MODERN CLASSICS VINTAGE CARS WITH A TWIST ARE RESTORER'S PASSION.
CANYON COUNTRY - With its torpedo-shaped chrome bumpers, suede-lined interior, and long, sleek body painted in brilliant shades of aqua and green, Dean Bryant's latest automotive custom creation is part sailboat, part hot rod.
Dubbed Dean's Rocket, the car was crafted from parts of four classic cars - Thunderbird, Mercury, Cadillac and Lincoln - and 16 different shades of paint were combined to make the car virtually glow in the dark.
Bryant hand painted aqua and purple flames on the sides, and spent countless hours heating and hammering steel to give the car its distinctive shape.
``It took four months working day and night to build this car,'' said the middle-aged hot rod guru. ``This one damn near killed me.''
With his long gray beard and ponytail, orange-tinted glasses, black cowboy boots, and horseshoe-shaped diamond ring, Bryant is as stylized as the cars he creates.
For more than four decades, he has been transforming rust-tinged classic cars into immaculate low riders in rich tones of purple, orange, pink and green.
Film studios frequently call upon Bryant's talents, and the Mattel toy company has made several Hot Wheel models from his custom built cars.
His garage, Elegant Customs in Canyon Country, is lined with photographs, movie posters and trophies he has accumulated over the past 40 years.
The most well-known of Bryant's creations is the flame-shooting 1951 Mercury featured in the movie ``Gone in 60 Seconds.''
Mattel marketed a Hot Wheels model of the car and has expressed interest in developing a model of his latest creation, Dean's Rocket.
Bryant is equipping the car with the same 200-pound fuel cells that gave his Mercury its flame-shooting ability.
One switch in the car will activate the twin fuel cells to begin spraying gasoline out the tailpipes, and another switch will deactivate the car's motor so it doesn't explode, he said.
``You're sitting on a bomb is what you're sitting on,'' he said.
For kicks and giggles, Bryant said he once activated his flame-throwing Mercury on the San Diego Freeway when he had gotten far enough ahead of traffic to be safe.
``It lit 'em up man, just like a ball of fire,'' he said. ``They slammed their brakes on behind me, and it was nothing but taillights on the other side.''
Bryant said his son will drive the Mercury in the annual Fourth of July parade in Newhall, while he'll be behind the wheel of his flame-shooting Rocket.
In all, about a dozen of Bryant's cars will be featured in the parade, and about 50 Special Olympics award winners will ride in them, he said.
The flame-shooting cars will also be featured in a poster with the B-2 stealth bomber, he said, adding that the posters will be sold to benefit the Antelope Valley Hospital.
His next project is a custom-designed 1966 Rolls Royce convertible.
``It's going to be cool looking, man,'' he said. ``Nobody had cut the top off a Rolls, yet.''
(1 -- color) Restorer Dean Bryant of Elegant Designs in Canyon County sits in one of the custom autos that will appear in the July Fourth parade.
(2 -- color) no caption (Dean Bryant)
Tom Mendoza/Staff Photographer