livery it did when it last raced. And then, in another
corner, looking fresh as the day it won Oakland, sat the
Then, a surprise - and a moment of complete
disbelief. Poking through scads of racing engines,
blowers and more parts than could be cataloged in a
year, we got close to what looked to be a Ford G T40 kit
car - and a roadster, at that. “What’s this ?” I asked.
Dean smiled a little and said, “Tub number 109.” It took
a second to let that number settle in; walking around
to the back, I didn’t find the expected Ford small block
— the engine that was fitted to this very car on the
day it raced at Le Mans in 1965. In its place was a Ford
Indy DOHC race car engine, one of the rarest engines
FoMoCo ever made, with every piece polished to a high
luster. Dean told me that Ford gave him the car — one
of the first dozen G T40s made, and one of only four
roadsters built — when he’d offered to buy it. The Indy
engines were a bonus. Quite a bonus, as it happens:
after the visit to Dean’s shop, I read that an interested
party from the UK had offered to buy the GT, as it sits,
for five million dollars.
Dean Jeffries told that fellow “no,” simply because
he’s having too much fun wrenching the car. The old
master of metal was doing amazingly well considering
what he’s been through over the years. He broke his
back filming Honky Tonk Freeway, and later fell off a
ladder in his shop, injuring himself almost to the point
of immobility. In 2008, perhaps the most grievous
injury occurred when he lost his beloved wife Rosalie, a
retired vice-president at Warner Brothers and the love
of his life.
During our visit, which extended into a pleasant
evening at dinner, then a cup of coffee at his house,
Jeffries wore a khaki vest containing a battery pack to
power the heart-aiding pump implanted in his chest.
And though it was obvious his hip was paining him,
he gave this writer one of the most enjoyable days
that I can remember. The conversation was lively,
occasionally salty, frequently comical — but always
sincere, and unfailingly passionate. Right now, Dean
is getting his G T40 back together, and he’s still doing
public appearances where rookies and the cognoscenti
alike can shake his hand, and pay homage to this
living, breathing national treasure. And sometimes, he
opens his doors to very lucky writers, and gives them
something they’ll never forget - a look into a life well-
lived, and a chance to gaze into the eyes and mind of a
quiet, humble giant.
Grizzled, determined, and as
salty as ever, an 80-year-old
Dean Jeffries wraps his legendary hands around the latest
model made from one of his designs - Structo's 1: 8 Mantaray.
Ed. note: Bill Bennett visited Dean on April 19, 2013.
Dean Jeffries passed away on May 5, at the age of 80.