Batmobile Designer George Barris Dies
Legendary custom car designer George Barris died in his sleep Thursday. He was 89.
Best known for designing the Batmobile and other iconic vehicles used in movies and television shows, Barris helped shape California’s car culture in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. He and his older brother Sam formed the Kustom Car Club in southern California in the early 1940s and were later immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s 1965 essay “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby.”
In 1948, Barris’ customized 1941 Buick took the top prize at the first Hot Rod Exposition in Los Angeles. He and his brother then transformed a 1951 Mercury Club Coupe into the sleek Hirohata Merc that was the star of the 1952 L.A. Motorama show and was featured on the cover of Motor Trend. Their “Ala Kart” 1929 Ford pickup was named America’s Most Beautiful Roadster in 1958 and 1959.
On his own, Barris customized two Chevy stunt cars for the 1958 crime movie “High School Confidential.” Several of his cars also were used for the "future" scenes in the 1960 film adaptation of H.G. Well’s The Time Machine.
In the early 1960s, Ford hired Barris to customize production cars for two traveling exhibitions. The connection led him to purchase the 1955 Lincoln Futura show car, which he transformed into the Batmobile in 1966 for the campy “Batman” TV series. Barris sold the original Batmobile at a 2013 auction for $4.2 million.
He also created the 18-ft long Munster Koach, which was assembled from three Ford Model T’s, used for the “The Munsters.” Other famous TV and movie rides he’s credited with include the jalopy made from a 1921 Oldsmobile and a flatbed pickup for “The Beverly Hillbillies,” the fictional 1928 Porter driven by Jerry Van Dyke in “My Mother the Car,” a modified Dodge Charger for Thunder Alley, several vehicles for 1966’s Fireball 500 stock car movie and the Monkeemobile for the hit show “The Monkees.”
He also customized cars for celebrities and world leaders. His work included a 1954 Cadillac Eldorado for Liberace that had a sterling-silver grand piano hood ornament that played “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
He created Elvis Presley’s 1960 Cadillac Fleetwood (with a gold-plated record player, drinks cabinet and shoe buffer inside) and a gold Rolls-Royce for Zsa Zsa Gabor. For comedian Bob Hope, he built a caricature golf cart with a ski-jump nose. Other famous clients included Frank Sinatra, Burt Reynolds, Sylvester Stallone, John Wayne, Dean Martin, Michael Jackson, and Sonny and Cher.
Barris' more recent work includes a customized 2010 Chevy Camaro and customized versions of the Toyota Prius. Click HERE to see more photos.