A Tribute to George Barris Master Car Customizer (1925-2015)
People called him “The Kustom King of Cars”, the “Master Builder” and a “Genius on Wheels”, and many people in the collision repair industry also called him a friend. If you ever met George Barris, the first thing you noticed was his infectious smile. He had this twinkle in his eye that was telling you that he had a new amazing concept for his next TV or movie car. And usually he did.
When Barris passed away last November during the SEMA Show, the world lost a great car customizer, who set a high standard and changed the industry in a big way. Here are some fascinating factoids about Barris and his legacy, brought to you from all of us at The Ultimate Body Shop Inc of Kinston NC:
- By age 7, Barris began building impressive models of cars using primarily balsa wood. Almost immediately, his entries won contests sponsored by hobby shops and several gained national acclaim.
- Before he even graduated from high school, Barris created a club for owners of custom vehicles, called the Kustoms Car Club. This was the first use of the spelling "kustom", which would become associated with Barris.
- In the early 1960s, Barris, along with other well-known customizers (Gene Winfield, Dean Jeffries and the Alexander Brothers) reworked production cars for Ford's "Custom Car Caravan" and "Lincoln/Mercury's Caravan of Stars". They created moving exhibits and took them on the road, representing the genesis of the big car shows of today.
- His first film work consisted of making soft aluminum fenders for a Ford police car that crashes into the rear of a Mercedes Benz convertible driven by Cary Grant's character in North by Northwest. He also built and supplied cars for the 1958 film High School Confidential and loaned some of his customs for the "future" scenes in the 1960 film adaptation of H. G. Wells' The Time Machine.
- Other Barris-built film cars included a modified Dodge Charger for Thunder Alley; a Plymouth Barracuda for Fireball 500; the futuristic Supervan for a film of the same name; a gadget-filled Mercury station wagon for The Silencers and a sinister rework of a Lincoln Continental Mark III for The Car.
- Other television cars built by Barris Kustom Industries include the Munster Koach and casket turned dragster (the "Drag-U-La") for The Munsters; an Oldsmobile Toronado turned into a roadster used in the first season of Mannix; a 1921 Oldsmobile touring car turned into a truck for The Beverly Hillbillies, the fictional "1928 Porter" for the NBC comedy My Mother the Car, Updated KITTs for later seasons of Knight Rider and replicas of 1914 Stutz Bearcats for Bearcats!
- George Barris was responsible for the frame of the original Batmobile and other famous customized automobiles he created for various celebrities.
- Barris built many novelty vehicles for other celebrities; these include golf carts for Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ann Margret, Glen Campbell, and Elton John; and 25 modified Mini Mokes for a record company contest involving the Beach Boys.
- Barris would also modify cars for Hollywood stars and others. Some examples include a Cadillac limousine for Elvis Presley, custom Pontiac station wagons for John Wayne, a Cadillac Eldorado turned into a station wagon for Dean Martin. and a pair of "his & hers" 1966 Ford Mustang convertibles for Sonny and Cher. With the cooperation of American Motors, in 1969 he modified an AMX coupe into the AMX-400 show car which was later used in a 1972 episode of Banacek.
Sources: Autobody News, Wikipedia and SEMA News