Barris Kustom emblem.
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.
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.
Just a few of the many Barris Kustom cars include the following.
Much of the material on this website is copyrighted. Original articles appearing herein are subject to copyright. Please don't copy stuff from the site without asking; it may belong to someone! Any trademarks appearing on this site are the sole property of the registered owners. No endorsement by trademark owners is to be construed. The products, brand names, characters, related slogans and indicia are or may by claimed as trademarks of their respective owners. Every effort has been made whenever possible to credit the sources. The use of such material falls under the Fair Use provisions of intellectual property laws.