George Barris, American custom car designer, Died at 89

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George Barris was born George Salapatas on November 20, 1925, and died on November 5, 2015 from cancer.

He was an American designer and builder of many famous Hollywood custom cars, most notably the Munster Koach and 1966 Batmobile.

George and his brother Sam (1924–1967) were born in Chicago in the 1920s.

George was three years old when their father, a Greek immigrant from Chios, sent the brothers to live with an uncle and his wife in Roseville, California following the death of their mother.

By age 7, George was making models of cars employing balsa wood and modifying their design and appearance with careful attention to details so his entries won contests sponsored by hobby shops.

The brothers worked at the Greek restaurant owned by their family, and were given a 1925 Buick for their help.

Although it was not in good shape, they swiftly restored it to running condition, and began to experiment with changing its appearance.

This became the first Barris Brothers custom car. They sold it at a profit to buy another project vehicle.

Before George had graduated from high school, demand for their work was growing, and they had created a club for owners of custom vehicles, called the Kustoms Car Club.

This was the first use of the spelling “kustom”, which would become associated with Barris.

George attended San Juan High School and “rushed to sweep floors at a local auto body shop as soon as school let out”.

Sam entered the Navy during World War II. Sam joined George in Los Angeles after being discharged.

The two built their “kustom” designs for private buyers, and George also built and raced his own cars briefly.

These activities brought them to the attention of the movie industry, and they were soon asked to create cars, both for personal use by the studio executives and stars and as props for films, their first being used in 1958’s High School Confidential.

They also made the acquaintance of Robert E. Petersen, founder of Hot Rod and Motor Trend magazines and, much later, of the Petersen Auto Museum. His car shows further publicized the Barris style, as did the car customizing how-to articles George wrote and Petersen published.

George was married to Shirley Nahas from 1958 until her death in 2001. They had two children.

George passed away on November 5, 2015, in his sleep at his home in Encino, California, at the age of 89.

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