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George Barris

Barris Kustom
Filed under:  People
 
Comment(s): 3
 
 

George Barris was born in Chicago in the mid twenties. In 1928, he and his older brother Sam moved to Roseville, California with relatives after their parents died. They both were excellent students especially in drama, music and drawing. George pursued a passion for building scratch-built aircraft models which led to model cars. He won competitions for construction and design.

The family gave the brothers a 1925 Buick in need of repair for the work they did at their restaurant.


barris kustom emblem 1

Barris Kustom emblem.

That Buick became the first "Barris Brothers" custom car. The old Buick needed much attention and their creative urges to make it different took hold. They straightened the body and added bolt-on accessories before George hand painted the car in orange with blue stripes. It was promptly sold to purchase a 1929 Model A.

The brothers interest in cars intensified during their teenage years as they discovered "the black art" of body work by hanging out after school at local bodyshops, including Brown's and Bertolucci's in Sacramento. George created his first full custom from a used 1936 Ford convertible before he graduated from High School. This automobile lead to their first commercial customer. Shortly after George formed a club called Kustoms Car Club where the first use of "K" for kustoms appeared.

After Sam entered WW ll, George moved to Los Angeles where his talents began to flourish. He soon opened his first shop in Bell, a Los Angeles suburb in late 1944. Sam joined him after his discharge in 1945. They opened a new shop on Compton Ave. in Los Angeles. The shop was known as the "Barris Brother's Custom Shop". Sam's natural metal craftmanship served as a perfect foil to George's desire to design, paint, manage, and promote.

George began to race at Saugus Speedway around 1947. But this hobby was short lived as the business expanded and took up all his spare time. Other forces began to take place, the first Hot Rod Show produced by Robert 'Pete' Petersen founder of Hot Rod magazine. The Barris brothers were asked to exhibit the only custom car in the show. The reaction was very positive.

Modern automotive magazines were being published which provided coverage of the custom car business. George began photographing autos professionally and writing for the magazines. He was able to promote his business by demonstrating their techniques through how-to articles.

The Barris brothers outgrew their shop on Compton and moved to a larger shop in Lynwood where the famous Hirohata Merc was born. Sam bought a new two-door Mercury and knew it would make a great custom. He figured it out all in his head and began cutting it up and reformed the car. Bob Hirohata admired Sam's style and brought in his '51 Merc for a full custom job. Sam finished his car so it could be shown at the 1952 Motorama. It turned out to be the sensation of the show.

George formed "Kustoms of Los Angeles," which was initially restricted to Barris customers and later became "Kustoms of America." The group grew out of weekend custom runs which George help put together. Kustoms of America is still a major club today that has a major cruise in Paso Robles.

The movie studios had taken note of Barris kustoms on the streets and at races and came to George for cars for their films. One of the first films Barris made cars for was called "High School Confidential". The success of the initial movie car venture motivated George to seek business in Hollywood. This included customizing the personal cars of the stars as well. As the past forty plus years have shown, this association with the studios and stars has been long and fascinating.

Shirley Ann Nahas, George's future wife came into the scene and was an integral part of George's success. She became a strong nurturing partner in George's life as Sam had already left the business. George concentrated on promotion as well as kustomizing. The two went hand in hand. He would travel all over the country in his creations, with the name "Barris" plastered everywhere he could, covering car shows and appearing on TV talk shows. In the late 50's Revell began making model kits of George's cars. AMT soon joined with the "Ala Kart." Plastic model kits became the biggest selling toys at the time.

Original kustoms and hot rods continued to roll off George's drawing board. They were built and decorated by the best fabricators and craftsmen in the business. This pool of talent included Bill Hines, Lloyd Bakan, Dick Dean, Dean Jeffries, Von Dutch, Larry Watson, Hershel "Junior" Conway, John and Ralph Manok, Bill De Carr, Richard Korkes, Frank Sonzogni, "Jocko" Johnson, Lyle Lake, Curley Hurlbert, "Gordo", and for a brief time Tom McMullen. Many of them went on to do their own notable work. As the sixties began, George shifted gears and bought a new shop in North Hollywood where he designed and built award winning cars. He also became a father to daughter Joji and son Brett. George continues to work out of this shop today.

(source: Barris)


barris logo

Barris Kustom logo.

george barris

George Barris in front of his North Hollywood, California shop.

BARRIS KUSTOM CARS

Just a few of the many Barris Kustom cars include the following.

cosmaray

A 1968 Corvette custom styling concept by Barris Kustom City. After extensive coverage in most recognized automotive publications, due to a long list of honors and awards bestowed by the more competitive auto shows from coast to coast, the Cosma Ray attained the title of "Grand National Sweepstakes Winner". Cosma Ray then became a television star car features in the TV Dupont special "Wonderful World of Wheels" with Lloyd Bridges produced by Robert E. Petersen.

emperor

Built for Charles Kirkorian and now owned by Blackie Gejian. Kirkorian engineered and constructed the engine and undercarriage. He then contacted Barris who designed and built the complete body and painted it with forty coats of translucent Kandy Burgundy over pure pearl of essence imported from Sweden with added actual crushed diamond dust. The complete frame and undercarriage is chrome plated plus all the accessories on the 550 horse powered Cadillac Eldorado engine. Racing headers extend from the side of the engine with a hidden street exhaust system.

fireball500

This high powered sleek styling performance vehicle was featured in the movie "The Fireball 500" starring Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and Fabian. The vehicle started as a 1966 Plymouth Barracuda. One of the outstanding features is the design carried forth in a dual cockpit roadster racing version made from a basic stock Plymouth production car.

kopperkart

Started out as a 1956 Chevy partly customized with a 5 1/2 inch chop top. Then the top panel was covered with pleated rust and white naugahyde. The body was sectioned 4 inches throughout upper panel with a hand formed pancake hood. Front and rear panels had been molded and sculptured with full cavities and grill inserts mounted in rubber to absorb shock. Quad headlights and bottom directional signal are shaded and frenched in.

LINKS
Barris Kustom   Official site
 
 
COMMENTS
chris3204 days ago

great piece - you have to LOVE his designs

Dave Darby2072 days ago

Great looking page here, but....proof that you gotta do your homework. The Cosma Ray is neither a 1968 Corvette, nor was it built by Barris. It is a 1964 Corvette, and it was built by Darryl Starbird, and owner Bob Greenwade of Blackwell, Oklahoma. It won "Best Custom" at the 1964 National Custom Auto Fair in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Cosma Ray was the first custom ever to capture the triple crown of showcars: In 1964 it won The Oakland Roadster Show Sweepstakes, the NSRA Indy Nationals, and the LA Summer Nationals.

CT2072 days ago

Not sure what to make of this Dave. The info came from Barris.

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