Car Customizer to the Stars George Barris Turns 87

By Jon Konjoyan

Photo by Peter Sebastian Wrobel

Celebrity car customizer George Barris gets a birthday smooch from one of his biggest fans – Marilyn Monroe impersonator Kassandra Carroll.

George Barris, the renowned North Hollywood-based car customizer and father of the Batmobile, the Munster “Koach,” and the Beverly Hillbillies jalopy, recently celebrated his 87th birthday. Celebrity clients of Barris over the years include Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, Ann-Margret, Glen Campbell, and Elton John.

Barris continues to work everyday and just announced that his famous Batmobile will be hitting the auction block come January.

Hailing from Chicago, Barris and his late brother Sam moved to L.A. after World War II to launch a car customizing business. In the 1950s “Barris Kustoms” began to license its designs to model kit carmakers such as Aurora and Revell — establishing the Barris name in hobby and department stores nationwide.

By the 1960s, Barris customized production cars for Ford’s “Custom Car Caravan” and “Lincoln-Mercury’s Caravan of Stars” traveling exhibits in an effort to appeal to younger and future car buyers.

Some of his first film work consisted of making soft aluminum fenders for a police car that crashes into the rear of a convertible driven by Cary Grant’s character in North by Northwest. Other Barris-built film cars included a modified Dodge Charger for Thunder Alley, a Plymouth Barracuda for Fireball 500, and an evil rework of a Lincoln Continental for The Car.

Barris later became involved in TV production. A fan of elaborate design, he purchased the exotic looking Lincoln Futura, a 1955 concept car built by Ghia of Italy. It remained in his collection for years, until he was asked one day by ABC-TV to create a signature automobile for their “Batman” series. Barris quickly went to work on converting the concept vehicle into what became the iconic Batmobile for the Adam West-starring TV show. That legendary car will be auctioned on Jan. 19 of next year at the Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale, Ariz., public sale.

And what is Barris’ current daily driver? A Toyota Prius — customized of course.