as an employee many times over the years, and Jeffries always rebuffed– preferring either to rent his own space, or work freelance. Their histories are forever entwined, and the tales of rivalry, and particularly Barris’ trickery, are the stuff of legend. Many of Dean Jeffries’ most recognized works (like the Monkeemobile, for one)– George Barris came behind and unrightfully claimed credit for them. It’s dumbfounding and downright sleazy– we’ll get to that later.

Dean Jeffries grew up immersed in Los Angeles auto culture– his dad was a mechanic, and next door to his dad’s garage was a bodyshop. The young Jeffries was drawn to the creative expression allowed in bodywork over turning a wrench (“too greasy!”) like his ol’ man– the bodyshop became his hangout of choice. After returning from the Korean War, he became buddies with another future legend of Kustom Kulture– Kenny Howard (AKA Von Dutch), and started pinstriping.

“We’d do freelance pinstriping on our own, then get together and hang out. I also worked during the day at a machine shop doing grinding. But pinstriping really took off then–I was painting little pictures and medallions on cars. My first job was pinstriping a boat. I didn’t have no shop back then. You were lucky if you got $5 for a whole car. If you got $25 in your pocket in a day you were King Kong. I thought it was great.” –Dean Jeffries

More than anything else, I’ll always remember Dean Jeffries for painting the infamous “Little Bastard” badge on the Porsche owned by his racing buddy– James Dean.

“For years Barris claimed he painted it– now he just says he can’t remember and somebody in his shop painted it. Sure. I used to bum around with James Dean. I wasn’t trying to be his movie friend. We just had car stuff between us. We hung out, got along together real bitchin’. But one day Dean asked me to paint those words on his car, and I just did it.” –Dean Jeffries

Love this pic. There’s the obvious knockout pinup, Carol Lewis (Dean Jeffries’ high school sweetheart in front of his ’47 Merc), posing for his pinstriping pleasure, but also check out Dean Jeffries’ paint box. “The Modern Painter Has Arrived.” It’s an incredible piece of work in itself.

“The above shot comes from a publicity shoot done ironically, at Barris’ shop, with George behind the camera. Jeffries was just out of high school, and Barris tried to hire him, but Jeffries wanted to sub-contract to Barris, so Barris cleaned out a storage area in his shop, and Jeffries based himself out of there. Pretty slick on Barris’ part– he could grab Jeffries any time he wanted a striping job.” –Thanks to Irish Rich for the story on Carol Lewis.

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Carol Lewis’ custom 1956 Chevrolet– Dean Jeffries high school sweetheart.  –image via Kustomrama “It was Jeffries who was having dinner across the street from Barris’ shop when he spotted the smoke coming from the start of the disasterous Dec. ’57 Barris shop fire. He ran across the street and broke in, and managed to get Lewis’ 56 Chevy out of there before the flames got too out of control. Lewis’ Chevy was done in a similar style as Jeffries’ ’47 was.” –Irish Rich

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THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF LEROY GRANNIS | LEGENDARY LIVER & CHRONICLER OF CALIFORNIA SURF CULTURE

From the desk of Contributing Editor, Eli M. Getson–

LeRoy Grannis, considered by many to be the premier photographer of California’s thriving surf culture in the 60’s and 70’s, started out not as a professional or trained artist– but as a hobbyist.  He didn’t even begin his epic career until the ripe age of 42 yrs old.  That was back in 1959– prime time to document America entering the golden age of surf mania, and capture it with a keen eye and insight that only a true surfer could possess.  They say sometimes you fall into a golden situation and make the most of it– I would say Grannis did that, and then some.

LeRoy “Granny” Grannis was born in Hermosa Beach in 1917, and raised a few blocks from the ocean.  He began surfing at the age of fourteen, and was one of the first generation of mainlanders to pick up the ancient Hawaiian sport.  He started out on body boards, then graduated to riding the massive eleven-foot redwood boards that weighed up to one hundred pounds.  It was with his friends, Lewis “Hoppy” Swarts and John “Doc” Ball, that he became one of surfing’s first true devotees.  Even the Great Depression did not slow the cash-strapped surfing trio down– they built their own boards, sewed their own trunks, and pooled their limited funds for trips to catch the bigger waves at Malibu or San Onofre.  It was Ball, himself a self-trained photographer, who would later introduce Grannis to the art.

With the onset of WWII, many of the young men in California enlisted (including Grannis), and surfing went quiet for awhile.  After the war, Grannis returned to Hermosa Beach, took a job with Pacific Bell, and settled down.  He surfed on-and-off, but otherwise became absorbed in the demands of a full time job, wife, and four children.  In 1959 he was diagnosed with a stress related ulcer and his doctor recommended he take up something relaxing– that’s where fate stepped in.  Surf photography was a natural– he lived a few blocks from the beach, knew the sport, and his son had begun to surf.  At the time there were more than a few young surfers in Hermosa who wanted to see themselves in action– so with an East German 35mm camera he began chronicling the flourishing surf scene in Southern California.  What he recorded is the surf scene exploding in a riot of Technicolor.  California in the 1960s was the place where the “new” was always happening– it held a mythical place in our imaginations as the land of endless sun, surf, and possibilities.  LeRoy Grannis will go down as one of the men who helped create this mythos, and left us with some of the greatest photos I have personally  ever seen.

Eli M. Getson

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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–Photograph by © LeRoy Grannis.  All rights reserved.

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A LOST ART OF DAYS GONE BY | VINTAGE CURT TEICH LINEN POSTCARDS

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I’m crazy for vintage Curt Teich linen postcards. The warm, fuzzy, softness of color, printed (sometimes slightly off register) on the linen-weave stock, of scenes when America had a youthful glow. It makes me yearn for a life and times that I was born too late for, by golly.  I find myself gazing at neighborhoods and cities, trying to chronologically piece them together.  I ask myself– what was it like here 100 yrs ago… which houses came first… which were layered in later, and when?  A lot of the scenes in these incredible windows to the past are places where I’ve lived, or passed through that are in one way or another core to who I am.

Imagine living again in a time with no cell phones, internet, and the other so-called modern conveniences that “save us time.” I could go back in a New York second.  Technology and consumption is moving at a scary pace, folks.  I wonder what we’ll be looking back at with nostalgia-glazed eyes 25 yrs from now… Planet Earth?

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Ford Model T – 1908-1909, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, Dearborn, Michigan

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Statue of Liberty on Bedloe’s Island in New York Harbor, New York City

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Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, New York City

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THE ROLLING STONES @ ALTAMONT | WE’RE NOT IN WOODSTOCK ANYMORE…

Altamont_Hell's Angels 69684-9

Not barely four months after Woodstock, Altamont would prove to be worlds apart from its predecessor. For reasons largely unforeseen, or at least unacknowledged at the time, there was a definite divide in ideology between the American hippies in the crowd, and some of the English rockers onstage– for whom this hippie-trippy way of life was hard to swallow. For some it was simply naive, and to others– it was downright offensive. Pete Townsend in particular left Woodstock with a bad taste in his mouth– “All those hippies wandering about thinking the world was going to be different from that day on… As a cynical English arsehole, I walked through it all and felt like spitting on the lot of them…” Country Joe countered with his personal recollection of Pete at Woodstock. “I saw Townshend pull up in his limo, then do his set, and leave. That’s the sum total of his experience of Woodstock. He played at it but he wasn’t really part of it.”

Look, we all go through life with our own backgrounds, beliefs and expectations that impact our openness to ideas, and color our perceptions of attitudes and events. That being said– Is Townsend really there to “experience Woodstock”, or is he there to put on a great Who show? Whose place is it to dictate that everyone passing through the ’60s has to buy into the damn hippie lifestyle? It clearly wasn’t for everyone. Certainly not for the Rolling Stones.

By 1969, the Rolling Stones were a band with a well-established attitude of monstrous proportions.  They were effin’ rock stars baby, and royalty at that.  The world was their stage– and they saw Stones’ fans as their subjects. There to adore them and feed their egos.  They didn’t come into Altamont with the idea that it would be a lovefest.  Strangely, Mick Jagger was going through a phase of curiosity in Satanism and the occult at that time– but he would be far from prepared for the darkness that would unfold at his feet on that December day.

Altamont and the Charlie Manson murders would effectively usher out the age of the hippie. But was the hippie movement even real outside of the provincial confines of Woodstock and Haight Ashbury? Or, were we all just temporarily clouded by the sweet scent of a movement that was never more than a passing fad or fashion for most?

Photo above of Mick Jagger & Charlie Watts with Hells Angel. — Photograph © Ethan Russell. All rights reserved. From the start, the Altamont festival was a disaster in waiting. The stage was too low, the crowd too close, the Hells Angels too wired on beer and bad acid. Such was the rush to stage the festival that there were no food or drink outlets, and few toilets. –Sean O’Hagan

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STEVE McQUEEN ’66 POPULAR SCIENCE | WHAT I LIKE IN A BIKE –AND WHY

A cool piece on Steve McQueen rating six bikes for Popular Science magazine back in November, 1966–

“First of all, I don’t set myself up as an expert on either setting up machinery for racing, or in the actual sport of racing itself.  But after 25 years of desert riding in Southern California, TT scrambles, Hare and Hound, and a bit of racing in the wet Six Days Trials in East Germany n 1964– I sure hope I picked up a little bit about motorcycles and riding along the way.” –Steve McQueen

At the end of the day, McQueen heavily favors his own hybrid desert-rippin’ beast that he put together with the help of the Ekins brothers–

“I used a Rickman-Metisse frame– a revolutionary piece of equipment that does away with the oil tank. The oil circulates through the tubes of the frame, which keeps it cool…I used a 650cc Triumph engine as the powerplant for this bike.  The drivetrain and gearbox are also Triumph.  It has Ceriani forks with 7 1/2 inches of travel for a real smooth ride, and a BSA crown.  The fiberglass fenders and tank hold the weight down to a notch under 300 pounds.  The rig is the best handling bike I’ve ever owned.  And the power– it’s like supersonic.” –Steve McQueen

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“If you can’t cut it, you gotta back out.”  –Steve McQueen

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