California car customizer George Barris had so much clout in the 1960s that he persuaded Ford Motor Co. to sell him one of its prized show cars, the 1955 Lincoln Futura, for a buck.
Barris, who died last week at age 89, transformed that Lincoln into the original Batmobile and made it one of the most famous cars in entertainment history. It sold in 2013 for more than $4.6 million.
Barris’ death was announced by his son, Brett Barris, on Facebook.
“Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky. He would want everyone to celebrate the passion he had for life and for what he created for all to enjoy,” Brett Barris wrote.
Born in 1925 in Chicago, Barris moved to California with his brother, Sam, at an early age after their mother died. They began customizing cars when given a hand-me-down 1925 Buick. They adorned it with a wild orange paint job, blue stripes and a slew of bolt-on accessories. It was sold immediately, and it financed their next project.
In the 1940s, the Barris brothers set up shop in Los Angeles, doing custom work and modifying hot rods. Barris cars epitomized California car culture, with eye-popping paint jobs, lowered suspensions, “Frenched,” or flush-fitting, door handles and wild exhausts. George Barris, a natural self-promoter, landed his creations in car magazines.
Then, the entertainment industry came calling, and soon Barris cars were on movie and TV screens. He made a fortune customizing cars for celebrities, including Elvis Presley, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Sonny and Cher, Bob Hope and Liberace. Toy companies produced models of his most famous vehicles.
Although the Batmobile remains Barris’ most famous custom, he also created the Munster Koach, made from three Model T’s, and had a hand in transforming a 1966 Chrysler Imperial into Black Beauty, the car featured in “The Green Hornet” TV show.
In later years, his modified 1982 Pontiac Trans Am was used in “Knight Rider.” Called KITT, the Pontiac was loaded with computers and artificial intelligence.
Barris never retired, and his shop remains a North Hollywood landmark. Recent work includes a customized Ford F-150.