My Car Quest

November 26, 2021

A Custom Porsche 356

YES it’s a custom – but isn’t it significant it was customized by Dean Jeffries?

by Wallace Wyss –

Way back in the dawn of time, I’m talkin’ the ’50s, when I hung out in a local drug store to read custom car magazines. I remember reading where some hip cat out in Kalifornia was customizing a Porsche.

Now where I lived, in Michigan, I didn’t see many Porsche 356s. It was decades later when I bought a ’59 Drauz Cabriolet used that I got a hint of how much Porsche volk venerate originality, not cleanliness, putting originality next to Godliness. Much later I wrote a book on 356’s called Porsche 356 Photo Album so now at least I can tell them apart kinda/sorta. I plumb forgot about the Jeffries job until I read in recent years someone was selling it for an asking price of $785,000.

Porsche 356 Custom

He said that famous customizer Dean Jeffries owned this ’56 356A Carrera GS from 1956 – 1962, and his custom work was the car that launched his career and introduced his talents to a wider range of enthusiasts than just the blue collar hot rodders with their T-shirts and rolled-up pant leg jeans. He could be right.

Porcshe 356 Custom

Up until then customizers did Chevys and Model T and Model A hot rods but few of them touched future classics like Mercedes 300SLs or 356 Porsche. When you did that, you got attention outside of the hot rod magazines. Jeffries not only did a lot of movie cars but stunt drove in the movies, breaking his back twice on just one movie! In Hollywood, he was known as the creator of the Monkey Mobile, the Kyote dune buggy, the Green Hornet car, the Landmaster from the movie Damnation Alley and the Manta Ray – the world’s first asymmetric Hot Rod (built on a Maserati chassis if you want to get their fans flame lit…).

Jeffries is tied in with another famous Porsche, the 550 Spyder that a fast rising star asked him to paint a name on it before he drove off to race it. The name? “Little Bastard”. The customer? James Dean (though it was at Barris’ shop when Jeffries painted it). Everybody knows what happened to Dean (fatally crashed on the way to the race). Nobody’s sure where the wrecked car went.

Now back to the Carrera coupe. It went through several owners, one of which was a fella named Albert Nussbaum, who was a little coy about his vocation–which was bank robber. When he owned it, it was gold. I guess if you rob banks you best be advised not to to drive a car so noticeable as a candy apple gold custom Porsche.

Porsche 356 Custom

It had more owners after Nussbaum, re-appearing in ’66. The seller of the car said he had completed an eight year total restoration to Concours condition and it was subsequently shown at the Amelia Island Concours in 2011 and the Spring of 2016. Jeffries went back to Amelia Island to see the car in the show and liked the way it came out.

Unfortunately in the restoration it was not reunited with its original 4-cam engine, which was sold off over 50 years ago in Florida. But it did get a 4-cam from a 550 Porsche (cars worth a million now.) But after that engine was discovered to have been
raced at Sebring it was deemed too valuable to use in a custom so the then owner of the Jeffries coupe switched to a freshly rebuilt 1600cc 4-cam Carrera engine from a 1958 356 Cabriolet.

The explanation was that the later plain bearing 1600cc motors are generally acknowledged as better engines for street use than the earlier 1500cc roller bearing engines. Now to a 356 purist. having the original engine number on the engine in the car that was there when the car rolled out of the factory is important. I am in thoroughbred horse breeding and if you don’t have the sire and the dam on the registration it ain’t thoroughbred.

Hollywood’s second most famous customizer (after George Barris) did the cutting. Among the changes Jeffries wrought are sunken headlights, Frenched or sunken fog lamps, 300SL roof vents in the rear of the roof, no bumper, silver leaf on the dash, chrome engine pieces, a custom dash yadda yadda.

Porsche 356 Custom

The owner of the car now can take pride in the fact the car was featured in over twenty-five magazines during its past including an appearance on the cover of the October 1959 Rod & Custom magazine. I don’t know if he got the price. I found a reference when Bonhams sold it in 2018 they hammered down a sales price of $436,750 so that must have before it was later advertised for $765,000 I can see a 356 4-cam with matching (matching Porsche records) engine number getting say $400,000 but the Porsche world isn’t asking me for valuations. I draw the line for pre-911 Porsches at $400,000 unless you come up with the Dean 550 Spyder.

And I’m still enough of purist there’s certain cars I wouldn’t restyle and for example I wouldn’t re-do a 300SL roadster to copies of the rare 300SLS race cars of Paul O’Shea (missing, by the way) are anathema to me. Even E-type Jaguars of the ’60s and there’s loads more of those.

And so it is–a sport car falls into the hands of a customizer. And is still worth a whole lotta money. I like 356s. I like Dean Jeffries’ work but sometimes the purist in me rules.

By the way, I saw a 356 like this, silver, with sunken headlights, in Malibu a few months ago. In 2019, but it and four others in convoy left before I could ask–is this the one?

Let us know what you think in the Comments.

Wallace Wyss

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss is the author of 18 car histories. Presently he is completing one 20″ x 30″ oil painting a month of a classic. For a list of what’s available, write malibucarart@gmail.com

 

 

 

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Photos compliments of Bonhams.
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A Custom Porsche 356
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A Custom Porsche 356
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The owner of this Porsche 356 takes pride in the fact the car was featured in over twenty-five magazines including an appearance on the cover of the October 1959 Rod & Custom.
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