HOLLYWOOD’S INNOVATIVE KUSTOM KULTURE LEGEND | DEAN JEFFRIES

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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TWO-LANE BLACKTOP | UNDER THE HOOD OF THE EPIC 1971 ROAD FLICK

 

“The whole idea of the road, of going from one place to another, is essentially American.”

Two-Lane Blacktop Screenwriter, Rudy Wurlitzer

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Esquire magazine printed the entire screenplay in its April ’71 issue before the movie was even released and boldly declared Two-Lane Blacktop as, “The Film of the Year.”  Set largely on old Route 66, which had seen better days, filming locations stretched from California to Tennessee, and the project was wrapped up in two months for mere pocket change– $950,000.  And while it wouldn’t quite live up to Universal’s expectations (who did little to promote it) and become a commercial success by anyone’s standards– it would survive the test of time to become a cultural icon, and one of the most loved road films ever made.

There still a lot of love for Two-Lane Blacktop even after all these ears.  Sadly, there aren’t a lot of great studio stills that have survived– finding decent pics on the internet was slim pickings.  I’ve had a few squirreled away for a spell (courtesy of Performance Pontiac Magazine, go figure) and so out they now shall come– along with a few tidbits from behind the camera.

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“I saw a picture of James Taylor on a billboard on the Sunset Strip promoting his new album.  I thought his look was right for the part of The Driver.  Regarding Laurie Bird, I took a trip to New York to meet with Rudy Wurlitzer, and, while there, met with a number of modeling agencies just to explore that field.  When you’re looking for someone that age to play that role, it’s impossible to find someone who is established, so I anticipated finding an unknown.  I checked out modeling agencies and met with people in L.A. as well and she was recommended.  Laurie was so inexperienced it never occurred to me that I would actually cast her.  She seemed so typical of what we had in mind for the character, however, that we used her as a prototype.  Rudy and I did a three-hour taped interview with her; she became the template for the character.  I still thought I could cast an actress who could play the part, but I couldn’t.  Someone then had the bright idea of screen-testing Laurie.”   –Director Monte Hellman

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“Dennis Wilson (of Beach Boys fame) was the last one to come onboard, after I ran through every actor and some other musicians.  As a matter of fact, we even met with Randy Newman.  Fred Roos, the casting director, finally suggested Dennis.  If memory serves, I saw Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino, and James Caan; I think I saw every young actor in Hollywood.  Dennis was very easy going. The only problem was that he was having so much fun that it was hard to find him when we were ready to shoot because he was off somewhere playing all the time.”   –Director Monte Hellman

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BIKES, BIKINIS, BEER & BEACH PT. II VINTAGE DAYTONA BEACH BIKE WEEK

Part II of an amazing rewind back to old-school Daytona Beach courtesy of Regis Decobeck, who was there to capture these incredible black & white images from ’74 – ’78.  Thank God for that.  Regis saw the original post – BIKES, BIKINIS, BEER & BEACH | VINTAGE DAYTONA BEACH BIKE WEEK – and generously offered-up these priceless gems for the enjoyment of our TSY readers.  God bless ya’!  Enjoy y’all.

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Circa 1974 – 1978 ~ Krazy Kustom Rat Wagon, Daytona Beach ~ image by Regis Decobeck

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Circa 1974 – 1978 ~ Kustom Tank Paint Job, Daytona Beach ~ image by Regis Decobeck

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Circa 1974 – 1978 ~ Kustom Trike-ness, Daytona Beach ~ image by Regis Decobeck

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ED “BIG DADDY” ROTH | RAT FINK KING OF SOUTH CALI KUSTOM KAR KULTURE

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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Probably best known for his iconic “Rat Fink” cartoon creation (I’m personally not a fan of Rat Fink, or any rat for that matter…) Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (3/4/32 – 4/4/01) is synonymous with SoCal’s Kustom Kulture & Hot Rod craze of the late 1950s & 60s.   He had a deep bag of tricks– an all around renaissance man skilled as a barber, cartoonist, display merchant for Sears, and expert auto painter / customizer.   He’d been to school for auto engineering and served a stint in the Air Force from 1951-’55. After the service, Roth supported the wife and five kids workin’ for the man at Sears– until ’58 when Roth finally opened-up shop full-time (working with “The Baron” and his grandson Kelly) and was well on his way to stardom. Insane fiberglass bodywork, and intricate custom paint jobs were his speciality. Legendary Kustom Kulture contemporaries of Ed Roth’s included Sam & George Barris, Dean Jeffries, and Kenny Howard, AKA Von Dutch.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's business card

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth on a custom Harley-Davidson chopper.

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Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's shop

Ed "Big Daddy" Roth's custom shop --Roth Studios.

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ed roth sticker

"SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FUZZ" --Ed "Big Daddy" Roth

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THE ’66 DODGE CHARGER | MY FIRST TRUE LOVE/WHEELS

 

The 1966 Dodge Charger, a muscle car legend.

1966 Dodge Charger– 426 Street Hemi engine option available that produced well over 425 bhp.

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I bought my ’66 Dodge Charger off a guy up the road for $750 when I was 18. She’d sat there a good long time, but this was Arizona– dry as a bone, so no body rot. Came home hitched to a tow truck– and I know my mom wasn’t too excited about the new lawn ornament. The old 383 V-8 needed a rebuild, and body was a little dinged– but she was unmolested and all original. So what if it didn’t run yet– she was mine. If only I had held on to her– but I ran outta time, money and energy. More than that– I had a girlfriend with plans to move us down to Tucson to attend the U of A. Never should’ve let her go– the Charger that is. It still pains me, but what’s done is done… Guys, listen to your gut and hold on to a good thing. Like your dream car.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger

The 1966 Dodge Charger– the fastback that’s full-sized and fully loaded.

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The 1966 Dodge Charger was introduced on New Years Day– a late but lethal answer to the Mustang and Baracuda fastback frenzy.  Based on the Coronet, the Charger came packed with serious muscle that few street cars could compete with.  The ’66 Charger debuted one of the most legendary and talked-about engines ever– the 426 Street Hemi.  The Hemi engine had been available in prior years, but the 426 Street option was designed for exactly that– performance on the street.  Rated at 425 bhp, some say it actually produced closer to 500 bhp.  That dog will hunt, son.

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FLAT-OUT ON THE SALT FLATS | THE 1954 BONNEVILLE HOT ROD SPEED MEET

Many racing legends and innovations have been born on the 160 square mile barren patch known as the Bonneville Salt Flats.  The 1950s in particular saw a revolution in the hot-rodding scene that became more aware of the importance of aerodynamics, weight and drag.  There were many that still fiercely held on to pure, brute horsepower over anything else– but many moved forward and a new dawn of streamlined dragster designs utilizing plastic and fiberglass bodies were born that changed the face of American racing forever.

The pics are truly amazing.   Great speed machines, as well as that classic 1950′s style– good grooming topped with denim, khakis, white tees, coveralls and awesome old-school racing graphics.  There’s also some great video w/insightful commentary at the end– if you can survive the xylophone noodling in the background… Definitely born too late, I was.  Photos by J R Eyerman.

Commonly called a “Lakester”– these open-wheeled, tank bodied dragsters were first raced on dry lake beds before the SCTA scene made the move to the Bonneville Salt Flats.  This one’s sportin’ a rear-mounted engine. 


The Bonneville Salt Flats speed meet, 1954.*

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The Goat That Launched A Million Muscle Cars | Pontiac’s Legendary GTO

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John Delorean Pontiac GTO

John DeLorean led the charge behind the GTO– the car that put him on the map forever and started the American muscle car revolution (pictured here with a Pontiac Firebird). Folks at home, don’t attempt to adjust your screen– DeLorean really was that big, measuring in at a little over 6′ 4″.

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My stepdad and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, he was crazier than a… well, let’s just say he was wound pretty tight.  He was a mean, swearin’, rough-lookin’, physical s.o.b., and needless to say– the neighbors didn’t bother us much.  He’d keep empty coke bottles rolling around in the cab of his pickup, and if he didn’t care for someone’s driving– wham!– he’d blast ‘em with a bottle.  And this is back when Coke bottles were glass.  His signature look was long dark hair tied back with a faded bandana, a crazy long beard, and even crazier eyes hidden under dark aviators.  He had a 50 lb. dumbell that he’d do curls and rolls with until his tattoo-covered forearms were the size of hams.  He was a machinist with arms and hands that were already hard and toned from wrenching all night on the graveyard shift.  He was just a tough mother.  If he had a soft side in there, he never showed it to me.  That would be weak– and he didn’t do weak.

Aside from all that nonsense, there was one thing we did share a love for– fast cars.  He was a GTO man.  GTO “Judge” to be exact– he loved his “Goats” as they were called back then.  He’d tell stories about his old Goat he had as a kid, and when I was about 13 he got another– a ’69 GTO Judge with a souped-up 455 cid V-8 and a 4-speed manual tranny.   I remember riding in that car, trying to control my laughter as it hopped like a crazed rabbit– the car had so much freakin’ power it couldn’t keep up with itself.  That GTO was the best thing he had goin’ for him in my eyes.  That and his Harley.  I wish he hadn’t sold it, but there was an ultimatum on the table– either the Harley and GTO went, or mom did.  They went, mom stayed– but eventually they split-up.

I couldn’t help from thinkin’– man, that’s gotta burn some.

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The 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge-- the ultimate American muscle car.

The 1969 Pontiac GTO Judge– the ultimate American muscle car. The GTO moniker was stolen from you know who– Ferrari.

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1950 – 1959 THE SANTA ANA DRAG STRIP DAYS | THEY DID IT FOR LOVE

Santa Ana Drag Strip

Just business as usual at the Santa Ana Drag Strip. Hambone waves the flag and the drag racers who usually had a rolling start to save their rear-ends from tearing apart would start screaming down the track. C.J. “Pappy” Hart’s perch is visible on about midway down on the right– below that was an old hearse that the track management used to store equipment and supplies. The cost for a run at the strip– 50 cents. The experience– priceless.

Give credit to the legendary C.J. “Pappy” Hart for organizing the world’s first commercial drag strip at what is now the John Wayne Airport– The Santa Ana Drags.  He did out of love for the sport and to give his fellow enthusiasts a safe, fun and legal place to enjoy their sport. From We Did it For Love–

“C.J. Hart, who along with Creighton Hunter established the Santa Ana Drag Strip on an unused runway at the Orange County Airport, and held races Sundays from 1950 to 1959, was known to legions of drag racing fans as the one of the grand old men of the sport. In his later years, Hart was a member of the NHRA Safety Safari, traveling the country and greeting well wishers at every stop.  Hunter sold his interest in the strip to Hart in the first month of operation, and Hart, who owned a gas station in Santa Ana at the time, went on to run the strip with his wife, Peggy, who competed – and won – regularly at the track in her ’33 Willy’s coupe. Peggy Hart died in 1980.”

CJ PAPPY HART ORANGE COUNTY INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY

There’s been drag racing since cars were invented,” Hart said in a 2001 interview in National DRAGSTER, “but I guess they say I invented drag racing because I was the first one to have a commercial strip. There was one in [Goleta, Calif.], but they charged no fee at the time. I saw a need to get people to stop racing on the streets; that was dangerous.

The fee to race or watch was 50 cents, and Hart decided on a quarter-mile length adapted from thoroughbred racing. In addition to installing an electronic timing system (cobbled together from an old Victrola), Hart’s track also created some of the sport’s earliest rules, regulating axle ratios as well as year, make, and displacements of engines, and safety regulations such as roll bars.”

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The NHRA Drag Racing Meet at Santa Ana, California.

The NHRA Drag Racing Meet at Santa Ana, California, ca. 1950s.

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The Great 1950′s T-Bucket Hot Rod Rivalry | Kookie Kar vs. The “Outhouse on Wheels”

Norm Grabowski Tony Ivo T-Bucket

Tommyy Ivo (top) and Norm Grabowski in his famous Kookie Kar square-off at the National Hot Rod Associations drag racing meet held at the old Santa Ana Drag Strip.

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The T-Bucket Hot Rod craze started back in the 1950s, and is still alive and screamin’ today.  Norm Grabowski is the undisputed Granddaddy of the 4-wheeled art form, with his original Kookie Kar being an inspiration to the legion of copycat and followers that became a national craze.  It all started back in 1952, when Grabowski, newly discharged from the service and now a fledgling actor in California, got his hands on an old 1922 Model T Touring front half and dropped a shortened model A pickup bed on the rear.  It wasn’t nearly as simple as it sounds– Grabowski painstakingly cut and recut the frame, laboring long and hard to get just the right aesthetic and stance he was looking for.  The power was supplied by a ’52 Cadillac engine with a 3-71 GMC blower, and later evolved to a ’56 Dodge engine with a Horne intake sporting a quartet of Stromberg double-barrel carbs. The steering for the beast was supplied by a Ross box from an old milk truck.  Grabowski installed it at home, then discovered that the T-Bucket steered backwards.  He hopped in the dyslexic Hot Rod and nonchalantly drove her from Sunland, CA to Valley Custom in Burbank for a fix– having to steer in the opposite direction the entire way.  Why not?

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Norm Grabowski Kookie Kar

Norm Grabowski behind the “wheel” of his famous Kookie Kar– a signature feature being the Bell three-spoke steering wheel mounted on the column which was in near upright position.

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A Life Fit For Me | Moe The Chimpanzee

Moe the chimpanzee st. james Ladonna

Moe was certainly livin’ the life, judging by these photos.  When St. James Davis found little Moe in Africa and brought him home to West Covina, CA back in 1967, it meant a new life completely devoted to caring for the chimp.  St. James had signed-on with a merchant ship as a deckhand to see the world and also to escape the glares of the hometown folk that had turned against him for leaving Ladonna (who would eventually be his bride and soulmate) at the altar.  You see, St. James was afraid that a wife would get between him and his hot rods.  A race car driver and a mechanic by trade, married life just didn’t seem to couple well with his plans.  Ironically, it would be Moe that eventually brought him and Ladonna back together, and they lived the life of a happy, albeit quirky, family for many years.  

I only wish I could say that it ended well.  The LIFE photos are of happier times back in ’71.

 

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