By on November 6, 2015

George Barris With Kato And The Batmobile Circa 2010

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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28 Comments on “Custom Car Legend George Barris Dead At 89...”


  • avatar
    threeer

    May the wind be forever in your face as you ride the golden roads above…

  • avatar
    BigOldChryslers

    I was saddened to hear of his passing.

    Barris didn’t build the Black Beauty. That was Dean Jeffries.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert.Walter

      Presently watching the 26 episodes of The Green Hornet in YouTube and reading bits of history about the series. I ran across a Dean Jeffries interview from IIRC the 80’s, and the article states that Jeffries built the BB, passed on the option to buy it back after the series, instead, Barris bought it and seems to have implied that he built it. Jeffries was generous in his condemnation of this aspect of Barris’ personality (smth along the lines of: “he’s talented enough that he doesn’t need to claim credit for my work.”)

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      And that wasn’t the only Jeffries creation that Barris took credit for, at the very minimum there was also the Monkeemobile. Barris did a lot to tarnish his own legacy by claiming creation of car that he either had nothing to do with originally, or, took credit for work that he contracted out to other builders.

      There’s also a great deal of question as to who actually was doing the creation in the early days, Sam or George. A lot of old timers were very public in their opinions that Sam was the talent, George was the promotion.

      Nevertheless, George Barris was a very important person in the 60’s custom scene. Just the same, I really wish he’d had left the Lincoln Futura alone. That, along with the Chevrolet Biscayne and the Pontiac Club de Mer were my favorite concept cars back in my childhood.

  • avatar
    JimothyLite

    “…turned a beat-up jalopy owned by a few hillbillies in Beverly Hills into a war machine.” I’m not getting this reference. Should watch more episodes, I guess. At any rate, RIP, Mr. Barris.

    • 0 avatar

      The Beverly Hillbillies, Season 7, Episode 12 – The Hot Rod Truck. Jethro wanted a hot rod to replace the old and iconic Oldsmobile Model 46. Eventually, he has the truck mostly customized (Granny’s perch left unchanged), much to Granny’s chagrin. In turn, Jethro fully customizes the truck, Granny has the customizer reassemble hers, and a drag race ensues.

      Thankfully, someone did upload the episode on YouTube:
      youtube.com/watch?v=kaQbywbtQgM

      • 0 avatar
        JimothyLite

        Thank you, Cameron! I’m now watching it during the commercials of “Wheeler Dealers” on DirecTV, where they’re restoring a blue Fiat Dino coupe. A nice late Friday afternoon, everything considered.

  • avatar
    ClutchCarGo

    Why is (someone dressed as) Kato posing with the Batmobile?

  • avatar
    BuzzDog

    It was the mid-70s. I was in grade school – probably the fifth or sixth grade – when I first heard of George Barris. Scholastic Books featured a paperback of his book, Stars and Their Cars, and I bought a copy. I read and re-read it until it fell apart.

    The chapters I remember most were “The Color of His Peach” (David Carradine had his BMW 507 painted to match a particular spot on a piece of fruit he presented to Barris), Elvis’ Greyhound Scenicruiser that appeared stock, but had a custom interior, Barry White’s all-white Lincoln, the DeFranco Family Pizza Wagon, and an interview with Donny Osmond about his “someday” car, since he wasn’t quite old enough to drive at the time.

  • avatar
    VolandoBajo

    He will be remembered fondly by many of us who first came to see that cars could be more than what was found in a showroom…he was a large part of why I developed a life-long love for almost all things automotive.

    RIP George. You were, and will always remain, one of the greatest in the car business…

  • avatar
    Zykotec

    A great man has passed. This was the man who made custom cars famous, and known to the general public. Started out as a brilliant artist and designer, helped by a brother who was a wizard with metal. The man was a legend. Although in the last decades he took credit for a lot of cars he didn’t build, he was still collecting, restoring and building replicas of custom cars that would have been lost and forgotten without him. TV-, movie- and toy-cars would not be the same without Barris.

  • avatar

    it just occurred to that “self-described” is going to be used heavily in any obit penned for jack baruth. i’m unsure how to feel about this.

  • avatar
    Toad

    I never got the appeal of George Barris Kustoms; to me they looked like a 12 year old’s version of cool. Most of the TV shows that featured his cars were targeted at 12 year olds (in age and/or spirit) so maybe that makes sense.

    However, he was a smart business person, created a lot of history, and gave a lot of people a lot of grins. That’s a pretty good legacy.

    • 0 avatar
      Zykotec

      A lot of people learned about Barris through his movie cars,but he already had lots of experience before starting with movie cars, and he also built and designed many other less famous and more subtle cars for movies, TV and ‘normal’ customers. (people with some money to spare off course) throughout the roughly 70 years he was active. I think the early cars he built with his brother were among the best, but he sure knew how to get attention, and keep it.

  • avatar
    -Nate

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

    -Nate

  • avatar

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

    • 0 avatar
      RideHeight

      http://www.c-we.com/piranha/

    • 0 avatar
      VolandoBajo

      @THX1136 I just figured out why your name sounds familiar.

      The student film project of Lucas was THX1138, wasn’t it.

      But if so, then why THX1136, instead?

      Or are they totally unrelated?

      • 0 avatar

        You are correct, sir (or madam as the case may be). I chose 1136 figuring other fans who might want to use the handle would choose 1138. This way I’m two entities earlier in the series, so to speak. I had heard about the film in Eye Magazine and it sounded like an interesting story. It never made it to my area – central Iowa – so I didn’t see it until several years later on the CBS Late Night Movie. Enjoyed it thoroughly. I eventually got it on VHS tape, but Warners did a poor job on the “pan and scan” in places. Was happy to see it on DVD, but wish George would have included the original cut along with his tweaked out director’s cut.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          What a coinkydink, that’s where my username got its number too. Pared down to 3 digits to fit a 12-character space.

        • 0 avatar
          VolandoBajo

          @THX1136 I figured it must be something like that.

          FWIW, I am a man (and have been all my life except for the time I as a boy).

          Volando Bajo means “flying low” in Spanish, what it feels like to be highway cruising, especially at night, in my 97 Grand Marquis.

          Since both of the words have gender in Spanish, the “o” ending indicates masculine. If it were feminine, the two words would have ended in “a” instead of “o”.

          I first saw THX 1138 while I was in college, not that many years after Lucas was. It was the first official release cut. I later saw the director’s cut, but it was so long after I saw the original that I didn’t really have a feel for what had changed.

          It was probably the first sci-fi film I ever saw. Godard’s Alphaville was the second, though it also can be classified as a French nouvelle vague film; both are atypical…preludes to the first main stream one, at least to me: 2001 A Space Odyssey.

          • 0 avatar

            @ VB: I didn’t want to just assume you were a guy as I am certain there are women who are into cars also.

            George added a bit more to the overall “feel” of the underground environment – expanded roadway systems, larger cityscapes, etc. He also re-edited a few scenes dialogue wise – like when THX confronts SEN at SEN’s living quarters. As I mentioned, while I like the DC I wish he would have included the original cut also.

            I was a huge fan of 2001. I’ve seen it on everything from Cinerama to outdoors on a bed sheet to regular TV. For me it was the first “serious” sci-fi film dealing with space. Most that proceeded it seemed less so. I bought the book “The Making of 2001” which came out on paperback shortly after the film. After reading all the things that the film innovated and the detail to which Kubrick went to get “things right”, I was even more impressed and enamored. I have not seen Alphaville although your mention has encouraged me to seek it out.

          • 0 avatar
            VolandoBajo

            @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 right…an 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.

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