(first posted 11/3/2015) I’d like to state right off that I’m a huge fan of Chicago-born, legendary car customizer and soon-to-be nonagenarian George Barris. He is responsible for some of my favorite cars of both the big and small screens, including and not limited to the Batmobile from the 60’s TV series, the “Drag-U-La” from “The Munsters”, and “The Car” from that terrifying movie I referenced in my last post. He has also customized personal cars for many individuals, both famous and unknown, and his work undoubtedly inspired some of the more outlandish (and fun) Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. Whenever I read criticism of Mr. Barris’s work as being juvenile or too over-the-top, it hurts my feelings. Customized cars are not supposed to be subtle. In my mind, mild alterations defeat the purpose of having a car customized in the first place. Still with me?
I now present a customization on the complete opposite end of the continuum from one of Mr. Barris’s masterpieces. I’m aware that Halloween was last Saturday, but this one couldn’t wait until next year. When I was a kid, I used to build model cars of my own designs using posterboard, scissors, Scotch Tape, Elmer’s glue, and colored cellophane. That’s what this car looks like to me. I imagine those compound curves were easier dreamed than realized. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in this garage when all the work was done, the tools were put away, and the owner and his buddy who helped with this project stepped back, gazed satisfyingly at this car and after a long, dramatic pause, asked for opinions.
There’s no bringing back whatever beauty the donor car once had, and I’m strictly guessing as to its year, make and model.* Hopefully, the owner has gotten some genuine enjoyment out of this Frankencoupe. If nothing else, I’m sure it’s a great conversation piece, and it does look menacing. Chicks might actually dig it. Also, I’m not entirely sure I could have done a better job with this customization, though if I had the funds and car to do this in the first place, I probably would have paid someone to execute the task correctly. It’s true, though, that everyone has to start somewhere, and George Barris’ first customization, a 1925 Buick done with his late brother, Sam, wasn’t his best work – though still very cool and historically significant within the legacy of Barris Kustom Industries.
I’ve spotted the mildly customized fourth-generation Chevrolet Camaro pictured above street-parked on this same, block-long stretch of North Broadway. While it, too, is not exactly a raving beauty, it one-ups the black car’s shop-class essence with lines, fit and finish that are much better resolved and fleshed-out than on the other car. I’ve got much respect for skilled auto body work, a craft I still hope to learn. I’m sure I’d make many mistakes, but that’s the only way to improve. Mr. Barris, if you’re reading this, God bless you, I salute you, and I would love to shake your hand some day.
Both cars were photographed by the author in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, with the black one from April 2012 and the orange one from August 2011 .
* Update: The black car was confirmed to be a 1994 Dodge Stealth below in the comments, by its owner and creator, Michael.
I like that Camaro a lot. It’s more in line with where the design language would have gone if the new model hadn’t gone neo-retro. I just can’t stand that new roofline that was so well parodied here last April Fool’s Day. I also dig those T-tops. I had a ’95 Firebird for six years. Although it was not the most reliable car, a cruise with the t-tops off was an amazing experience. I should know – after mine were stolen, I went around roofless for about 6 months before I found a replacement!
Scott, I’m glad you enjoyed your Firebird (in dry weather after that unfortunate incident). Like you, I’ve wondered what a truly fresh, new Camaro shape would look like – stying that generated some of the original, visual excitement of the first model year of each of the first four generations.
Other than the unresolved rearview mirror and perhaps two too many hood vents, I think that Camaro looks pretty neat.
The GT is, um, interesting. Hard to see very well in that photo, but has kind of a Stealth F-117 look to the fenders, which isn’t a completely terrible idea. Perhaps it reduces its radar signature, lol.
They still have pay phones in Chicago?
Haha!! These pictures are at least three years old. In fact, the entire Wilson CTA Red Line station in the foreground is currently under renovation / demo / reconstruction right now. So much can change in three years. I feel like I lost a hero today.
Thanks for that take on it, Clonedspork. Again, there’s a lot of new info I hadn’t read about and don’t know firsthand, so I take everything with a grain of salt.
There’s no shame in self-promotion and acquiring good talent for your business.
Restoring or buying somebody else’s work and then taking credit for creating it is very different though. Which sounds like what he has been doing.
In any case, it is possible to respect some of the work he has done while not respecting him as a person.
Great finds, Joseph… It looks like both cars are using styling customizations from the same business.
Notice the similar front fascias on both cars, are identical.
The 3000GT/Stealth looks to sport vent openings on the doors, that would have Ferrari Testarossa style gill strakes.
While the Camaro has vague cues of a wannabe Ferrari GTO.
Looks like a firm that is using base cars to try and build a Ferrari type of kit car or loosely based replica… Like this F body Camaro based Evoluzione GT.
I thought for sure that was a 3rd gen Eclipse until I looked really really hard at it. Not exactly what it’s supposed to be aspiring to I guess
The Evoluzione GT looks a lot better than a 3rd gen Eclipse, which is to me, the worst gen of Eclipse.
Since, the previous gens offered turbo and AWD… While, the 3rd offered none of those and UGLY styling to boot.
Though, that is where my praise for the Evoluzione ends… You’re right, it hardly looks like any Ferrari. Very exaggerated, in the styling department.
What it succeeds in, is looking like a riced-out, “Guido” Camaro. Lol
I don’t think the 3rd-gen Eclipse was many people’s favorite. I remember really liking the 2nd-gen and scratching my head when I saw the first (U.S.) TV spots for the 3rd-gen with the thumping Dirty Vegas “Days Go By” techno playing the background.
As for the Evoluzione, it looks more like an alternate-world Nissan Skyline with a body kit. Not the worst, but not Ferrari-esque at all.
Here’s the back end of the orange Camaro, as I had promised:
That almost works. I would presume those are stickers of some sort on the rear glass. But even with that, I still kinda like it.
Thanks, Sarcasmo. I also got the ersatz-Ferrari vibe to the point I started referring to it as the “Cammari”. I’ll try to post a rear three-quarter view shot of it when I get home.
The black one looks like something Leepu would hammer together.
Those fender tops on the black one…were they SUPPOSED to look like that?
I loved Barris’ stuff when I was a kid, particularly the “Ala Kart” that I built in kit form. I admit to having lost a taste for Mr. Barris’ work as I’ve aged, but I recognize his place in the pantheon of 1950s and ’60s Kustomizers. His cars show an upbeat enthusiasm that fits their time.
Attached is the black car Joseph photographed, brightened up a bit so the edges can be seen.
Gah! I liked it better when I couldn’t see it so well… 😉
Looks like both sides got squeezed going thru a narrow gate, would definitely look better at night from further away.
Barko, thanks so much for doing that! One can now really see the angularity of that front clip.
Badly repaired crash damage? Or just meant to look like badly repaired crash damage? If so, why?
I think the thing that made Barris a legend, was that in the era he would have refined his skills thousands of others were doing the same. CC is kind of a place of purists, only happy if classics are modified by use, abuse and nature, but to me there was some beautiful “kustomization” in that lead sled era, from many kustomizers, I’d rather have a chopped and channeled 49-51 Merc anyday over a stone stock one. That kind of competition is healthy, because at least one of them is going to have a good eye and make cars that the others will want to emulate with their own designs.
That’s not the case today by a long shot. For one, in the lead sled era, the cars being customized were mostly of the old prewar to immediate postwar cars, which were somewhat of blank slates compared to what came later, and for most looked dated in comparison to them, but still were attractive enough in their own ways to start with to serve as a guide for the builders. Two, the lack of talent, the Barris era was 50+ years ago, factory car designs at some point became as or more appealing in that long/low/wide fashion(if not impractical for the average consumer) that any customization that took place was reserved for mechanics to soup them up and painters to spice them up, nothing more really. People who chop channel, section and fabricate today mostly just copy the old stuff, with the old stuff, few do it to contemporary cars, and every last one of the few who do have absolutely abysmal restraint, and the results end up like these or those hideous things the aforementioned Leepu would come up with.
Leave it to the professionals.
Leepu may be the worst customizer ever. Or at least the worst who makes a living doing it.
That TV show of his and whoever that the bloviating jackass partner was that was briefly(I hope) on last summer was one of the worst car related shows I’ve ever seen in my life. Pimp My Ride wasn’t as bad! At least it had a *wink wink* “these cars are still awful” overall presentation. Leepu’s show really did seem to think timing 0-60 down a public neighborhood street, counting out loud for time was how to do before/after tests for mechanical “upgrades”, and they constantly praised Leepu’s supposed talent “wow, he doesn’t even measure” “look at him get inspiration from Kim Kardashian and speedboats”. That in particular I was appalled by, the executions were hideous enough, but the “boat” one for example was clearly ripping off the Daytona/Superbird, yet never did they ever show him, in the midst of “researching” boat shapes, stumbling across them. Same with the Caprice wagon, where all he did was graft the nose of a 66 to it. Oh what talent!
I can’t believe I watched any of it, but it was like a trainwreck I couldn’t take my eyes off of. History channel sure does have a lock on terrible car shows though, right up there with “the count”
I think the Count on Sesame Street is a better car designer that THAT Count. Lol
Here’s a “Mercury” from that era I would die for. And it fits the “Wagoneer with Explorer mechanicals” thread from a few days ago, too. Would anyone here complain that Ernie Adams’ dwarf Mercury is too stock, or that the Corolla underpinnings ruin its authenticity?
Really insightful, Matt. Lots of great points you’ve made here about the early customs.
Customisers who can do it in steel, I have a lot of respect for their sheet metal skills those who lead load or bondofill to get results should find something else to do, Barris did produce some great cars but he churned out some absolute turds too the ‘CAR’ being one of them.
The film wasn’t too hot either. A replica was featured in UK magazines a few years ago
At first glance the nose treatment of the orange one reminded me of the Mitsubishi FTO. Interesting considering the black one’s Mitsu origins…
I’m almost ashamed to say that I have met George Barris, at least twice. I have a problem with Barris and it’s not his over-the-top work, though I suspect that some of my favourite Barris cars were actually the work of his brother and his underlings. Some very famous customizers have been employed by Barris from time-to-time.
Barris has a history of stealing other peoples’ work by claiming the cars are his creations. He once lied right to my face about the Black Beauty. In at least one case, he’s also come down hard with legal action against someone that made their own Batmobile replica.
Huh, I never knew that. A quick search found this too:
Sounds like he’s a jackass who has taken credit for quite a few cars that weren’t actually his work including the Monkeemobile, a Back to the Future DeLorean, the A-Team van, and the Green Hornet’s Black Beauty. Pretty disappointing, I do love a lot of the stuff he actually did do.
Oh, snap. This is super-disappointing to find out. I don’t necessarily wish to delete this CC entry, and am still a fan of Mr. Barris’s work, but I’ll just say this hurts to find out.
When researching this piece, I had gone into it assuming Mr. Barris was responsible for the Monkeemobile, and it was one of the first edits (of many) I made, becoming aware that it was, in fact, Dean Jeffries who was responsible for that iconic, American machine.
As an “artist” (photographer) myself who has been published, I would take umbrage to someone claiming my some of my work as their own. It has happened – the internets, etc. Put work out there on the net, and it’s out there and anyone can figure out a way to take and use it. But to take credit for something like a custom car that probably, literally took blood, sweat and tears, seems something different altogether.
Either way, theft is uncool.
Again, I don’t know the whole story and need to do way more research.
I hope I somehow discover I’m wrong about all of this.
I’m surprised I haven’t read that before, makes sense really. I went to the Volo Auto Museum in the summer and was rather dumbfounded to see literally every movie car there, of which there’s numerous, had a George Barris autograph, and in particular, as a BTTF fan, I knew 100% that he had zero to do with the time machine Delorean, as well as several others I saw.
I remember being well aware of Barris as a kid because of the Munstermobole and Dragula, as my Dad introduced me to the show when we got TV Land, but those and the Batmobile were sort of what I knew him for, period. Since then, it seems like his portfolio has indeed inflated, artificially. What an asshole.
The black… thing looks like it may have been built off a late-model Fiero fastback, although it does have a bit of early 2000s slab-side Mustang vibe as well.
Dean Jeffries built a lot of tv and movie cars. There are other unsung heroes out there. Most of the cars were built as props and the quality wasn’t very good. I think the quality of modern customs by Foose, the Ring Bros, So Cal Speed shop and others are much higher than any of the old customizers. A lot of these modern customs are more like the coach built vehicles of the past and the price tags reflect this. I attended the West Coast Kustoms show in Santa Maria Ca. last summer. There was a Pantheon of classic Kustomizers there: Bill Hines,George De Agostino,Frank DeRosa,Steve Stanford,Barris,Rick Dore,Richard Gocchi,Art Himsl, Gene Windfield,Rod Powell, magazine editor Pat Ganaul and promoter Blackie Gjeian. They were kind enough to autograph a commemorative poster for anyone who wanted one. There were also a couple of signatures I couldn’t read. It is good that these guys are being remembered and rediscovered by a new generation. It seems that early customizing was about simplifying and cleaning up the profile of a vehicle. Later on it appears that the goal was a vehicle as visual entertainment. These were often didplays of outrageousness and poor taste. Barris’ later work clearly demonstrates this.
continuing on weird car movies from the other day, the black one reminds me of Charlie sheen’s car in the movie “THE WRAITH”.
they used a Chrysler show car for that one if memory serves.
Yes, it was based on a Chrysler showcar, the Dodge M4S Turbo concept car, with the 2.2 ltr engine and twin-turbochargers.
It was sponsored by PPG, I think, I recall.
That car was badass.
I remember, in the movie, it raced a tricked-out Greenwood type Corvette, and destroyed it.
Those gold mesh BBS style wheels were sexy, too. I think they were Enkei 92s.
My eyes must deceive me…it almost looks like there is a deeper dish on the front wheels than the rear.
I just saw the last half of “The Wraith” on TV a couple weeks ago, I had never heard of it before. And now I know why. Wow, was that ever horrible. But for for some reason I couldn’t stop watching it.
Speaking of movie cars from that era, I once had a license plate display at the Seattle Auto Show in the 1970’s. While I was there, I saw a Batmobile started up and driven onto the show floor from the spot outside where it had been unloaded. This particular Batmobile had a hopped-up Ford V8 engine that idled, loudly, at about 2500 rpm. There wasn’t enough room in the car for a person to sit behind the wheel, so the poor guy had to sit up on the car body behind the seat, from where it was a long reach to the gas and brake pedals. Moving the car was mostly a job of keeping one’s foot on the brake to hold the car to the very slow speed one uses when moving a car into a building and onto a show floor made of very smooth concrete. Naturally every time he shifted it into drive or reverse it would briefly get rubber on that smooth surface.
How did they get Adam West to fit in it then?
Hey Joseph Dennis, I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news. But George Barris just passed away today at 89 years old.
Oh my gosh. Joseph, thanks for telling me. And just two days after my post. My condolences to his family.
I just found out as well. Now I feel bad about calling him out on his faults so recently.
RIP Mr.Barris, the King of Kustomizers.
Wow, I just called him an asshole two days ago. Oops
Mr. Barris gone?!
In the USA Today they gave him credit for the Monkeemobile, BTTF DeLoreans, and the General Lee. And for KITT, which technically he did do versions of but not the original design.
George died yesterday Nov 5th 2015 just saw a post on Facebook about it.
Hello. I am the owner of the ’94 stealth (Batmobile) and the orange 95 Camaro (Cam-arri). I am a computer programmer and the restaurant (IYANZE) in the pictures is also my restaurant.
As you can imagine, I built the Batmobile on a whim to be in a race to produce a car inspired by the recent Corvette “stingray”. What you are looking at is my own handiwork in a span of just 3 months with sheet metal, and carbon fiber putty.
The engine is 3.0 SOHC, with fwd. 20″ in the front and 22″ deep dish wheels in the rear.
Michael, please pardon my two-year delay in my response to your comment. I don’t have my emails configured to where I receive notifications of responses to comments at Curbside Classic.
I have passed your restaurant many times on the 36 bus and have always wanted to try it. I love west African cuisine (my late father was Liberian), and shockingly, haven’t explored restaurants up where I live that offer it. I very much look forward to trying it out!
Also, I’d love to hear more about your cars. I have zero bodywork knowledge, so there’s that. I mean no disrespect.
Wow Joseph… posting this 2 days before George Barris’ passing… That is about the eeriest CC Effect ever.
I must’ve missed this one first time around.
These reruns are a neat way to see how your writing has evolved. As a fan, I look forward to more of these, but some I am starting to recognize. My first comment on CC ever was on October 16th, 2015.
“Something Sinister This Way Lurks” about the 1974 Impala was one that I recognized the other day as having read it the first time around.
Thank you so much. It’s funny with reruns (which are generally from six years back) to see what aspects of the topics I choose and writing style have been consistent, and what has evolved. I stand by all of it, but as can be said with anything, the more one does something, generally the better one gets at it. There have been a few slightly cringeworthy moments in rereading some of my words, but absolutely nothing I regret. Life’s too short for that. 🙂
The comments about BTTF and Knight Rider reminded me that I went to high school with a guy who went on to work on both of those projects … and in no way affiliated with George Barris. I first heard about the BTTF connection because my mom ran into his mom in the grocery store, probably 20 years after I’d last seen him, and she learned about his work on the DeLorean and passed that on to me. This re-post triggered a little research and I found IMDB confirmation of my classmate’s car design career in Hollywood, as well as an interview with him about KITT. The last car I remember him owning, perhaps even when we were still in high school, was a Sunbeam Tiger. He is actually affiliated with Art Center, which was probably never true of Barris (whose work I was never crazy about even 55 years ago).
Custom cars and hot rods shared a common past at one time. Prewar cars were modified to make them lighter, stripped of fenders, running boards and hoods. Tops were chopped, all to make them faster. The post war cars were modified to make them look better. They were lowered, chopped, channeled and sectioned, all to make them look sleeker. More elaborate interiors and paint jobs replaced those mousy grey and brown cars that left the factory. Customs can go two ways, either simplification or exaggeration.
Back in the late 40s and early ’50s American passenger cars were sort of fat and dumpy. Detroit designers came to the West Coast and studied the work of custom builders. They incorporated some of their styles into production cars of the late 50’s and early ’60s. Don’t forget that Bill Mitchell came from a California custom coach building background.
The mid to late ’50’s cars could benefit from losing a lot of their badges, and chrome, grilles could be simplified by removing the bullet and bomb turn signals and bumper guards.
After a more tasteful period, witness Gil Ayala’s work and the Hirohito Mercury, Sam Barris’ 40 Mercury also comes to mind. George Barris was a part of that early scene also, producing tasteful work. Unfortunately, change for the sake of change lead to some real monstrosities. Witness his customized Toyota Prius.
Today there are traditional builders replicating historical customizing trends, but most builders rely on amplification. The kit/car body kit movement has developed, modifying cars by turning into “replicas” of other cars. Witness Fiero’s etc. The Bro Dozer is an exaggeration of an off road truck. Pimp cars are an exaggeration of traditional brougham cues. Pumped up muscle and Pony cars, and riced out imports both try to emulate the exaggerated street racer style.
Less is more, but it is very hard to pull off. Was the black Mitsubishi coupe the inspiration for the Cyber Truck?
I hadn’t heard about the Prius so I had to look it up. As the saying goes, now I can’t unsee it. The Barris website describes it as a “New York Times concept vehicle”. And unlike some of his other claims, apparently that’s true; I found it in the Sept 25, 2005 edition of the NYT Magazine online and it’s mentioned in Barris’s NYT obituary. I guess gray lady has changed.
Yup, and also custom cars of that sort were a thing of their times in general.
The Hirohata Mercury was up for sale just this September. Lots of photos:
The thing I most recall about George Barris were articles he wrote for automotive hobby magazines in the early 60’s. George generally did the photography himself in black and white for various magazines of approximately digest size back then. My brother and I would stop at the rack at the big drug store on our way home from Church and purchase these for 20 cents or so. First learned about cars through these at about age 10.
My mother always said (Not really) that if you have nothing good to say about someone, say nothing.