RIP George Barris 1925-2015

| 12 Nov 2015

The renowned custom car designer and creator of the original Batmobile, George Barris, has died. He was 89.

Barris' love affair with cars can be traced back to his teenage years when, working with his brother Sam in a local Greek restaurant, their hard work was rewarded with a 1925 Buick, which the pair quickly customised and sold. The proceeds went towards a 1929 Ford Model A, which in turn led to the formation of the Kustoms Car Club. 

Following high school, Barris moved to Los Angeles and opened a custom car garage, where Sam joined him after a stint in the navy. After relocating once more to Compton, the pair settled in Lynwood, where they built the 'Hirohata Merc' – a 1951 Mercury belonging to their part-time worker, Bob Hirohata, which was celebrated at the Pebble Beach Concours d'Elegance earlier this year. 

By 1956, Sam had left the business, leaving George to continue with Shirley Nahas, who became his wife two years later. Shortly after, Barris' creations began to appear on the silver screen, starting with High School Confidential in 1958 and leading on to The Silencers (1966), Fireball 500 (1966), Thunder Alley (1967) and The Car (1977).

Producers also turned to Barris when a custom car was required for a television series, leading to the creation of the 5.5-metre Munster Koach – a macabre marriage of three Ford Model T bodies and the V8 engine from a Mustang. In the 1980s, he was called in to transform a Pontiac Trans-Am into the futuristic KITT, which starred alongside David Hasselhoff in Knight Rider. 

However, his most popular creation was undoubtedly the Batmobile, which was created for the 1960s television series starring Adam West. The car was based on the 1955 Lincoln Futura concept and took just 15 days to complete, becoming an instant hit and earning the programme – and Barris – a legion of fans. It inspired many imitations, with the original car being sold in 2013 for £3m.

A legend of the custom car world, Barris will be remembered not just for his fantastic on-screen creations, but also for his contribution to the development of custom car culture in the 1940s and 1950s.