Batmobile Creator George Barris Dies at 89
Culver City Car Show Named after King of Kustomizers
November 12, 2015
By Stephen Hadland
George Barris, whose name was synonymous with many cars built of television shows and movies, has died at his home in Encino. George was 89.
He was an avid participant in the car show named after him; "The George Barris Cruisin' Back to the 50's Culver City car show" George was present at 11 of the 12 shows held each year in Downtown Culver City.
His car creations are legendary in the world of television and motion pictures including the likes of the original television series Batmobile, Munster Koach, Beverly Hillbillies, KITT from Nightrider and more! His personal Star Collection includes the General Lee, Starsky & Hutch, Torino Green Hornet and Monkee Mobile.
He customized John Wayne's Pontiac station wagons, raising the roof on the wagon so the "Duke" was more comfortable and could wear his trademark cowboy He also created a customized gold Rolls Royce for actress Zsa Zsa Gabor.
In November 2012 Barris put the Number 1 Batmobile up for auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Batmobile sold for a whopping $4.6 million.
George was known to frequent Piccadilly's Drive-in restaurant in Culver City where many car enthusiasts were known to frequent.
George was born in Chicago on November 20, 1925. In 1928, he and his older brother Sam moved to Roseville, California with relatives after their parents died. George pursued a passion for building scratch-built aircraft models which led to model cars. He won competitions for construction and design.
The family gave the brothers a 1925 Buick in need of repair for the work they did at the family restaurant.
This Buick became the first "Barris Brothers" custom car. The old Buick needed much attention and their creative urges to make it different took hold. They straightened the body and added bolt-on accessories before George hand painted the car in orange with blue stripes. It was promptly sold to purchase a 1929 Model A.
The brothers' interest in cars intensified during their teenage years as they discovered "the black art" of body work by hanging out after school at local bodyshops, including Brown's and Bertolucci's in Sacramento. George created his first full custom from a used 1936 Ford convertible before he graduated from high school. This automobile lead to their first commercial customer. Shortly after George formed a club called Kustoms Car Club where the first use of "K" for kustoms appeared.
After Sam entered WW II, George moved to Los Angeles where his talents began to flourish. He soon opened his first shop in Bell, a Los Angeles suburb in late 1944. Sam joined him after his discharge in 1945. They opened a new shop on Compton Ave. in Los Angeles. The shop was known as the "Barris Brother's Custom Shop". Sam's natural metal craftmanship served as a perfect foil to George's desire to design, paint, manage, and promote.
George began to race at Saugus Speedway around 1947. But this hobby was short lived as the business expanded and took up all his spare time. Other forces began to take place, the first Hot Rod Show produced by Robert 'Pete' Petersen founder of Hot Rod magazine. The Barris brothers were asked to exhibit the only custom car in the show. The reaction was very positive.
Modern automotive magazines were being published which provided coverage of the custom car business. George began photographing autos professionally and writing for the magazines. He was able to promote his business by demonstrating their techniques through how-to articles.
The movie studios had taken note of Barris kustoms on the streets and at races and came to George for cars for their films. One of the first films Barris made cars for was called "high school Confidential". The success of the initial movie car venture motivated George to seek business in Hollywood. This included customizing the personal cars of the stars as well. As the past forty plus years have shown, this association with the studios and stars has been long and fascinating.
George is survived by his daughter Joji, son Brett and Grandson Jared. He was preceded in death by his wife Shirley Ann Nahas Barris.