Richard "Dick Dean" Sawitskas (1933 - 2008) was born in Wyandotte, Michigan. He is known as "The Sultan of Chop", and during his career, Dick chopped more than 1,000 cars. Around 400 of these were 1949 - 1951 Mercurys.
- 1 Taught by Bill Hines
- 2 First Car
- 3 Enrolled at the Ford Trade School
- 4 Pinstriping
- 5 Chopping Tops
- 6 Pilot
- 7 Art Center School
- 8 South End Kustom
- 9 Back to California and Barris Kustoms
- 10 Jack Ryan
- 11 Jeffries and Barris
- 12 Dune Buggies and the Bricklin Motorcar
- 13 Dick Dean Auto Reconstruction
- 14 Cruisin Toys and Various Other Projects
- 15 Cars are Chopped with Feelings and Eyes, not with Formulas and Templates
- 16 The San Jacinto Shop
- 17 Dick Dean's Personal Cars
- 18 Cars Restyled by Dick Dean
- 19 Sources
- 20 References
Taught by Bill Hines
Dick's dad, Vick Sawitskas owned a Nash dealership in Wyandotte. According to Dick, Vick's body men could remove and replace anything that unbolted but was not capable of doing extensive bodywork. An outside fellow who owned a tin building with a dirt floor did all the serious repair that called for replacing quarter-panels and lead work. The fellow was Bill Hines, and Bill let Dick hang around and watch him work. Bill taught Dick how to work lead and do other neat custom tricks.
16 years old, Dick bought a 1941 Hupmobile for $25. It was his first car, and his dad let him have a stall in the shop to work on it. Dick worked on the old Hupmobile for two years in order to get it right. When the bodywork was done, Bill Hines painted the car Vermillion.
Enrolled at the Ford Trade School
After graduating from Theodore Roosevelt High School in 1951 Dick enrolled at the Ford Trade School with a dream of becoming a model maker for Ford Motor Company. Dick's efforts were short-lived, as Ford decided to close the program. Ford was phasing out its apprenticeship program. Dean's grades were so exemplary that the school honored him and two other outstanding students with a small wall of fame.
Instead of being frustrated about his education, Dick mastered pinstriping and began earning extra cash. In June of 2023, Keith Dean told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that his dad got his trade name when he was pinstriping. "Born Richard Dean Sawitskas. The announcer at a show my dad was striping at couldn't pronounce his last name. So he said, okay, kid, were going to call you Dick Dean." According to Keith, he would usually sign his work in block letters "DEAN."
Dick also started chopping tops, which very few people were doing in the area then. The first car Dick chopped was Teddy Zgrzemski's 1932 Ford Coupe. Armed with a hacksaw, Dick used an issue of Hot Rod Magazine as a guide. The car is still around and is currently owned by Louie Wolf. Dick also learned to cut flat glass, and chopped a few 1940 Fords.
Dick was a licensed pilot as he had reached the level of Air Scout in the Boy Scouts of America organization. Having a pilot's license, Dick decided to join the Air Force in 1952. Dick was sent to Korea where flew war equipment.
In 1954 Dick married his wife Jeanne. At the time he was working at a steel mill in Michigan as a recorder. When a good friend who worked at the same mill was killed in a work accident, Dick quit the job and opened up his first shop South End Kustom in Wyandotte. At South End Kustom Dick started building cars for customers. Some of the cars he built were entered at the Detroit Autorama. In 2021, Dick's son, Keith Dean, told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that his dad would contract out to different shops when money was short. "Clarkaiser was one, the other was the Alexander Brothers." This was during the time between 1956 and 1959.
Back to California and Barris Kustoms
In 1959 Dick entered an orange and white 1957 Ford hardtop called the "Orange Peel" at the Detroit Autorama. At the show he met George Barris and Bill Carr, who were displaying the Aztec. George noticed the work Dean had done, and told him to look him up if he ever needed a job. Dick took George up on the offer and moved to California two months later in April of 1959. George was true to his word and gave Dick a job at $175 a week. While working at Barris Kustoms, Dick worked on such cars as the Ala Kart, the Golden Sahara, the XPAK 400, the Twister T and the Surf Woodie
In 1961, while working for Barris Kustoms, Dick met Jack Ryan, head of research and development at Mattel. Jack had some sketches on a 1957 Studebaker turned into a Mercedes-Benz type of car that he wanted to build. The concept was designed by Dick's teacher,Strother McGinn. The salary was enormous, so after nearly three years Dick left Barris Kustoms to work for Jack.
After the Jack Ryan relationship ended in the mid 1960s, Dick worked on several different projects such as the aluminum body for Andy Granatelli's Indy race car. He did also work for Dean Jeffries, who had just gotten the contract for the Green Hornet TV car and the Monkee Mobile. Dick did also help Dean out with the Manta Ray. Dick worked with Dean Jeffries for two years. After two years he went back to Barris Kustoms where 40 more cars were built.
Dune Buggies and the Bricklin Motorcar
When the custom scene hit rock bottom in the late 1960s Dean designed and fabricated a couple of dune buggies called the Shalako and the Shala. In 1968 he started working for Safari Dune Buggies. "He did a lot for them," Keith Dean told Kustomrama. "Building bodies, distributing them to different dealers. He made an aluminum plug for their flagship buggies, the Super Safari." Working with dune buggies, Dean was introduced to Bruce Meyers of Meyers Manx fame. Meyers introduced Dean to Malcolm Bricklin, who in 1972 hired Dick to help with the prototype and initial production of the Bricklin motorcar.
Cruisin Toys and Various Other Projects
In the late 1970s Dick opened up a Cruisin Toys in Santa Fe Springs. In 1977 he moved to Fullerton, California where he designed and built a few Cordays. The Corday was a Cord-like roadster based on an MG body. Dean did also build a plane for the James Bond movie Octopussy, and he provided Hard Rock Cafe with a few Cadillacs used above the bars and on the side of the buildings.
Cars are Chopped with Feelings and Eyes, not with Formulas and Templates
In the early '80s Rudy Rodriguez was a full-time Volkswagen and Porsche mechanic and stopped by Dick's shop and asked how much it was to chop his 1951 Mercury. He was scared to take on a large Mercury as his first chop. When Rudy found out it was way out of his price range, he left with his head down. Before he got too far, Dean stopped him and told him to stop by the shop every day after work and ask any questions he wanted and work with Dean. Perhaps he saw something in Rudy, perhaps he was just a nice guy. After a few weeks and careful guidance, Rudy left to do his own car alone. Dean told Rudy that cars are chopped with feelings and eyes, not with formulas and templates. When he returned with his freshly chopped 1951 Mercury, Dean smiled and said, "I knew you didn't need me." Even today, Rudy gets quiet by the mention of the late mentor and master's name and talks about those magical evenings with Dick Dean as some of the best times of his life.
The San Jacinto Shop
In 1992, Dean moved his shop to San Jacinto, California. He was still working on special projects and custom cars, and would in 2004 chop a 1949 Mercury for $4,000. Dick was still in the TV and movie industry, and built special projects for George Barris such as cars for the Flintstones movie, Jurassic Park and Power Rangers.
Dick Dean's Personal Cars
Dick Dean's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster
Dick Dean's 1930 Ford Model A Roadster
Dick Dean's 1931 Ford Model A Victoria
Dick Dean's 1932 Ford Sedan
Dick Dean's 1941 Hupmobile
Dick Dean's 1953 Ford Shop Truck
Dick Dean's 1956 Chevrolet
Cars Restyled by Dick Dean
Teddy Zgrzemski's 1932 Ford 3W Coupe
Jeff Neppl's 1950 Mercury
David Lee Roth's 1951 Mercury
Noel Blanc's 1951 Mercury
Rick Dore's 1953 Buick Riviera
Grant Langseth's 1956 Dodge Pickup
The Reynolds Aluminum Special
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