Did you watch TV in the 80s or 90s? Are you nostalgic for a series from back in the day? If so, you’re probably familiar with the work of George Barris without knowing it.
The Batmobile, General Lee, the cars from Grease, and Kitt, do they ring a bell? All are creations of the grandmaster of auto customization George Barris (1925-2015), a benchmark in car customization linked to television and cinema worldwide since the 60s.
It’s been over six decades when George Barris created some of these television jewels, being responsible for creating the car of the Beverly Hillbillies, the Black Beauty from The Green Hornet, and many more. They were all the brainchild of this genius who began customizing cars with his brother Sam in the 1940s.
George Barris was born in Chicago in 1925. In 1928 he and his older brother Sam moved to Roseville, California, with some of his relatives after their parents died.
Sam and George Barris were great at school but both shared a passion for designing and working on cars, so what started as a hobby building aircraft models led to model cars and eventually turned into a career in car customization.
Barris Is A Household Name In Car “Kustomization” in Hollywood
Shortly after the Barris brothers started working on cars, their family gave them a 1925 Buick that needed repair. George, 13, began to experiment with changing and customizing its appearance and became the first “Barris Brothers” custom car.
This is when the creative urge from the Barris brothers showed after they could straighten the body of the car and added bolt-on accessories to finish it with an orange paint job with blue stripes. The car was eventually sold and they then bought a 1929 Model A.
Lil Redd Wrecker
This American genius with Greek roots then started his first business in the 1940s called “Kustoms Car Club” in collaboration with his brother Sam in the 1940s while George was still in high school.
Later, and on his own, George created what became some of the iconic cars both in TV and movies. Although the first Batmobile in history is probably his best-known customization, surely the Greased Lightning from the movie Grease, the GMC van from the A-Team, and not to mention Knight Rider’s Kitt are also his own. And the list goes on and on.
If we had to choose, these are the George Barris Custom cars that we consider the most mythical and that have undoubtedly remained engraved in the memory of several generations.
The Munster Koach from The Munster Family
Three Ford Model Ts were used to build Herman and Lily Monster’s buggy. “I took three Model T Fords, cut them together to make a six-door Model T. It had never been done before. I then added red velvet like the inside of a coffin, lanterns for headlights, spider webs on the wheels and coffin handles”.
Barris was assigned with this project with a tight schedule, although he had the help of famous designers such as Tom Daniel and Dick Dean, and in just 21 days Frankenstein’s car was ready.
It fitted the interior with blood-red velvet, and all the exterior details were handcrafted. By the way, in case you ever find yourself driving this thing, make sure you leave enough room to turn corners because the Koach was over 18 feet long. Of course, Barris Kustoms also took care of Grandpa’s DRAG-U-LA.
The Batmobile From The Original Batman Television Series
In 1966 and with only three weeks to finish the car, Barris was able to transform a Lincoln Futura already used in the movie “It started with a Kiss” (1959) into the first Batmobile in history.
Whenever Adam West needed a stunt double, Barris got behind the wheel of his creation dressed as a superhero. Barris was seen several times on the Hollywood freeway testing the parachutes that he fitted in the rear of the car to act as emergency brakes to prove they worked as intended. Although one time he was pulled over by the police for it. The Batmobile was auctioned in 2014 for $4.8 million.
KITT From Knight Rider
Designer Michael Scheffe handled the original design, although Barris’s signature was also stamped on the Trans Am transformed into KIIT from the Knight Rider TV show, that saved David Hasselhoff’s life in each chapter. Only five original KITTs made for the ‘80s television series ‘Knight Rider’ have withstood filming, out of 20 in total.
The Black Beauty From The Green Hornet
Green Hornet was a TV series from the ’60s on the American network ABC that only had one season of 26 episodes. Starring a young Bruce Lee and his car, which before being transformed by Barris was nothing less than a 1966 Chrysler Imperial.
This TV show tells the story of a newspaper editor and his chauffeur Kato. They fight crime aboard “Black Beauty”, a car capable of making impossible movements and equipped with all kinds of weapons, headlights that confuse the villains, and it wore a camouflage system that makes it invisible when necessary.
All these works of art have one thing in common: they were drivable and they weren’t just decorations for filming. Among Barris’s many clients were celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, and Elton John.
Unfortunately, the “King of customizers” as George Barris was known, left us in November 2015. His work is now eternal.
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