A Tribute to Richard “Dick Dean” Sawitskas
1933 - 2008
If you're a "Rodder" or Custom Car Fan…..
Much of the work Dick had done over his years in the business had been done in the shops of, or in collaboration with, other builders such as George Barris, Dean Jefferies, and the like. Thus, Dicks nickname "the ghost-builder". We are going to let you in on some of the projects that you may not have associated with Dick.
Dick Deans road to fame began with a job at his fathers Nash dealership in Wyandotte, Michigan. They wanted him to work the parts counter but he gravitated to the body shop instead. Although he wasn't too thrilled with the idea of putting wrecked cars back together - he was fascinated with what he saw in the shop of Bill Hines… the fellow his dads shop hired to fix the bad wrecks. In Hines' shop he got a look at the art of customizing. Hines let him hang around the shop after school and it was here that he learned about leadwork and where he first learned the customizing tricks that would become his future. His first project was a'41 Hupmobile that he bought from a farmer for $25. He worked 2 years to turn it into a thing of beauty.
After graduating from high school with an art and drafting major, he went on to the Ford Trade School hoping to become a model maker for Ford Motors. When Ford closed the apprentice program Dick was left with his dreams, a hack saw and a "HotRod" magazine as his guide. In the early '50's, after a stint in the Air Force, Dick opened his own customizing shop, "South End Kustom", where he managed to struggle along while refining his talents and skills. It was during this time in 1954 that he met and married his sweetheart Jeanne. Then, in 1959, in a stroke of luck, Dick met George Barris at the Detroit Autorama where he had entered a '48 Merc. Barris told him that if he ever came to LA, he had a job waiting…. within 3 months Dick and Jeanne were California - Bound
This was the beginning of Dicks "Ghost Building" era...many of the famous cars that came out of the Barris shop were built by Dick Dean. In all, Dick estimates that he built 40-50 cars during two stints at the Barris shop.
"Dragula" was Grampa Munsters Car built at the Barris shop in the '60's. They made 4 of these cars along with the Munster Koach, the Bat-Mobile, and many more. Dick built 4 of the Beverly Hill-Billies cars.
Barris wasn't the only builder that Dick collaborated with during the '60's. He worked for 2 years with another famous customizer Dean Jeffries. It was at Jeffries' shop that they did the "Manta Ray" and the "Black Beauty" used in the Green Hornet.
Dick has graciously sent us so much material that over the years we have composed several articles for our site
"The Ghost-Builder".... The Flintstones Car, Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles and Jurrasic Park were some of the more recent projects for the movies. We have an inside look at some of those projects for you from an article we did about 4 Years ago………...Click Here
Another article we did was on "Dean Mercs"…...These are the cars that we love ! Dick estimated that he had chopped over 1000 tops in his career and that he had done 300 to 400 '49 - '51 Mercs.........Take A Look At Some Click Here
Cars Of The Stars....Though we love most the "Customs" Dick Dean has mastered over the years, helping us to relive our yester-years…. we also admire the work Dick had done for the film industry and for many of the car enthusiasts in entertainment. We want you to see some of those cars ~ the cars that were as much the "star of the show" as some of the actors… and sometimes more ! Click Here for Cars of The Stars …and Films from Dick Dean
A Conversation with Dick Dean...Carl Green conducted the last interview with Dick at the L A Roadster Show on Fathers Day. You can see it on www.youtube.com/user/cushenberyproject
Return of the Firebug....The Firebug, was designed by George Barris and built by Dick Dean in the late 60's and has been in storage for more than 35 years. Dick “Fuzzy” Fuerholzer sent us some pictures and a article a couple of years ago on it’s return. Click Here to see it.
Dick Deans Retirement Party....Jack & Maryann Lawford attended Dick’s Retirement Party in 2005. Click here for the pictures from the party.
We're very proud to be able to bring so many of Dick Deans accomplishments into the publics eye in one publication. It's hard to comprehend how all of these projects came from the imagination and talent of one man in one lifetime. You will be missed Dick !