SEMA News—August 2013
By Drew Hardin
Photo Courtesy Petersen Archives
Dean Jeffries, custom car painter, striper and builder, died in his sleep in early May. He was 80 years old. Jeffries was among the most talented of the men who shaped car culture in the ’50s and ’60s, though his profile was somewhat lower than that of George Barris, Ed Roth or Ken “Von Dutch” Howard. He may not have been as well known, but he was versatile and skilled enough that his handiwork could be found everywhere, from Gasoline Alley at Indianapolis to Hollywood movie and TV sets.
Arguably his best-known TV cars are the two GTO convertibles he modified for “The Monkees” TV show in 1966. We dug through the Petersen vault and came up with these shots, taken in June 1966 after a grueling 10-day build of the first GTO.
That’s right, one of the most iconic TV cars of all time came together in a little more than a week. In fact, Pontiac gave Jeffries two GTOs to build two Monkeemobiles, and both were finished in two weeks.
It helped that Pontiac provided Jeffries with convertible GTOs to work on, as their chassis were already reinforced and there were no metal tops to cut away.
Jeffries’ radical re-imagining of the GTO extended the car’s nose by nearly 2 ft. and the rear fenders by 18 in. The GTO’s stock oblong grille openings were retained, but they jutted out in a V angle much steeper than stock.
Jeffries kept the GTO’s 389-in. V8 but topped the engine with a massive GMC supercharger. The blown 389 reportedly made way too much power to be usable on the show, so he took the blower’s innards out and stuck a carburetor inside the case. (He kept the blower intact on the second car, though, and it was used for car shows, exhibitions and whenever the TV show’s directors had the need for Monkeemobile speed.)
The car’s front and middle seats were stock Pontiac buckets; a third seat was fashioned out of the trunk area and upholstered to match the buckets.
Though the top looks like it folds, it doesn’t and instead is framed by square steel tube. Jeffries positioned a drag chute out back, and it was deployed for the shot taken in front of his Cahuenga Boulevard shop.
Once “The Monkees” wrapped after two seasons on the air, Jeffries was offered the chance to buy back the Monkeemobiles for $1,000 each. He refused, believing at the time that he could build another one for less. Both cars are now in the hands of private collectors.
Dean Jeffries will be remembered for much more than just these two GTOs, of course. But none of his other cars—not even the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty—got the kind of exposure that these cars did at the height of Monkee-mania.
(For those interested in learning more about Dean Jeffries’ life and custom creations, Tom Cotter has written an excellent biography, Dean Jeffries: 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing & Film, published by Motorbooks.)