King of the Kustomizers George Barris passed away this morning at the age of 89. Surely to be remembered as the man who designed the Batmobile for the 1960s Batman TV series, his influence extended well beyond Hollywood.
A California native, Barris began customizing cars at 14 alongside his brother Sam in Sacramento. The pair moved to Lynwood in Southern California after World War II, and they soon developed a reputation for audacity and craftsmanship. And what the Barris brothers did best were lead-sled customs.
“My brother’s ’49 was the very first chopped one,” Barris told C/D when we interviewed him in 2012. “Chopped it, made it look nice, frenched in the headlights, a little floating grille, looks great. Bob [Hirohata] wanted something a little different. So I said, ‘Let me get your ’51 and do some new designs.’ I moved the windows back and I chopped it and added the fade-away fenders and opened up the wheel wells and changed the grille. And it all seemed to click because I went to two-tone green. They hated green in those days! It seemed like every little thing we put on it was something everyone enjoyed seeing. And it made them want to do different things to
Featured in virtually all the car magazines of the era, the Hirohata Merc set the standards for customs then and still is the standard against which all sleds are judged today. When the brothers weren’t building cars, they were racing them on the streets of Los Angeles. And when Hollywood went looking to dramatize the street racing as part of the 1958 movie High School Confidential, it found George Barris.
Barris was just the sort of hustling entrepreneur that the movie industry thrives upon. He wouldn’t just build a car for a film, but make sure the car was in magazines and haul it to every show that would let him display it. He was always good for the box office. His creations sometimes were bigger stars than the actors. Among those were the Munster Koach from the TV series and the Golden Sahara customized Lincoln that became Cinderfella’s ride to the ball in that Jerry Lewis 1960 comedy. But all those would be overwhelmed by the popularity of the Batmobile.
The Batmobile started as a Ford concept car—the 1955 Lincoln Futura—and came into Barris’s possession when it was cast as a dream car in 1959’s It Started With A Kiss, with Glenn Ford and Debbie Reynolds. “When Ford showed the car, it had been a kind of silverish white,” he explained. “We painted it red for It Started With A Kiss. And then when Batman came up [in late 1965] and [producer] William Dozier gave me 15 days and 15 grand, I said, ‘Well, the car really fits what I’m wanting to do—a two-passenger car for Batman and Robin.’ It had a lot of things I could use like the double windshields and double back windows and an arch down the center, and I could open up the wheel wells.” Well into his eighties, Barris still was out on the road promoting himself and his cars. He was relentless. And always a good interview.
But it’s the extravagantly styled production cars of the 1950s and 1960s—cars like the 1963 Buick Riviera, 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado, 1967 Ford Thunderbird, and all those Virgil Exner–designed Chryslers—through which Barris’s influence will be remembered. It was the cross-pollination between the hot-rod, custom, and show-business worlds that prepared the buying public to accept such radical designs. And George Barris was the busiest pollinator in the hive.
Original Source: http://blog.caranddriver.com/king-of-the-kustomizers-george-barris-passes-away-at-89/