Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Custom Car: George Barris, Part 2

Sam decided to leave the business in the '50s, but George had married and he credited his wife Shirley with major assistance in promoting the company, which eventually became Barris Kustom Industries. It began to license its designs to model car manufacturers such as Revell and AMT, which spread the Barris name into every hobby, department, and discount store in the country and also into the minds of millions of eager model builders.

Barris is the subject of the title story in author Tom Wolfe's first collection of essays "The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby."

The 1960s would see the firm become heavily involved in vehicle design for television production. At the beginning of the decade, Barris, who loved extravagant design whether his or someone else's, had purchased the Lincoln Futura, a concept car of the mid-'50s which had been built by Ghia of Italy. It remained in his collection for several years, until he was rather unexpectedly asked by ABC Television to create a signature vehicle for their new Batman television series. Time was very short as filming would begin in a few weeks, and creation of a new design from scratch was scarcely possible. Instead, he remembered the Futura, which had been designed by the original Lincoln stylists to resemble a shark, with a menacing, aggressive front and high tailfins. Barris decided it was a perfect base on which to create the Batmobile. In three weeks the car was ready and the show was immediately a hit, the car becoming one of the most recognizable icons of the 1960s and possibly Barris' most famous work. Barris designs have also been featured in commercials. Barris' company often builds replicas of (but did not design) vehicles from other TV series, including The Beverly Hillbillies, The Munsters (Munster Koach, Drag-u-la), The Monkees (Monkeemobile), The Dukes of Hazzard (General Lee), Mannix (Roadster), Starsky and Hutch (Ford Torino), Power Rangers (Rad-Bug, Turbo Vehicles, and SPD Cars), Knight Rider (KITT), as well as Banacek (AMX-400). Barris Kustom Industries often sells these cars at auction for high sums, though they often lack in accuracy. There are rumored to be several lawsuits for misrepresented cars, many of which are currently displayed in museums as authentic cars.

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