George Barris' five greatest creations
Legendary Hollywood car customiser George Barris passed away earlier this week, so for this week’s edition of the Thursday Five we pay tribute to him with his five greatest creations!
Easily Barris’ most famous design, the television was also one of his laziest - Barris already owned the Lincoln Futura concept car that the Batmobile would be based on, so when he was asked to design and build a car for the TV series in three weeks, he simply hired custom car builder Gene Cushenberry to make what were very minimal modifications to the Futura and, one iconic paint job later, a legend was born.
Not only did the Batmobile make him famous, it also made him very rich later in life - Barris retained ownership of the original until 2013 when he sold it for a colossal US$4,620,00 (NZ$7,067,514)!
Super Pursuit K.I.T.T.
While the original Knight Industries Two Thousand was designed by customiser Michael Scheffe in 1982, Barris was bought onboard in later seasons to give the iconic Pontiac Trans Am a refresh and design a few new “modes”.
Harris designed and built the cars for K.I.T.T.’s Super Pursuit Mode and convertible mode. While the latter probably wasn’t a massive design challenge, the Super Pursuit Mode was a drastic departure for the series at the time. Previously K.I.T.T. had a largely standard outward appearance (aside from the “cylon” scanner light and silly “futuristic” wheels) , but Super Pursuit Mode was full-on ‘80s excess with lots of silly extended bits, wings and scoops.
Which pretty much means it was just perfect then.
While Barris was also responsible for the brilliant Munster Koach, his best creation for the classic 1960s TV show was easily Grandpa Munster’s drag racer DRAG-U-LA.
Actually designed by Tom Daniel while he was working for Barris Custom Industries (he also designed the Koach), DRAG-U-LA was built by Barris Custom Industries manager Richard Korkes out of an actual fibreglass coffin!
It was illegal to sell a coffin without a death certificate in California at the time, so Korkes did a cash deal with a funeral director who agreed to leave the coffin outside the back door of the funeral home, so that Korkes and his team could collect it after dark!
Add in a 289CI V8 from a Ford Mustang, two four-barrel carbs and some serious racing slicks and you had one fast coffin.
DeLorean Time Machine
Nope, Barris actually had nothing whatsoever to do with the design or creation of this particular movie car, but it was the subject of one of his sneakiest publicity stunts - around ten years after the release of Back to the Future Part III one of the DeLorean stunt cars used in the film was sent to Barris Custom Industries for restoration. This inspired Barris to buy a DeLorean and build a replica of the movie time machine.
While he never officially stated he actually had anything to do with the cars from the Back to the Future films, he didn’t discourage people from spreading the rumour and even told people that he had indeed built a DeLorean time machine, just leaving out the bit about it being a replica.
Having the replica prominently on display and using it to promote his company on his website, Universal Studios eventually lost patience with Barris and sent him a cease and desist order, basically saying “Don’t bloody well tell people you made our car!”
Wagon Queen Family Truckster
Fully deserving of standing alongside the original Batmobile as Barris’ greatest creation, the Wagon Queen Family Truckster from the Chevy Chase movie “National Lampoon’s Vacation” is simply a work of genius.
Based on a 1979 Ford LTD Country Squire station wagon, the Family Trickster was a pitch-perfect lampooning of American cars from the late ‘70s and quite the capable flier too, as it turned out - while filming the scene where the Family Truckster launches into the air in the desert, several of the crew members bet 2nd unit director Dick Ziker that he couldn't jump the car more than 50 feet (15.24 metres). Ziker won. Easily.