George Barris, Batmobile Creator And Customizing Legend, Dies At 89

A man who chose the road less traveled, made history, lived the American Dream, George Barris, whose most famous creation was the first Batmobile, passed away on Thursday, Nov 5, aged 89.

Barris was the son of Greek immigrants and was born George Salapatas on November 1925 in Chicago. After his mother died when he was only three years old, he was sent to his uncle’s John Barakaris family to be raised. It was he who changed his name to Barris, but the rest of his life was of his own making.

According to The Washington Post, instead of joining the Greek restaurant business like everyone else in the family, he left for Los Angeles when he was 18. Being fond of model cars and airplanes and design, he was drawn to the City of Angels at a time when a new trend was just beginning.

It was right after World War II, so new cars were out of the question for most. That’s why teens started to modify the old cars using parts from junkyards. That’s how the customizing culture begun and Barris was in it right from the start.

Merely modifying the original vehicles looks just wasn’t enough. He started experimenting with different designs like tailfins and bubbletops, created Barris Kustom and, inevitably, at some point drew the interest of Hollywood people.

Two 1948 Chevys, which he made for the “High School Confidential”, were used as a model for designing the Mercury James Dean would drive in “Rebel Without a Cause”! He even customized the “Little Bastard” Porsche Spyder 550 Dean met his demise in…

What truly made his name, though, was a call from the producers of the 1966 “Batman” TV show, who wanted a car fit for the crime fighter.

“I saw the script and it said ‘Bang’, ‘Pow’, ‘Boom’”, Barris told the LA Times. “That’s exactly what I wanted the car to be able to do.” A 1955 Lincoln Futura was used for the original Batmobile and it was created in just 15 days with a US$15,000 budget; in 2013, it fetched US$4.62 million at a Barrett-Jackson auction…

Among his clients were Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Sony and Cher, even Michael Jackson. Perhaps most important was the fact he impressed New Journalism pioneer, award winning writer and journalist Tom Wolfe so much, he was made the main character in his “The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” (Barris had a habit of replacing “c” with “k”…

He is survived by daughter Joji Barris-Paster, son Brett and grandson Jared.

“Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky,” Brett Barris wrote on a Facebook posting. “He passed on peacefully in his sleep at 2:45 am. He was surrounded by his family in the comfort of his home. He lived his life they way he wanted til the end. He would want everyone to celebrate the passion he had for life and for what he created for all to enjoy.”

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