George Barris was a legendary car designer and builder who transformed ordinary vehicles into extraordinary works of art. He was responsible for crafting iconic cars for TV and film, and also customizing personal cars for celebrities, such as Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, and John Wayne.
Tag along as we take a look at some of the coolest customs that George Barris ever made, and learn how he turned his passion for cars into a successful career. Whether you are a car enthusiast, a movie buff, or just curious, we think you’ll dig this journey through the history of custom car culture.
George passed away in 2015 and his famous storefront shop in Los Angeles has since been sold off to developers. Street Muscle went to the “Garage Sale” in 2018 before the facility was closed down and it was bittersweet indeed. Check out our story here.
One of the most iconic superhero vehicles of all time is the Batmobile from the 1966 Batman TV series. The show was a campy and colorful adaptation of the comic book hero, starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The Batmobile was sleek, stylish, and had every gadget and gizmo that the dynamic duo could need. This included things like the bat phone, bat radar, a bat computer, and a bat ejector seat.
The Batmobile was created by George Barris in just three weeks. He used a 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura concept car as the base, which he bought for one dollar. He then modified it with a custom grill, fins, lights, and radiused wheel wells. The black paint with orange accents was a genius brushstroke to pull it all together. The tricks of a car customizer sometimes employ unlikely props. For example, a five-gallon paint can be used to create the fire-breathing exhaust.
Barris made four Batmobiles for the show: one for driving, one for stunts, one for crashing, and one for effects. The original Batmobile was later sold at an auction for $4.2 million.
Munster Coach KOACH
Two Halloween-themed hot rods were built for the 1960s sitcom The Munsters. The Munster’s Koach and the DRAG-U-LA, a dragster reputedly built around a real coffin. Designer Tom Daniel gets styling credit here while working for George Barris and Barris Kustom Industries.
The Koach was made from three Model T bodies and spanned 18 feet long. The 133″ frame, brass radiator, and fenders were all hand-formed. The rig ultimately cost $18,000 to build. It took 500 hours to hand form the ornate rolled steel scrollwork. The interior featured blood-red velvet upholstery, custom-made spider-web headlamps, and casket handles from scratch.
The front end had a dropped axle, split radius rods, and T springs. The studio gave Barris 21 days to complete the car. It was powered by a 289-cubic inch Ford Cobra engine from a 1966 Mustang GT. Built with Jahns high compression pistons, ten chrome-plated Stromberg carburetors, an Isky cam, and a set of Bobby Barr racing headers.
DRAG-U-LA was built from a coffin that Richard “Korky” Korkes, Barris’s project engineer, was able to purchase from a funeral home in North Hollywood. Korkes said that it was illegal to sell a coffin without a death certificate, so he made a deal with the funeral director to pay in cash and have the coffin left outside the rear door to be collected after dark.
The car was powered by a 289 cubic-inch Ford Mustang V8 engine that cranked out 350 horsepower and was backed by a four-speed transmission. It had two four-barrel carburetors mounted on a Mickey Thompson Ram-Thrust intake manifold. To extend the Gothic motif further, Barris installed four Zoomie-style organ pipes on each side of the car instead of a standard exhaust and mounted antique lamps on the front and rear.
This hot rod was built to resemble dual VOX guitars in silhouette and could convert to a rolling PA system through the use of self-contained sound equipment. Its primary purpose was to promote the then-new Vox guitars. The Voxmobile can accommodate 32 compatible VOX guitars with input jacks located along the top of the side body panel, and a VOX dual manual Continental organ mounted in the rear.
Power is transformed from a 12-volt auto-lite automotive battery to 110 AC through two 450-watt inverters. The wild guitar sounds are powered by three powerful VOX Beatle amplifiers, complete with reverb, treble/bass boost, and mid-range boost.
There is an array of speakers hidden in the framework. In all, there are two main drive speakers mounted atop the intake manifold, five 12″ speakers, one 18″ bass speaker, and four tweeters. If all that wasn’t enough, a Muntz stereo cartridge tape deck was installed in the vehicle too. It houses six speakers and modulators and will be used to produce music when you happen not to have a band handy.
The Kargoyle might be the first hot rod hearse ever built. This 1967 Cadillac features a blown mill, slanted chopped top, and gargoyle graphics on the side. For you Meat Loaf fans, The Kargoyle was featured on the cover of “Bat Out of Hell”. Barris was the king of novelty builds and he was a real trailblazer with this hearse.
Kargoyle was built for the ’80s film Terror on Wheels and ended up as one of Barris’ most popular cars. Before being acquired by The Midwest Dream Car Collection, Kargoyle was used to transport the girls of the Playboy Mansion during a Halloween episode of The Girls Next Door and to delight fans as a public relations hearse during Mötley Crüe’s final tour, “All Bad Things Must Come to an End.” The coach has also appeared in Bitch Slap, Monster Garage, Monster House, and Tim Timebomb’s RockNRoll Theater.
This is a rolling smorgasbord of custom car tricks from the 1950s. Beginning life as a 1957 Chevy two-door coupe, the top was chopped 2.5″ with a half-inch recessed sculptured upper panel. All side posts have been rimmed with full-vision side glass and plastic uprights installed. The front end was rolled into one piece using a pancake hood and double cavity grill shell opening with twin-floating front bumpers.
The headlights are tunneled and “V” peaked with English Lucas lenses and custom directional lights. The flanks of the car are sculptured with one-inch split-level panels blending into long-canted 1957 Lincoln fins. If that wasn’t wild enough, Barris sprayed the thing out in a purple and white Cerise pearl two-tone with diamond dust, utilizing ten gallons of lacquer paint.
Jurassic Park Tour Vehicles
One of the most memorable scenes in the 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park is when the visitors first see the dinosaurs in their natural habitat. They ride in specially designed tour vehicles that look like futuristic safari cars. They are heavily modified Ford Explorers. Each has a yellow-green gradient paint job, a glass roof, and multiple lights. They also have an automated system that guides them through the park.
The tour vehicles were created by Barris and his team but uncredited in the film. He used 1992 Ford utes as the base and modified them in a sporty style that was all the rage in 1993. He also devised a way to hide the drivers in the back seat, so that the vehicles appeared to be self-driving. These vehicles captured the sense of wonder and adventure that Jurassic Park was all about. While these Explorers might not be the most outrageous cars Barris built, they were arguably the most viewed.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when learning about the history of TV cars and 60s customs. While George has passed on, his cars live forever.