Crowned for Cars

George Barris earned his Kustom Kingship by making movies move.

Long before Xzibit pimped anyone’s ride, George Barris was customizing cars with his brother Sam in the small town of Roseville, California, in the 1940s. The brilliant icon-to-be had no idea how his innocent, yet pioneering, concept of altering stock vehicles into personalized mobile accessories would forever change the automotive industry. Barris gave birth to the trend using everything from dime-store mud flaps to kitchen-cabinet knobs and handles to visually enhance his hand-me-down ’25 Buick. After a few minor tweaks, Barris ended up selling his old jalopy for a profit and it’s been on ever since.

Everything soon began to come together for Barris. He started his own car club, began displaying his hot wheels at car shows and, before long, was providing editorial pieces for magazines. As his national exposure increased, George’s designs soon earned him a reputation for consistently introducing America’s next top models. “Growing up and going to car shows, George pretty much always had a show car that was the hit of the show,” says famed car designer Chip Foose. “He’s really a true automotive enthusiast. He doesn’t look at other builders as competitors, he looks at them as potential best friends.”

Just when it seemed it couldn’t get any better for the King of Kustoms, Barris found himself as the official Hollywood go-to guy. Whether he was designing personal vehicles for talent or building rides for television and film, for George there was no business like show business, where he got the recognition and exposure he deserved. His list of credits includes picture cars for projects such as Batman (the original Batmobile), The Monkees (Monkeemobile), Starsky and Hutch (Ford Torino), The Dukes of Hazzard (General Lee) and Knight Rider (K.I.T.T.).

Barris, now in his early 80s, keeps himself busy fixin’ up what the factory forgot. Not bad for a guy who once described the idea of customizing cars as better than having a paper route.

Adell Henderson