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Top Stories - Michigan

The long lost SMiLE-mobile is found!
Wed Jul 31, 6:45 AM ET

By Don O’Keefe

The original photo of the SMiLE-mobile in 1966

Capitol archive Photo
PONTIAC, MICHIGAN (Reuters) - One of the rarest of rock ‘n roll relics has just been found. Sure, everybody that was a teenager in the ‘60s remembers the Monkeemobile from the television series THE MONKEES. But, few know that there were plans for a SMiLE-mobile, which was actually completed in 1966 as a promotional item for the Beach Boys SMiLE album.

The car was kept at a Capitol records warehouse, ready to accompany the Beach Boys on a SMiLE concert tour in early 1967. With the unrelease of the SMiLE album, the car was “lost” for many years. For some reason it was left there, although it is not clear if it was properly sold and the title was actually transferred or it just ended up in someone's hands. It passed through a series of owners before next showing up in Puerto Rico, where it was used as a hotel courtesy car for several years.

It was next seen in July of 2002 in a government foreclosure auction in Puerto Rico. A call was made to rock ‘n roll collector Bill Jeffries from the current owner, who wished to remain anonymous. Jeffries recalls: "He said to me, 'Bill, this is the strangest Ford deuce coupe I've ever seen. There is a trunkfull of empty reddi-whip cans and there is a painting of some shop on the door. Can you tell me what it is?' After he described a few of the features to me, I told him it had to be the SMiLE-mobile. I mean, what else could it have been? He asked me what I thought it was worth, so I told him to bid $500 for it and see what happens." As it turned out, the minimum bid for that car was $5,000, so he made the minimum bid and the car was sold to him at that price, because no one else present at the auction knew what it was. It was subsequently brought back to the mainland, and it now resides in the metropolitan New York City area. Fortunately, the Smilemobile was in great shape and only needed minor work to bring it up to (sunny down) snuff.

As celebrated as the Beach Boys are, the story of the SMiLEmobile is not very well known. In actuality, The idea for the '32 Ford deuce coupe was Mike Love’s. Although the Beach Boys were changing in lyrical song content, he still wanted the Beach Boys associated with the hot-rod image. Hence, the SMiLE-mobile. Frank Holmes, who had just completed the artwork for the SMiLE album cover was not available to do the paint job on the car. So the job fell to the little-known artist Bobby Fritz. Bobby stated in a recent phone interview that the car was painted in the span of only 3 days. "Capitol waited until the last minute to give Mike Love the go-ahead on the car," Fritz recalled. "I had to work around the clock for 3 days to get the car done in time, but I did make it."

Mike Love also engineered a very clever tie-in promotion with The Kellogg's Corporation. "The Kellogg's Groovy Music-Stakes" was timed to coincide with the release of SMiLE in early 1967 and was to be featured on Kellogg's Rice Krispies and Raisin Bran cereal boxes. The winner would win a replica of the SMiLEmobile as well as round trip tickets to see the Beach Boys at Monterrey. And 1,500 second-prize winners were each to receive a SMiLE LP album. But, the deal fell apart when the SMiLE album didn’t appear.

The SMiLE-mobile remains, 30 years after it was built as one of the true icons of the 1960s era. Jeffries plans on putting the car on display in a touring show about the Beach Boys. But he is running into legal problems with Mike Love, who claims the trademark to all things Beach Boys. He offered to buy the car from Jeffries for a paltry $500, but his offer was declined. “I think he wanted to take it on his own tour”, scoffed Jeffries.

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