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Dick Dean...

If you're a "Rodder" or Custom Car Fan…..
You know Dick Deans Cars !

Much of the work Dick has done over his 40 odd years in the business has been done in the shops of, or in collaboration with, other builders such as Geoge Barris, Dean Jefferies, and the like.  Thus, Dick's nickname, "The Ghost-Builder".  We are going to let you in on some of the projects that you many not have associated with Dick, as well as giving you the "low-down" (no pun intended) on his most recent projects!


We were first introduced to the magic of Dick Dean Cars in 1990 when we fell in love with a  beautiful flamed Merc owned by Noel Blanc.  We saw it often  at a "cruise-in" we went to on Saturday Nights in Studio City, California.  As we learned more, we found that we knew  many of Dicks cars… but that  we didn't have his name connected with the works !

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 !






Dicks '53 Ford Pickup, his rolling billboard for South End  Kustom.




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 between 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.



When A Car
Was Built
at the Barris
Shop for
the Movies -

There  wasn't
just one built !

The film companies
needed extras
for promotions,
special appearances,
or just in case
something  happened
to the original, the
show could keep

Dick built 4 of
Beverly Hill-Billies


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.


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......










Dick and his sons worked on many  movie projects in
their own shop "Imagineering"

During his years working on projects for the movies, Dick  was also  busy working on many less well-known custom cars for individuals.  He also found time to build a few for himself...

  Believe it or not…  this '52 Plymouth Wagon was not a Woodie when Dick started on it. He, of course, chopped it ….  and then made all of the wood components  to turn it into a "Woodie".   This beauty also had a matching teardrop type trailer which Dick completely hand-crafted from scratch. 
This One -of- A- Kind  Limo  is
a Merc that Dick stretched for
Bill Papke and put on a Chevy Chassis.
It's Called "Prom Night"

Betcha  Didn't Know that those big long Surf-Cads you see at all of the Hard Rock Café Clubs were built by Dick Dean.



These are the cars that we love !   Dick estimates that he has chopped over 1000 tops in his career and that he has done 300 to 400  '49 - '51 Mercs and these days he spends most of his time working on one (or more) at his shop outside of Palm Springs, California.  We'll  take a look at his current projects  shortly.....

A story about Dick Dean wouldn't be complete without mentioning the "Shalako".   When customizing took a nose dive in the  late '60's, Dick had to devise a way to make his talents pay the bills.  He took  advantage of the publics' love-affair with the Volkswagen, and  designed a "Kit" Car which  would go onto a '66 VW Platform.  The Shalako and its successor the "Shala-vet" were a success, with about 1,000 being built.    

When it came out,
people didn't believe
that the Shalako could go Off-road too !


That's Jeanne with the '70
Shala-vet. It could hold a
VW, Pancake 6 Corvair, or
Ford 4 Cylinder engine.

  In 1984 Dick was commissioned by Wolfgang Schuller, from Germany, to build the Worlds longest  Limo.  It was an amazing 60 ft long !  It was shipped to Germany to appear as an attraction along with other auto exhibits.  Dick was amazed that the German people would pay 20 marks to see his car.  A few years later, Wolfgang shipped the car back to the US and had Dick lengthen it to 100 feet.  At this length it was actually two complete vehicles which  were maneuvered separately,  and then fastened together for display.  This vehicle made the Guinness Book of World Records.



You  Probably Think That Dick is now kicking back somewhere….
                Relaxing…..   Enjoying  retirement  ….  

Dick and Jeanne do spend time  together and Dick does tinker with his hobby, remote controlled airplanes and building special toys for the grandkids.





BUT  You Forgot ---
      He's a Car - Nut.  He's got lead in his veins !

It's The " Mer - Vettes " .......  and You're getting  the First Look !

Take a close look at this
'40  Merc
    It's  widened, chopped,
made into a
The '86 Corvette
Chassis was
Shortened to Fit.

And… If this isn't enough -  Dick is also working on a '51 Merc for Dr. Mike Norville.  


This wild custom is on a 1995 Corvette Chassis.


It's been widened  2 Inches
It's been chopped 3 Inches
It's been sectioned 3 Inches
It's been channeled 3 Inches
AND It's been shortened 22 Inches

Named "The Mer~ Vettes"  this pair
will  be appearing at "Oakland 2000"
and Dick has promised to send us updated photos
of these works in progress.

We've had such a good time reminiscing with Dick about so much of the work he's done. We could have taken up 20 more pages like this one to tell all the stories he's got to tell.….  and maybe we will. We look forward to watching the progress of the Mer~Vettes and seeing them at Oakland. We'll keep you up to date on the progress complete with pictures, and hope you come out to see the finished product with us. We're pretty excited that HotRod HotLine is the first place these splendid cars are being seen, you're watching custom car history in the making right here and we're proud to be bringing it to you on this great new medium.