Automotive Artist Profile: George Barris
Several years ago, I wrote a series of articles profiling automotive artists. Each article highlighted a particular artist and what it was about their work that I found fascinating. I recently came back across those articles, and they inspired me to revisit some of those artists, and to highlight some additional ones that have gained my attention since then. Today, I will be starting with the Grandaddy of all automotive artists, George Barris.
The early years
George Barris was born in the 1920s. As a kid, he was a good student, excelling in drama, music, and drawing. He especially enjoyed working with and creating model cars and trucks. Along the way, he won competitions for construction and design. But then it happened.
Barris and his brother Sam were given a 1925 Buick that was in need of repair. The two fixed up the old Buick and sold it. That was the beginning. The automotive customization bug grabbed hold of Barris, and he would excel at it for the rest of his life.
After the first car, Barris started hanging out after school at local body shops in Sacramento, California. This inspired him even more. By the time he had graduated from high school, he had put the skills he had learned at the shop, as well as his own creative juices, to work to complete his first full custom.
When his brother, Sam, returned from World War II, they opened a shop together in Los Angeles. Eventually, their work caught the eye of Robert “Pete” Peterson, who asked them to bring a car to the first Hot Rod Show. The show was covered by magazines that reviewed the custom car culture at the time. This would lead to more work and more custom show award winners. Eventually, Barris would create a car club and also design cars for the Hollywood elite, including custom cars for movies or television appearances.
Barris continued to design great cars for the rest of his life. All these decades later, his custom designs for the automotive and entertainment industries are unsurpassed. Though many may not know Barris’s name offhand, they have certainly seen his work. George Barris passed away in 2015.
Below are a few of Barris’s vehicles that showcase some of his custom design work.
To this day, when a discussion comes up about a custom movie car, the iconic Batmobile will be inevitably be highlighted. It was based on the Lincoln Futura concept car from the 1955 auto show circuit. Several years later, Ford sold it to Barris. It sat on Barris’s lot until he was approached by the team involved with the Batman television show. The car made its television debut on January 12, 1966.
The Munster’s Koach
The Munster’s television show had two of Barris’s customs appear in its series. Barris put it together from three Model T Bucket donor vehicles, a 1966 Mustang 289 V8 engine, and a lot of blood-red velvet.
The Beverly Hillbillies Car
Barris based this car on a 1921 Oldsmobile touring car. The quirky creation could be seen at the beginning of every episode of the series. It was recently purchased and restored.
The Bob Hope Golf Cart
A golfing enthusiast, entertainer Bob Hope received a custom golf cart that Barris had designed. The cart was designed in a comical caricature style that could only be represented by Bob Hope himself. The cart even had a camera onboard so that Mr. Hope could replay his golf swing.
Sonny and Cher Mustangs
A pair of 1966 Mustang convertibles were used to create vehicles for hot music entertainers Sonny and Cher. Barris gave the two stangs a nose job, a tail update, wild interior, and custom paint jobs. Both cars had 289 V8s.
Barris designed two custom hearses for the show Monster Garage. Customizer Jesse James was the show host, and Mike Lavallee was aboard as well to provide a sinister paint scheme.
George Barris was an automotive customizing genius. His design work often required a lot of pioneering craftsmanship to form metal the way his designs required. But that did not deter the artist within. As a result, his iconic automobiles came to life and went on to imprint on the imaginations of generations of auto enthusiasts. Thank you, George Barris.