Dean’s machine: My long pursuit of Dean Jeffries’ custom Dodge van

Matt Grayson

Having moved to Los Angeles back in 2006, the first place I lived was in the San Fernando Valley, just off of Van Nuys Boulveard in Sherman Oaks. Unfortunately most of  the iconic spots from the late-’70s heyday of Van Nuys Blvd. were long gone by then. Walking up and down the sidewalks, however, you could still look down and notice where old car clubs wrote their names back then in wet cement. It’s a cool record who the automotive royalty was in that era.

Los Angeles is full of them, if you know where to look. In the mid-2000s, there was a blue and white shop that sat on Cahuenga Boulevard, just as you crest the Cahuenga Pass coming out of The Valley, heading into Hollywood. It was just off the side of the 101 North and in those days still the “Dean Jeffries Automotive Styling” signage survived Who is Dean Jeffries, you ask? Only one of the top car customizers of the ’50, ’60s, and ’70s; a few of cars from his roster include painting “Little Bastard” on the Porsche 550 Spyder that James Dean lost it in, “The Green Hornet” car, The Monkeemobile, the ambulances from Mother, Jugs & Speed, and last but not least, “The Mantaray” show car.

Deans Machine Van rear three-quarter action
Matt Grayson

One little-known vehicle that I would always see sitting outside of his shop when I drove past it? Jeffries’ personal Custom Mid Dodge van.

This was a work van like no other. He had it parked behind lock and key, but you could see plainly that it was styled by the man himself. Then, one day, a “for sale” sign appeared on it. I was hawkin’ that van from that point on, trying to come up with the dough to purchase it, but it just wasn’t possible. I was still pretty new to town back then and could barely feed myself, let alone scrape enough money together to buy Dean Jeffries’ personal van. One day I drove by and noticed it was gone. I remember saying to myself “sh*#, who bought it?“ So I started calling all the usual suspects, rattling the cages of everyone who I thought might of have snagged it up. No one fessed up. It seemed to have magically just vanished.

Deans Machine Van side profile action
Matt Grayson

For a while, that’s how it went. I’d hear a rumor that someone saw it down a back alley or it went to Japan or something. Every trail would ultimately lead to a dead end.

Ultimately, it was a random conversation with an old friend that brought my union with this historic van into being. I was talking to my buddy Michael, who wasn’t a van guy or really in the van scene at all, but he was into cool stuff in general, particularly bicycles. “Did you hear about the van I got?” he said. I figured he picked up a Econoline or something like that. “Yeah, I got the Jeffries van, man.”

Record scratch.

“WHAT!?” I shouted in disbelief. He had bought the van straight from Dean himself. It was parked at Michael’s house. My search had finally come to an end, and a friend of mine was even the one who had saved it. Relief! It wasn’t doomed to haul lawn mowers and weed whackers, a sad fate for way too many mini trucks from back in the day. It was in the hands of someone who at least understood its significance.

Michael has since handed down the Jeffries Dodge van down to his brother Tony, whose plans for the van are to restore it as close as possible to the original build. Hopefully Dean is up there, smiling down on us, satisfied his old van is in good hands.

  • Dean’s Dodge van Mods & details according to its current caretaker…
  • Van Make: Dodge
  • Van Model: B100
  • Year: 1975
  • Engine Size: Pontiac Grand-Am 326 V8
  • Engine Mods: Engine bored to 401 balanced & blueprinted w/ Holley High-Rise  Carb
  • Exhaust: Hooker Headers
  • Transmission: B&M Trans
  • Brakes: A P Tilton Eng. built Disc Brakes for all four corners
  • Suspension Upgrades: Front and rear suspension fabricated.

Bilstein Shock company designed special Gas Pressure shocks

  • Wheels & Sizes: American Racing F – 15×8  R – 15×10
  • Tires & Sizes: BF Goodrich Radial TA & All Terrain TA rear

Front P275/60 R15 Rear 31 X 10.50 R15 LT

  • Steering: Steering column and wheel from Trans-Am
  • Body Mods: Hand formed wheel flares molded into the lower mounted tool boxes.     1 x 1 steel tubing welded to the roof, with 1/4 diamond plate over the frame to     handle a load capacity of 3000lbs.  Front and Rear Bumper fabricated 1/8″ wall     steel tubing. Rear tail lights from a ’82 Ford Truck
  • Paint: Pearl White Ditzler Detron urethane paint with Royal Blue accents. • Interior: Custom made by Dean Jeffries
  • Electronics: KC lights, CB radio CB is a Cobra 138 XLR
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    Hello! I worked for Dean when I was 16 for one summer in 1987. I wanted that van too. He offered it to me for $5k. Then he offered his detomaso Mangusta with a balanced and blueprinted 302 for $10k. The problem was, I didn’t have the cash for either at the time. If I remember correctly, the van also had a welding rig out of the back too.

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