The movie czar
To celebrate George Barris’s trip to Australia for MotorEx 2015, AMC takes a look at some of his most memorable TV and movie creations.
In 1948, at age 23, George Barris customised a ’41 Buick, which took out top honours at the Los Angeles Hot Rod Exposition. From there, Barris Kustoms, run by George and his older brother Sam, begun regularly turning out renowned and iconic customs – the style of which are revered and copied until this day.
By the end of the 1950s, Sam had left the original business, leaving George to expand operations, opening a new, bigger shop, Barris Kustom City, in North Hollywood. Along the way George had built himself a reputation as one of the world’s most influential customisers, however that was not enough for the brash Mr Barris. He set about focussing his boundless energy and creative talent on tackling Hollywood.
“I wanted to take some of the excitement and energy that we had generated in the hot rod and custom car scene and take it to the silver screen,” says George.
In true Barris style, he very soon became Hollywood’s ‘go to’ guy when it came to designing and building wild and distinctive machines – many of which are well-known to Australian TV and movie audiences.
The most famous of all his cinematic creations is the original 1966 Batmobile. Having supplied vehicles to various movies and TV shows, George was known to a number of influential producers. One of these producers, William Dozier from America’s ABC TV, approached him to build a signature machine for the hit TV show Batman that ran from 1966 until 1968, with over 120 episodes.
“They wanted me to make a 20th Century crime-fighting Batmobile, in the ’60s’,” says George. “We didn’t have the computers and special effects we have today and I wanted the car to do tricks all on its own. I also wanted to incorporate all the Bat features into the car.”
This desire, along with the short build time of just a few weeks, ruled out building a suitable machine from scratch. Instead Barris decided to take the already futuristic-looking Lincoln Futura concept car (that he had acquired for $US1 through his involvement in the Ford Custom Car Caravan) and give it the Bat treatment. The black with eye-catching fluorescent orange highlights machine that rolled out of Barris Kustom City (in the allotted time period) went onto become just as big a star as Batman’s lead actors: Adam West and Burt Ward.
Bat-tastic Batmobile enhancements included a rocket engine (a feature incorporated in all subsequent Batmobiles), bullet-proof bodywork, plexiglass bubble top, Batphone, Batscope and Detect-a-Scope. Dual Bat rays (lasers) were for disintegrating anything that got in their way, along with a hydraulically-operated chain and cable cutter to stop the dynamic duo from being captured by abominable criminals.
Other gadgets include the fly trap, Bat shark repellent, rocket launchers, dual parachutes, 360-degree rotator, exhaust shut-off (for silent running), Bat smoke and onboard fire extinguisher. All of which helped the Gotham crime fighters out of many a sticky situation.
Not so Bat-tastic was the Batmobile’s original high-performance 330hp experimental Lincoln