Custom Car Legend George Barris Dead At 89

Cameron Aubernon
by Cameron Aubernon
custom car legend george barris dead at 89

Thursday afternoon, legendary car customizer George Barris left this mortal coil at the age of 89, leaving behind a decades-long automotive legacy.

The self-described “King of Kustom Kulture,” Barris was customizing cars long before turning a Lincoln Futura concept car into the first of many iconic Batmobiles, according to The Detroit Bureau. He and his brother, Sam, began customizing while in high school in Roseville, Calif., using the money earned from working on a 1925 Buick to buy and build a 1936 Ford.

Following World War II, the Barris brothers headed to Southern California to create one-offs for many a celebrity looking to spruce up their Bentleys, Packards and Dusenbergs, including John Wayne, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

When Sam left the customization business in the 1950s, George and his wife, Shirley, took hold of the flame by starting Barris Kustom Industries; their son, Brett, would soon follow in their footsteps. Many customs would leave their shop for the car show circuit over the decades, including the Ala Kart, Fireball 500, The Invader, Moon Scope and Redd Foxx Red.

Hollywood helped Barris become a household name when it called for his custom touch. Aside from the Batmobile, he also helped put The Munsters in the Munster Koach, and turned a beat-up jalopy owned by a few hillbillies in Beverly Hills into a war machine.

Sometimes, the automakers themselves would give Barris a call. Toyota and The New York Times asked him to customize a Prius, though the customizer wasn’t allowed alter the body too much. Thus, the hybrid received little more than a new paint job, detailing, and buffing.

Per The Hollywood Reporter, Brett made the following statement.

Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky. He passed on peacefully in his sleep at 2:45 am. He was surrounded by his family in the comfort of his home. He lived his life they way he wanted til the end. He would want everyone to celebrate the passion he had for life and for what he created for all to enjoy.

Barris would have been 90 on November 20. His wife, Shirley, passed away in 2001. His brother, Sam, died in 1967. His son, Brett, and daughter, Joli, survive him.

Photo credit: The Conmunity/ Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

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  • -Nate -Nate on Nov 08, 2015

    Thanx for the memories Mr. Barris , R.I.P. . -Nate

  • THX1136 THX1136 on Nov 08, 2015

    Anyone know who did the Man From UNCLE car? (Too lazy at the moment to put the google on it.)

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    • VolandoBajo VolandoBajo on Nov 16, 2015

      @THX1136 Alphaville is in an entirely different vein. If you watch it expecting something in the vein of THX 1138 and 2001 A Space Odyssey you will be disappointed. But it is a good "alternate future" film in its own old school Mickey Spillane-style detective on a planet that is a parallel to Earth, but run by a totalitarian regime. A completely heartless and cold place which the detective, Lemmie Caution, must overcome or be destroyed by. Just to give you a small vignette, people who are considered to be enemies of the ruling group of that planet are condemned to death, and the death sentence is imposed by making them walk the plank into a shark-filled pool. Caution decides that there is no way that he can compete with the technology, but that perhaps he will be able to devise a strategy that might be able to exploit a weakness in their rigid way of doing things. The movie is the story of how that struggle plays out. Some people will like it, and others will be left saying "WTF?". And some may do both. YMMV. Personally, I liked it, but for entirely different reasons than those for why I liked the other two.