In all of history it has happened only once. Only one man has ever won the World Championship in both motorcycle and auto racing– John Surtees. In 1956, at the wee age of 22 yrs old, he became the 500cc motorcycle World Champion. Then in 1960, he switched full-time to auto racing, and was crowned Formula One World Champion in 1964. At 26 yrs of age, he’d become the only man ever to win a World Championship on two wheels and four. There has been no one since, and perhaps nevermore.
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.
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
When Henry Ford II’s quest to buy Ferrari back in 1963 was spitefully squelched by Enzo, the mandate was given to, “Kick Ferrari’s ass.” And not just anywhere– at Le Mans, the world stage of auto racing. The ass-kicking would finally come in the beautiful & brutish form of the iconic Ford GT40–America’s most incredible racecar ever.
Originally developed in England by Ford Advanced Vehicles Ltd under the direction of Aston Martin’s former team manager, John Wyer, the GT40 failed at Le Mans in ’64 & ’65, as Ferrari finished 1-2-3 both years. With failure no longer an option for anyone who wished to remain employed by Ford, Carroll Shelby was tapped to give the GT40 the necessary bite to beat the Italians. Shelby’s success at Le Mans in his own Cobras, and again with the GT40, was not about technology, but by being crafty. He replaced the 289 c.i. GT40 engine with the same powerful, big block 427 c.i. V-8 that powered his Cobras. The lower revving, larger displacement V-8’s were more able to take the stress of long endurance races than the higher-revving, small displacement engines used by Ferrari.
Shelby not only ended Ferrari’s racing dominance, he exacted sweet revenge for Enzo’s snub– and garnered Ford a remarkable four-year winning streak from 1966 – 1969.
Two massive American automotive legends — Carroll Shelby and the iconic Ford GT40. Originally labeled GT, ’40’ was added due to its incredibly low 40-inch stance.
Although Carroll Shelby’s Cobra was handily beating all comers in SCCA A/Production competition, he knew that it was not equipped to matchup with the advanced, lightweight mid-engined race cars that were set to dominate in the new upcoming ’63 Fall Series. With little time, his answer was to try and repeat history by bolting proven American horsepower into a willing and able European mid-engined sportscar.
So he headed off to Europe and came back with two engine-less Cooper Monacos–and set out to retrofit the very capable racers with his signature formula of good ol’ fashioned Texas testosterone. His crew had just one month, a welder, and a pile of old Cobra parts to turn the Coopers into Shelby’s new lean & mean King Cobra. Get ‘er done.
There are two stories here, intertwined. There’s the story of Shelby and his attempt to dominate racing through sheer power and will with the King Cobra— and the story of his driver, Dave MacDonald, who through his love of the sport became a legend, and how his fate was forever changed when he made the difficult decision to leave Shelby and race for Mickey Thompson and Chevy at the ’64 Indy 500.
Carroll Shelby (left in his signature striped coveralls) and Phil Hill at the 12 Hours of Sebring, 1963. Shelby entered four Cobras, driven by Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, two of which have new rack-and-pinion steering. Hill succeeds in setting the fastest GT lap, but Shelby-American ultimately came up short, and Ferrari took the win.
Carroll Shelby after winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans (in his signature striped coveralls, no less).
OK, so surely you could smell a Shelby sequel coming. There is no one more iconic in the world of high performance American sports cars in terms of both racing and design than the charismatic, plain-talking Texas farm boy, Carroll Shelby. Shucks– back in the day, Shelby would even rush from the farm to the racetrack for practice– wearing his old work overalls. His ‘original’ racing attire got him more than a few chuckles and publicity, so he stuck with it. Seen sporting the striped overalls above, (after winning the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans) they became his trademark look. But more memorable than those overalls, as cool as they were– is his legacy of Shelby original sport cars. Each one better than last, and perhaps the one most talked about these days in nostalgic circles is the mythical Shelby Mustang GT500E (oft referred to as Eleanor) Super Snake.
1967 Shelby GT500 Super Snake --photo via SuperSnake.org
Carroll Shelby was undoubtedly the greatest single force behind American auto racing over the last 60+ years. From his legendary racing career, to reinventing the image of American road-racers in European competitive racing and beyond. In 1962, and with no official engineering background, Carroll Shelby created the legendary, stallion-slaying Cobra, which soon ended Ferrari’s all-out domination of the World’s Manufacturing Championship. For him, the recipe was simple and oft repeated– put a massive engine in a lightweight, nimble car.
In 1965, the Shelby Mustang GT350 made its production debut setting off a legendary battle for power and prestige between rival Detroit automakers– which would from that day on be known as the “Pony War”.
Carroll Shelby poses with his new 1964 production Cobra and his new Cobra race car– Venice, California. “It’s a massive motor in a tiny, lightweight car.” –Shelby explaining in a nutshell, the secret to the Cobra’s performance.
When Carroll Shelby decided to leave auto racing in 1960 due to a hereditary and life-threatening heart condition– he never looked back. Shelby dominated the racing circuit in the 50s, and wasn’t done yet. Knowing that racing was longer an option, he fixed his squinty gaze at becoming a legend under the hood, as well as behind the wheel. Shelby was going to build his own cars, and made it his personal mission to knock Enzo Ferrari off his high horse– who’s imperious, dictator style flat-out rubbed the tough Texan the wrong way. Ford knew they would also benefit greatly from an alliance with Shelby, as they were regularly getting their clock cleaned on the racetrack, and had no answer for Chevrolet’s Corvette in the showroom wars either. Ford soon became part of the rivalry with Enzo, as two unsuccessful buyout attempts of Ferrari during the 60s dealt a humiliating blow to Henry Ford II, and the only place left to settle it was on the racetrack.
Carroll Shelby is shown below with the three Cobra roadsters that would win the 1963 USRRC Manufacturer’s Championship. Venice, California, 1963.
The AC Cobra started out as a Ford small block 260 cubic inch V-8 (later 289) wrapped in a tight & light handbuilt British sportscar. It quickly morphed into a beast with a 7.0L 427 aluminum block under the hood, creating an incredible power-to-weight ratio that was just plain sick. Some silly fans actually prefer the earlier, more dainty Cobras– feeling that the flared bodies, fat tires and aggressive stance of the later 427’s comes across visually as too brutish and crass. Well sorry folks, I’m all about the 427 Cobra. An AC Cobra coupe’s top speed was clocked at 185 mph on the M1 raceway back in 1964– an impressive feat for sure, and years before the super-exotics.
The original Shelby Cobra was far from perfect– lets just say there were issues with stuffing an engine that massive in a chassis so small. So four Santa Monica hot-rodders tore the cars apart and rebuilt them to withstand the strain and demands from the ground up– all under the watchful eye of Shelby in his own workshop. Ford, Shelby and his team of craftsmen succeeded in creating a car that became all at once– the most loved, feared and copied sportscar in all of American auto history.
Carroll Shelby looks on as his crack squad of hot-rodders obsess over every detail as one of the first Cobras is prepped at the first Dean Moon Shop– Santa Fe Springs, California in February of 1962.
First Shelby Cobra being built at Dean Moon’s shop in Santa Fe Springs, California.
A fleet of Shelby Cobra coupes being assembled and prepped.
“I’m not going to take this defeatist attitude and listen to all this crap any more from all these people who have nothing except doomsday to predict.” –Carroll Shelby
“Next year, Ferrari’s ass is mine!” –Carroll Shelby after losing to Ferrari in ’64, and in ’65 it would be just as Shelby predicted. Don’t mess with Texas, baby.
Carroll Shelby at the wheel of a new Cobra production car– Venice, California, 1963. He loved to stick $100 bills to the inside of the windscreen and challenge the potential customer, sitting in the passenger seat, to grab the bill before the Cobra hit 100 mph.
I have always wanted to know more about Morrison’s ’67 Shelby Mustang GT500 and why we never hear so much as a peep about it. Shouldn’t it be the prize of someone’s car collection? I went in search of the story behind the legend’s mysterious car and found Bret Matteson had done some digging–
Rumor had it that Electra Records bought Jim Morrison a night mist blue ’67 Shelby Mustang GT500 as a present for the release of the album “The Doors.” Morrison had a reputation for trashing everything he touched, and true to form the GT500 sat on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles just waiting for something bad to happen– and unfortunaely, it did.