Barris Kustoms

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George Barris' 1936 Ford Coupe. George bought the car from money he had earned while doing some odd jobs for Harry Westergard. The build was completed in 1941.
George Barris' 1936 Ford Convertible. George traded his '36 Coupe for a convertible. The convertible was an ongoing project, and it was the car George drove to Southern California around 1941.
An unknown 1936 Ford done by Barris.
Bill Spurgeon's 1939 Mercury Coupe was restyled by Sam and George in 1946. Some of the work was done at Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop where George worked as foreman.
Dick Owens' 1940 Mercury convertible of Redondo Beach, California. Dick's Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms, and the work was sometime between 1945 and 1947.
Jim Kierstead's 1939 Mercury Coupe of Inglewood, California. Jim's Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms, and it is rumored to be the first 1939 - 1940 Mercury coupe that the Barris Brothers chopped. The build was started in 1945 and completed in 1947.
Dick Fowler's 1938 Ford coupe was restyled by George and Sam at their first shop in Bell between 1946 and 1948.
George Barris' 1941 Buick Convertible. Completed late in 1947, this was the car that established George as a builder. It was shown at the first Hot Rod Exposition in January of 1948, where it won top honors. Winning that show put Barris Kustoms on the map, and they consequently moved their operation to larger premises at 7674 Compton Avenue.
Var Martin's 1941 Buick was restyled by Barris Kustoms some around 1947 - 1948.
Mickey Chiachi's 1939 Ford was restyled by Barris Kustoms sometime before 1948.
According to Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's - Volume 3, this photo was taken the day Johnny Zaro brought his 1940 Mercury to Barris Kustoms. The photo was taken outside the 7674 Compton Avenue shop in Los Angeles, so it had to be in 1948. When this photo was taken, Al Andril's 1940 Mercury had just been chopped. Johnny's damaged Mercury is awaiting its treatment. When Johnny smashed his Merc, it had already been nosed and decked. The sidetrim was shortened, and it ran single bar flipper hubcaps. Photo courtesy of George Barris, from the book Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's - Volume 3.
An under progress photo of Johnny's Merc chopped and in primer, getting ready for paint. The photo was taken behind the Barris Compton Avenue shop in 1948. It took Sam about 6 months to complete Johnny's Merc. Photo courtesy of George Barris, from the book Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's - Volume 3.
Al Andril's 1940 Mercury of Maywood, California. Al's Merc was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948 at their Compton Avenue shop. The build took 9 months.
Johnny Zaro's 1940 Mercury Coupe of Maywood, California. Johnny's Merc was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948 at their Compton Avenue shop. After Sam had done Al Andril's 1940 Mercury, it took only 6 months to complete Johnny's Mercury.
Dick Carter's 1941 Ford, of Bell, California, was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1948. Dick brought the car to Barris' after seing Var Martin's 1941 Buick.
Bill DeCarr's 1941 Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1948.
Bob Kierstead's 1941 Mercury Convertible, of Inglewood, California was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948
George Janich's 1941 Ford of Long Beach, California was restyled by Sam Barris. The project was started in 1946 and completed in 1948.
John Vara's 1941 Ford was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1948. John sold the car to Johnny Zaro of Maywood, California before the build was completed.
Sam Barris' 1940 Mercury was restyled around 1948-1949.
After winning top honors at the first Hot Rod Exposition in 1948 with George Barris' 1941 Buick, George and Sam moved their shop to larger premises at 7674 Compton Avenue. After the move, they renamed the shop "Barris's Custom Shop"
A group of cars outside the "Barris's Custom Shop" on 7674 Compton Avenue in Los Angeles. Dick Fowler's 1938 Ford coupe can be seen below the "Auto Painting" sign. The new shop was located in an old double garage, and the man who owned the property ran a brake shop in the same building.
George Barris' Track Roadster outside the 7674 Compton Avenue shop circa 1948. George built the channeled roadster, that sported one of his first flame paint jobs, in 1948. Lanky Oran Breeland can be seen on the right. Oran worked for Sam and George, and George lived with him and his folks at the time. Photo by Dick Bertolucci, courtesy of George Barris.
An early photo of Bob Creasman's 1940 Ford coupe taken outside of the 7674 Compton Avenue shop in 1948. Photo courtesy of eBay.
Another early photo of Creasman's taken outside the 7674 Compton Avenue shop. Photo courtesy of eBay.
A business card from the shop at 4120-1/2 East Florence Avenue in Bell. After about 6 months in Bell, they moved their shop to Atlantic Blv in Lynwood. The top of the business card reads Barris - Hector - John. Hector and John referred Hector Savadra and John Manok who were bodymen at the shop.[2]
The first version of Tom Hocker's 1940 Ford Coupe was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1949.
An unknown 1940 Ford top that Barris chopped.
A combined Barris Kustoms and Gaylord's Kustom Shop ad from Motor Trend November 1949.
A Color photo showing the Barris Kustom Shop on Atlantic Blv in Lynwood, California.
Barris Kustoms did some work on Vic Grace's 1941 Buick Special Club Coupe around 1949 - 1950.
Ben Mario's 1947 Buick Super Convertible of Hollywood, California was restyled in 1949.
Dick Arkline's 1941 Chevrolet was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1948 - 1950.
Jesse Lopez' 1941 Ford, of Bell, California was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1948 - 1950.
Cliff Rockohn's 1947 Mercury Coupe was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1948 - 1950.
Les Callahan's 1922 Dodge Roadster Pickup of Long Beach, California featured body and paintwork by Barris Kustoms. The build was completed around 1950.
Jack McDermott's 1929 Ford Roadster was painted by Barris Kustoms in 1950.
Nick Matranga's 1940 Mercury was restyled by Barris Kustoms. The build took 15 months, and it was completed in late 1950.
Anne De Valle's 1942 Ford Club Coupe was restyled by Barris Kustoms in the 1950s.
Jack Brumbach's 1942 Ford was restyled by Barris Kustoms in the 1950s.
George Sinamark's 1947 Buick was restyled by Barris Kustoms in the 1950s.
Jack Stewart's 1941 Ford was restyled by Kenny Lucas, the Ayala Brothers and Barris Kustoms. The build was started in 1947 and completed in 1951.
Bob Tormey's 1941 Mercury Business Coupe, The Titian, was restyled by Barris Kustoms for an unknown owner around 1951.
Sanding Frank Sonzogni's 1950 Mercury in front of Barris Kustom Shop on Atlantic Blv.
Earl Wilson's 1947 Studebaker, The Grecian, was restyled by Barris Kustoms. The build was completed in 1952.
Barris Kustoms built and painted the body on Chet Herbert's Streamliner around 1953. The build took three weeks.
Tommy Thornburgh's 1947 Studebaker of Gardena, California was restyled by Barris Kustoms. The build was completed late in 1952.
Don Vaughn's 1947 Buick was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1951 - 1953.
George Barris gave Tom Pollard's 1929 Ford Roadster, of Monterey Park, Los Angeles, a flame paint job in 1954. Von Dutch pinstriped the car thereafter.
Bruce Bartlett's 1953 Studebaker Starlight coupe of Long Beach, California. Bruce was a member of the Ramblers of Long Beach car club, and his Studebaker was restyled by Sam Barris at Barris Kustoms. The build was completed in 1954.
George Sein's 1932 Ford 5 window coupe, The Flamer, was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1955.
Frank Monteleon's 1941 Ford was restyled by Barris Kustoms between 1949 and 1955.
Barris Kustoms gave Fred Pape's 1940 LaSalle a Pearlscent Green Mist paint job in the mid 1950s.
Originally restyled by Tony and Joe Pisano, Barris Kustoms freshened up Herb Ogden's 1941 Buick in the mid 1950s.
Leo Lyons Ultra Modern Merc of San Bernardino, California. The build was started in 1950, and completed in the Summer of 1959. Leo wanted to do something different. He wanted to build a custom car mostly from scratch. His initial plans called for building 10 identical custom Mercs, but only one, the prototype, was ever built. Leo had the car at the Barris shop, on and off for nearly a year, as Sam Barris guided Leo on how to do leadwork. George and Sam did also help Leo with techniques that would enable him to finish the car.
George Contaoi's 1955 Ford F-100 of San Bernardino, California, was restyled by Dick Richardson's Custom Shop and Barris Kustoms in 1956. Von Dutch striped it and made a mural on the tailgate along with Dean Jeffries.
The first version of Dave Cunningham's 1940 Ford Sedan, The Li'l Beauty, was restyled by Barris Kustoms around 1957.
Ron Guidry's 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe, of Long Beach, California was dropped of at Barris Kustoms December 6, 1957 so Dean Jeffries could apply green iridescent scallops on it. Ron had received a written invitation from the Oakland Roadster Show, and he wanted to redo the car a little before the show.
A photo of Carol Lewis' 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air taken in front of the Barris Kustoms Lynwood shop. Carol was Dean Jeffries High School Sweetheart, and her Chevrolet featured a licking flame paint job by Dean. Photo from The George Contaoi Photo Collection.
Wednesday December 4, 1957, during a windy and wet early evening storm a power line strung along the boundary at the back of the shop and sent a shower of sparks on the rear of the shop and started a smoldering fire. 14 cars were destroyed, and this photo shows the remains of the Wild Kat and Archie Moore's 1954 Jaguar after the shop fire.
Some unknown cars that were damaged in the shop fire.
Ron Guidry's 1936 Ford and Bobby Yamazaki's 1954 Mercury as they looked after the shop fire.
George Barris did the body and paintwork on the Ala Kart. The Ala Kart was one of the few cars that survived the shop fire December 7, 1957 as it was in a separate room. The Ala Kart made its debut at the 1958 National Roadster Show February 15-23, 1958 where it won the prestigious America's Most Beautiful Roadster award.
The shop as it appeared in 1957..
An ad for Wilford Manuel's Kustom Auto Interiors at "Barris Custom City" from the 1958 Renegades Rod & Custom Motorama Souvenir Program.
The second version of Dave Cunningham's 1940 Ford Sedan, The Li'l Beauty, was restyled by Barris Kustoms in the late 1950s.
Barris Kustoms modified the instrument panel on Joe Barnett's 1941 Ford Pickup around 1957 - 1959.
Barris Kustom City in the late 1950s or early 1960s while it still was located on Atlantic Blv in Lynwood
Accessories by Barris Kustom Automobiles
An ad for Barris Kustom City
George Barris bought Art and Lloyd Chrisman's 1930 Ford coupe in the early 1960s. After buying it, George modified it for its new roles in television’s “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis” and on the traveling car show circuit.
Clarence Catallo's 1932 Ford coupe , also known as the Little Deuce Coupe, was chopped and repainted by Barris Kustoms around 1960/1961.
George Barris designed an asymmetrical single-headlight radiator grille shell for Andy Kassa's 1932 Ford 3-window coupe. George did also fit the Coupe an unique taillight assembly, and he come up with the idea of painting the car in multiple tones of violet, purple and lilac.
An unknown 1941 Ford that was damaged in the shop fire in 1957
Bob Petersen's 1948 Cisitalia 202 Coupe was painted by Barris Kustoms in 1952.
Carl Abajian's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible was repainted dark blue by Barris in 1950. It was first restyled by Barris for Marcia Campbell in 1949.
Marcia Campbell's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1949.
An unknown Barris Kustoms 1950 Ford.
Chuck DeWitt's 1950 Ford Convertible was restyled by Barris Kustoms for Chuck DeWitt in 1953.
An unknown Barris Kustom Mercury with Buick side-trim. Photo by Charles E. Davis.
Fred Rowe's 1951 Mercury Convertible, of Los Angeles, California was restyled by Barris Kustoms. The build was completed in 1953.
The second version of Fred Rowe's 1951 Mercury Convertible, of Los Angeles, California was restyled in 1954. This version was featured in the movie Running Wild along with Bob Hirohata's 1951 Mercury.
A photo of Sam Barris as he is staring the chop on Lyle Lake's 1952 Buick in August of 1956. Photo from The Ron Dragoo Photo Collection.
Ron Fagundes' 1952 Ford Victoria of Napa, California. Ron's Ford, known as The Ronbardue Kart, was restyled by Barris Kustoms, A-1 Body Work, Hall's Top Shop and Andy Southard. At Barris, the car received a chopped 1954 Mercury top. The build was completed in 1958.
Jack Nethercutt's 1952 Oldsmobile, The Viennese, was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1953.
Harry Karl's 1953 Cadillac Le Mans Concept Car
Sal Mammano's 1954 Buick Roadmaster Riviera
Harry Hoskin's 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air of Maricopa, California. Restyled by Barris Kustoms, the car went trough several iterations. The first version was completed in 1955.
John McLaughlin's 1955 Chevrolet of Sapulpa, Oklahoma. In the late 1950s Jim sent the car on a train from Oklahoma to Barris Kustoms in California to have they finish the build and paint it.
Trend Book 175 Custom Cars 1959 Annual claimed that Barris Kustoms and Dick Williams restyled Bill Burnett's 1955 Ford Crown Victoria around 1955/1956.
Carol Lewis' 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air, of Baldwin, California. Carol was Dean Jeffries girlfriend.
George Barris' 1955 Chevrolet truck, the Kopper Kart, was built as a promotion vehicle for Barris Kustoms of Lynwood, California. The build was completed in 1957.
George Barris' 1956 Continental Mark II was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1956. The Lincoln was George's personal driver, and he owned it for about a year.
An unknown Thunderbird that was damaged in the shop fire in 1957.
Larry Watson's 1958 Ford Thunderbird. Larry bought the Thunderbird brand new in 1958, and he told a seller at Downey Ford to give him a call as soon as the first car with a tuck n' roll interior arrived. Larry brought it almost directly to Barris Kustoms for a mild job before he gave it a burgundy and silver panel paint job. Larry's Thunderbird was known as "Vino Pasiano" and "The Burgundy Bird," and the first iteration was completed in 1958.
George Barris' 1963 Buick Riviera of Encino, California. George, who owned and operated Barris Kustom City in North Hollywood, California, designed the car himself. Known as "The Villa Riviera Buick," the build was completed in 1963. In 1964 a white iteration of the car appeared in the popular Surf-movie "For Those Who Think Young".
Bob Nordskog's 1963 Chevrolet Corvette, The Asteroid, was restyled by Barris Kustoms in 1963.
Ken Cohen's 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
A photo of Jay Everett's Astra Coupe in front of Barris Kustom City.
George Barris with his employees at Barris Kustom City. Photo courtesy of Jeffrey B. Goldstein.

The Early Years

Barris Kustoms was a custom body shop owned and operated by George and Sam Barris. George and Sam were pioneers in the early days of customizing. George learned the craft in the Sacramento area before World War II by hanging around Harry Westergard's garage.[3] George began helping Harry whenever time would permit. He carefully followed the instructions of his new friend who eventually taught him such necessary formalities as layout and paneling. Doing these odd jobs at Westergard's shop brought in a little extra money. With the money George bought a 1936 Ford Coupe, the first car in which he had sole interest. Between the staggering amount of school and working with Westergard, George also found time to work on his 1936 Ford coupe. The coupe was completed in 1941. Interest in his various studies was still foremost, and George began studying harder than ever. In addition to the courses already mentioned, he took up shop work, mechanical drawing, designing, and an additional course including singing and orchestration. In 1942 Sam Barris joined the Army, while George was turned down. George turned to the Merchant Marine, and was subsequently told to go to Los Angeles and await assignment to a ship. George packed his belongings, including what body tools he had managed to accumulate, and headed southward in his customized 1936 Ford convertible. His new friends in Los Angeles lauded George on the fine job. Such things as push button doors and deck lids were practically unknown, so his new friends urged him to stay and do body work if he could arrange it.[3]

Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop

As time went on, George was never assigned to a ship. He got a job in a body and fender shop, but that didn't last long as the foreman demanded George to straighten fenders. George wanted to chop or channel something,[3] so he quit the job and went to work for Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop instead. At Jones' he worked his way up to foreman. According to George he gained a lot of basic experience while working at Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop.[4]

The First Shop in Bell

A couple of different stories on how Barris Kustoms was born exists. According to the book Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 1 , George opened up his own small shop on Imperial Highway in Bell, California in late 1944. When Sam was discharged from the Navy the following year, George persuaded him to join the venture despite his lack of experience. In Hop Up May 1953 another version of the story is told. According to that story Sam looked up his long lost brother in Los Angeles in 1945 after being discharged from the Navy, in order to find out what he was up to. George and Sam sat down and talked about old times. The old 1925 Buick came up, and the boys had a good laugh remembering the work they had done to the old jalopy. In the middle of the conversation George said "Hey, man, I've got an idea. Let's go into the custom business together!" Sam reminded him that he had no experience as either a bodyman or as a painter, except from from the work he had done to the old Buick. George began teaching Sam, and after a few weeks he decided that his older brother would pass for a body man. George and Sam pooled their resources and rented a small shop on Imperial Avenue in Los Angeles. The year was 1946, and Barris Kustoms was born. The first few months of the new enterprise were hard. But as Sam became proficient at body work as the business began to pick up.[5]

After being discharged from the Navy in 1947, Johnny Zaro and Al Andril decided to buy a pair of 1940 Mercury's to cruise around in. During their conversations about the coupes, they decided to have the tops chopped. Al had heard about the Barris brothers, so the buddies decided to pay the young customizers a visit. In 2011 Justin Kudolla interviewed Johnny about his Merc. Johnny told Justin that he and Al were both down in San Pedro at the time, waiting to get discharged when Al found the shop. George and Sam Barris convinced Johnny and Al that several other modifications should be done to the car as well, in addition to the chop. Sam started out restyling Al's coupe. Every time Johnny and Al had a chance, they would get out and go up to Barris Kustoms and work on the cars. "See, when you had George work on your car in those days, it wasn't going to be done unless you got down there and worked on it too. Most of it was easy work, like sanding or some little thing, they did all the major work, believe me. It was at nighttime a lot of times. We couldn't get up there in the daytime. Sometimes George would be there until 12 or 1 am, something like that, if he was spraying something. But as far as bodywork, he would get done at maybe 5 or 6 o' clock. And when I knew George he was living in nothing but a garage with a dirt floor and a little bathroom in Huntington Park. And from there, he got a step up; he started living in Warren Breeland's mother's home over near the shop. Warren, he was going to UCLA. I don't know where George lived when he had the shop in Bell."[6]

Moving to Larger Premises at Compton Avenue

After opening their first shop, the brothers' struggled until George's 1941 Buick won top honors at the first Hot Rod Exposition Show at the National Guard Armory in Los Angeles in January 1948. Winning that show put Barris Kustoms on the map, and they consequently moved their shop to larger premises at 7674 Compton Avenue.[7] According to Johnny Zaro, the new shop was located in an old double garage.[6] After moving the shop, they changed the name to "Barris's Custom Shop". According to Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 1, they were an official Brake Station at the time, something that helped improve the cash flow day to day.[7]In 2011 Johnny Zaro told Trend Books Editor Justin Kudolla that there were actually two shops on that Compton Avenue address. "The one next door, I can't even think of the fella's name, but he rented that to George. It was the fella who owned the property, he had a brake shop right on the corner. They put in one of the magazines that George had the brake shop and all of that, but he didn't have anything to do with that. He just rented the one side out."[6]

There used to be a fellow that lived right across the street from the shop named Gordo. Gordo used to work for George doing body and fender work.[6] George soon realized that their shop on Compton Avenue was slightly out of the magazines' reach, so in order to get their cars promoted through the growing amount of hot rod and custom magazines, he learned to take magazine quality photos of their cars and work. When Robert E. Petersen founded Hot Rod Magazine in 1948, he called George and asked if he had some pictures he could contribute with in the magazine. This resulted in a lot of press, both in the form of full features, and how-to stories in many different magazines from all over the country. As a result of this, customers began bringing cars in from the middle West and the East.[8]

Back to Bell, Then Lynwood

The Compton Avenue shop that had seemed so large in the beginning proved to be too small to house all of the cars that customers brought in, so the brothers were forced to move to an even larger shop at 4120-1/2 East Florence Avenue in Bell in 1949.[9] On the top of the business cards from the Bell shop George put the names "Barris - Hector - John". Hector and John referred to Hector Savadra and John Manok, two bodymen that worked for George at the time.[2] Barris Kustoms were only in the Bell shop for a short time, long enough to run a 1/2 page ad with Gaylord in Motor Trend February 1950. Within 6 months or George and Sam moved their business to 11054 S. Atlantic Blvd. in Lynwood.[9] Not only did the the size of the shop have to be increased, the staff had to be expanded as well.[3] After moving the shop to Lynwood business really took off, and they were working all hours of the night and day.[9] A 14 years old kid named Dick Jackson lived in Lynwood. He had a Whizzer bike, and used to stop by the shop everyday on the way home from school. A rope kept visitors out of the shop, so the workers would not be disturbed by curious by-passers. Dick used to stand outside the rope and stare into the shop. One day Sam said "Hey, we're getting tired of you staring at us. You want a job here?" At the time the Manok brothers, John Manok and Ralph Manok, worked there along with Bill Ortega and Sam and George. Dick said yes, and he started to sweep the floors. He was told not to sweep any tools or parts. Dick wasn't paid, but he felt lucky to be on the other side of the rope. While working at the shop George gave Dick the nickname "Peep", telling him "you're only a peep". After six months Sam told Dick that he was doing a good job, and that they were going to start paying him 22 cents an hour. He took parts off, put parts to be used in one pile, other parts in the shed up front, and on the other side. Peep advanced from being a broom boy to becoming the spotlight guy. When George got tired of installing spotlights, he passed the task on to Dick[10]

Dick was still going to school. He had a paper route in the morning, and lived at home. He was learning at the shop, and he became good friends with Sam. Sam told him more what to do then George, and he was even his babysitter when Sam and his wife wanted to go to a show. Dick would watch the two kids as a favor, and Sam would do favors for Dick. Dick's first car was a 1939 Chevrolet sedan, a pretty, clean and stock car. The first thing Sam told Dick was that he had to put some primer spots on it to make it look like it belonged at the shop. Next he came in and gave Dick a full set of Cadillac Sombreros, telling Dick that he needed those. They found a way to screw them on before Sam told Dick that they had to lower the car. Sam gave Dick blocks for the back and they figured how to lower the knee action in front. Finally he came in with a new set of original teardrop skirts for the car. At the time Sam was teaching Dick how to sand and mask. They were taking him through phases, and Dick did a lot of block sanding on the Hirohata Merc. The first thing he ever painted on a car was the dashboard and steering column on Bob Hirohata's 1951 Mercury. By 1952 he was learning how to weld. George had strict rules, and one of these was that all seams had to be fully welded or brazed, not tacked, before leading, so they wouldn't crack later. Back then they did most everything in brazing, and the welding they did was done with coat hangers as the metal was softer and it flowed easier, almost like lead.[11] In 1952, Nick Alexander stopped by Barris Kustoms in order to find out exactly how much it would cost to have a car restyled by Barris Kustoms. The story was published in Motor Trend December 1952 under the name "What is the Cost of Customizing?". According to this story a "Conservative Restyling" in 1952 would run between $300 and $1500. A "Radical Restyling" would run around $2500, while "Complete Jobs" were from $5000 to $10,000.[12]

As Dick Jackson started making more money he bought a 1952 Ford. He started working on it in the shop, and he remembers that you could always work on your own car in the shop after hours. Everybody had their own key, and everyone worked on their cars in the shop after work. Saturday was payday, and sometimes on payday George would be short of money. He then told Dick that they were even as he had used some primer and some paper. If George wouldn't pay him, and he was short of money that week, he would go work somewhere else. When Sam heard that Dick had been working for George Cerny, he would kick him out, telling him not to work for the competition. "You are loyal to us" Sam told Dick. Both Sam and George had a temper. Sam wasn't quite as bad as George. Dick remembers that if you heard George started cussin' and yellin', everybody in the shop would duck for the floor. When Dick worked for Sam and George, George would come in clean, put his dirty clothes on, and get down on the floor weld and cut like everyone else in the shop. George would weld and lead, and he painted everything back then. Sometime around 1955 he moved up to Hollywood, sharing a house with Bill Carr in the Hollywood Hills. He wouldn't come in until after noon, and the guys would have a car ready for him to paint. Normal hours at the shop were 8 a.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. George would stay late because he came in around noon. The reason for this was primarily because he'd be at the Peterson office in the morning working on articles or books. Sam who had a family, quit at 5 p.m.[11]

As George Barris began promoting his business through stories published in hot rod and custom magazines, the little custom shop on Atlantic Blvd. became known all over the country during the mid to late 1950s. Many well known custom builders have spent some time at Barris' customizing cars. Some worked full time while other worked part time every now and then. Several went on to establish their own shop, or work for other builders. One of these was Hers "Junior" Conway. After graduating from high school in 1955, Junior went to work for Barris as a trainee. He started during the Easter of 1955, and worked until the summer, putting in 60 hours a week at $1 per hour. During the summer of 1955, George told Junior that he wasn't worth that much, so he quit and worked at another shop. Gerorge asked Junior back in the summer of 1956, and he always got paid after that. In June of 1956, one month after Junior came back, Sam left the shop.[11] As Barris Kustoms was progressing, Sam was unhappy with his life. Family pressure, the wants for an easy-paced life and the need to return to Roseville all boiled down, and Sam moved back to northern California. At the time he left there were a lot of projects going on in the shop, The Aztec was one of these. The Aztec was one of the last full custom projects Sam worked on. Sam continued to do some custom work in Sacramento at Barris North. But Sam wanted out of the industry, and the El Capitola was the last full custom he completed in 1960. After Sam left, Barris Kustoms were still creating custom cars and hot rods at fast pace. About the same time, Dick Jackson started working other places as well. He would work for shops that paid better, then come back at night and work but take it out in trade for working on his own car. When he finally was the head painter at Barris Kustoms, full time, he had around $2.45 an hour. This was just before the fire, in 1957. He had his 1957 Thunderbird then. When Junior returned to Barris in the summer of 1956 he and Curly Hulbert were the only full-time employees in addition to George. Lyle Lake came and went at the time. Frank Sonzogni was a policeman, and worked only part-time. Bill DeCarr worked full time at the Ford plant in Pico Riviera, and part time at the shop, and Dale Bird, "The Fireman" did also only work part-time. Dick Jackson left Barris not long after the fire, in 1958, to start his own shop, a body shop and custom car studio called Dick's Paint and Body Studio in Compton. Dick was typical of most employees at Barris at the time, both in coming and going and working after hours or part time.[11]

Von Dutch was working at a motorcycle shop in the vicinity and had a reputation for being a good striper and painter. George Barris hired Von Dutch on a part time basis to do paint work for Barris Kustoms. The first job Von Dutch did for Barris Kustoms was to paint the business sign on the outside of the building. According to himself he fooled with the spelling and came up with a "K" instead of a "C" to spell custom, and thereby establishing the Barris' phrase "Kustom Car."[13] While still working out of his shop on 7674 Compton Avenue "Barris's Custom Shop" used the phrase "Kustom Automobiles" and "Kustom Auto Painting" in their advertising. So I guess this kills Von Dutch's story. Von Dutch worked for a while as a "house striper" at Barris Kustoms. But according to Hersh Conway in the book Dean Jeffries 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing and Film, Von Dutch was too moody.[14] Von Dutch was very eccentric, and would get angry if you asked too many questions. If you said something he didn't like he would either paint something stupid, wipe the stripes off your car, or put oil in the paint so your pinstriping wouldn't dry.[13] So George eventually had to let him go. Until Dean Jeffries began practicing pinstriping, Von Dutch had been the only one around doing modern striping. After the word got out that Dean Jeffries, "The Kid" was a pretty good pinstriper George Barris called him and asked if he could do some striping on Johnny Zupan's 1949 Mercury. After he had pinstriped the car, George asked if Dean would work for him. Dean said that he didn't want to work for him, but that he would gladly rent some space from him. George agreed, and Dean moved in to a little spot next door to the Barris Kustoms shop in 1956. Jeffries had now become the new Barris Kustoms "house striper." After the shop fire in 1957 Dean moved into the front of the new building where he rented space alongside Roy Gilbert, the upholsterer.[4] Custom painting was a major part of Barris' operation, and junior Conway emphasized that most of the scallops, panels and similar designs on vehicles like the Ala Kart, Dream Truck, Chilli Catallo's 1932 Ford coupe and so on were laid out and sprayed by either Junior or George, before Jeffries pinstriped.[11]

The Shop Fire

Wednesday December 4th, 1957, during a windy and wet early evening storm a power line strung along the boundary at the back of the shop and sent a shower of sparks on the rear of the shop and started a smoldering fire. Dean Jeffries who worked at the shop at the time was having dinner right across the street. He was the first person to spot the fire and raise the alarm. He stormed into the shop and saved Carol Lewis' 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air that was located inside the shop at the moment. Carol Lewis was Dean Jeffries girlfriend at the time. The firefighters managed to stop the fire just short of the Ala Kart. According to the book Dean Jeffries 50 Fabulous Years in Hot Rods, Racing and Film, 14 cars were destroyed in the fire, including the Wild Kat, Jayne Mansfield's Jaguar, Archie Moore's Jaguar,[14] Bobby Yamazaki's 1954 Mercury and Ron Guidry's 1936 Ford[15] According to Jet December 19, 1957 the number was 12, and not 14. In the same story George estimated the total loss to be $250,000, with the cars valued at $ 100,000 USD.[16] After the fire the insurance company refused to pay compensation, and claimed the fire was an act of God.

Rebuilding the Shop

After the shop fire, George had Gene Simmons take over as general manager so George could concentrate on getting the business back in order. One section of the shop was not touched by the fire, so he set up the workshop there and renovated the rest of the shop. George also extended the shop out back, and added space up front for a Kustom Accessories store and a pinstriping shop that he continued to rent out to Dean Jeffries.[14] One day George called Larry Watson and asked if he could do some panel paint on the Rod & Custom Magazine’s Dream Truck. George had just started painting Candies, and he would shot this Candy Lime over silver. There were a few mistakes, so he called Watson and asked if he could cover them up with scallops in Candy Burgundy over silver metallic. In 1958, not long after painting the Rod & Custom Magazine’s Dream Truck George called Larry again, and asked if he could take over the paint department while he, Dean Jeffries and Bill Carr were going east on a 2 month tour with The Aztec and The kopper Kart. When George called they were building a pizza parlor in front of Larry's shop, so he said ok.[4] At the time, Junior Conway was just a prep boy, but Junior did eventually become the primary painter at Barris Kustoms, and he worked for George until 1961.[14] While George was away, Bill Hines cruised by the shop in his chopped and finned 1950 Ford named the Li'l Bat. Bill had moved from Lincoln Park to California in April of 1958. He brought the whole family in a house trailer along with the Li'l Bat. Bill met Gene Simmons, the manager. He saw Bill's custom and asked who did it? Bill told him that he had built it. This was a wednesday, and Gene, also called Gino, told Bill that he could use somebody right now. Bill told him he could start on Monday, but Gino replied "How about tomorrow?" Bill loaded his toolbox and started the next day. He can't remember what he did first, but Larry Watson said that he did all of the work on his 1958 Ford Thunderbird. When George returned from his trip, he saw Bill in the shop working on a car. He kept looking at Bill for days, without saying much. According to Bill, George was a fussy man, but the reason why he stared was that Bill was doing so good, working extremly fast, something that impressed George.[11] When Dean Jeffries returned from his trip back east, Dean and Larry were kicking ass together, knocking out three or four scallop and flame jobs a day, and pinstriping their asses off in between. After about four months Larry relocated back to his own shop in Bellflower.[4] The walls were beginning to close in on Dean Jeffries at the time, and he saw a demand for his business growing to compete with Barris instead of complementing Barris. Jeffries pulled up stakes and moved his shop to Hollywood. A move that would help start his career building cars for movies.[14] Bill Hines stayed at Barris for about 9 months, working on cars such as Dave Cunningham's 1940 Ford, Mitch Nagao's 1957 Ford Thunderbird and Shirley Barris' 1958 Ford Thunderbird. He left the day before Christmas, moving back to Detroit. He stayed in Detroit all of 1959, before he came back to Barris in October of 1960. George wouldn't pay Bill more than $100 a week, so after a couple of months, when a building came up for rent next to Eddie Martinez, Bill started doing part-time work there. One day George called Bill in the office saying "Hey Willy, I hear you got a shop" He was pretty hot-headed in those days according to Bill, and told him he couldn't make it. But Bill was there for 23 years, running his own shop named Bill Hines Kustom Auto. George had respect for Bill, they were still friends, and Bill continued doing some sub-contracting for George when the shop was busy.[11]

Show Promotions

Throughout the 1950s George worked extensively with show promoters all over the country, but especially in California. George saw the opportunity to make good money there, so with the help of his wife Shirley Barris, as his show manager, he organized several shows, including the International Motor Sports Show in Hollywood in 1959, and the first annual Bakersfield Motor & Boat Show in Bakersfield, California, in 1960. Doing the shows turned out to be very time consuming, so George went back to working with other show promoter such as Harry Costa, Blackie Gejeian, Harold Bagdasarian, and Bob Larivee.

Barris Kustom City

During the 1950s Barris Kustoms had turned out numerous TV and movie cars, and George was perfectly positioned to seek more work in that arena. The main focus of Barris Kustoms in the 1960s turned over to doing commercial work for the movie industry and the model car business. The model car business had long been one of George's great interests. He worked with AMT, which turned his long line of customs and hot rods into scale models. The Ala Kart had become the basis for one of AMT's most popular kits, and AMT Vice President George Toteff could see that his company's association with George Barris and Barris Kustoms was distinctly to its advantage. Budd Anderson from AMT and George Barris got together with Toteff and came up with a plan to create cars for AMT that would serve as prototypes for model kits. The first of these cars was the AMT Styleline Thunderbird issued in 1961. AMT created the Custom Car Caravan which toured the country showing the AMT Styline Thunderbird. The Custom Car Caravan became the seed for the Ford Custom Car Caravan. Late in 1961 George moved his business to Riverside Drive in North Hollywood. The new shop, named Barris Kustom City, was a huge facility capable of any sort of auto building and service. His association with the Ford Custom Car Caravan put enormous pressure on the shop.[11] In 1963, Junior Conway who had been George's primary painter, went on his own, and opened up Junior's House of Color in South Gate. When Junior left, George hired Kerry Camper as his new custom painter. Kerry worked for Barris Kustoms from 1963 to 1964.[17]

In the mid 1960s Barris Kustom City was busy building cars For the Ford Custom Car Caravan. One morning William Dozier, a TV producer rang George and asked how quickly he could come up with a car for the new Batman TV Series he was producing for ABC. "A couple of weeks" answered George. Working with the Ford Custom Car Caravan George had made good connections with Ford Motor Company, so three weeks later he could delivered a finished Batmobile based on the Lincoln Futura Concept Car.

After doing the Batmobile Mercury marketers had seen what George and Barris Kustom City could do, so they got in touch with George wanting him to also build them some unique cars for their own Caravan of Stars Program. David Ash, the head of Mercury Design, contracted Barris Kustom City to build two special cars: a shortened Mercury Marauder, and a full-bodied coach-built custom called the Escapade.

After the Marauder and the Escapade Barris Kustom City built the Munster Koack and the Drag-u-la for the 1966 TV season of the Munsters TV series.

Toward the end of the 1960s the customizing business changed dramatically. Detroit was building some real fun cars, and the auto accessory aftermarket was booing with wheels, body kits, decal packages, and tons of chromed and polished aluminum accessories. George could see this trend clearly, and after having created a lot of accessory items for other companies he started to manufacture items of his own. His Instant Customizing line included body kits and other conversions for Firebirds, Camaros, Cadillacs, Barracudas, and Marlins.

Barris Kustoms Today

Barris Kustom Industries is still alive, and George Barris is running the business its shop located at 10811 Riverside Drive in North Hollywood, California. In an interview with DiecastSpace called "Take a Ride on The Wild Side with George Barris!" in 2009 George tells the listeners that he is done with old shoeboxes and Mercuries, and that his main focus these days are in designing and kustomizing new cars such as the Toyota Prius, Chevrolet Camaro, and the Dodge Challenger.

External Links

Visit in order to dive further into the George Barris Photo Archive

Employees of Barris Kustoms

Bill DeCarr
Bill Hines
Bill Polk
Curly Hurlbert
Dale Bird
Dean Jeffries
Dick Dean
Dick Jackson
Dick Kraft
Dick Sellars
Earl Harman
Frank Sonzogni
Gene Simmons
Hector Ruble
Hector Savadra
Jerry Quesnel
Jesse Lopez
John Manok
Jocko Johnson
Junior Conway
Kerry Camper : 1963 - 1964
Larry Watson
Lloyd Bakan
Louie Stojanovich
Lyle Lake
Michael Gale Black
Oran Breeland
Ralph Manok
Richard "Korky" Korkes
Robert Ruble
Skip Barrett
Ted Long
Tom Chafin
Tom Daniel
Tom McMullen

Cars Restyled by Barris Kustoms

The Cal-Loui Roadster
George Barris Track Roadster
Chet Herbert's Streamliner
The Cadillac LeMans
The Ala Kart
Les Callahan's 1922 Dodge Roadster Pickup
Joe Graffio's 1927 Ford Model T Roadster
Chuck Kirkorian's 1929 Ford Model A Roadster - The Emperor
Jack McDermott's 1929 Ford Roadster
Tom Pollard's 1929 Ford Roadster
Art and Lloyd Chrisman's 1930 Ford Model A Bonneville Coupe
Andy Kassa's 1932 Ford 3-Window Coupe
Clarence Catallo's 1932 Ford Coupe - The Silver Sapphire / The Little Deuce Coupe
George Sein's 1932 Ford 5 Window Coupe - The Flamer
Richard Strock's 1932 Ford
Gil Lippincott's 1934 Ford Tudor
Ed Pink's 1934 Ford 3-Window Coupe
Jim Griepsma's 1934 Ford 3-Window Coupe
George Barris' 1936 Ford Coupe
George Barris' 1936 Ford Convertible
Ron Guidry's 1936 Ford 5-Window Coupe
Dick Fowler's 1938 Ford Coupe
Mickey Chiachi's 1939 Ford
Sam Barris' 1939 Ford Convertible
Bill Spurgeon's 1939 Mercury Coupe
Jim Kierstead's 1939 Mercury Coupe
Bob Crespo's 1940 Ford Coupe - Les Po Po
Dave Cunningham's 1940 Ford Sedan - The Li'l Beauty
Tom Hocker's 1940 Ford
Fred Pape's 1940 LaSalle
Al Andril's 1940 Mercury Coupe
Dick Owens' 1940 Mercury Convertible
John Vara's 1941 Ford Convertible
Johnny Zaro's 1940 Mercury Coupe
Nick Matranga's 1940 Mercury
George Barris' 1941 Buick Convertible
Herb Ogden's 1941 Buick Convertible
Var Martin's 1941 Buick
Vic Grace's 1941 Buick
Dick Arkline's 1941 Chevrolet
Dick Carter's 1941 Ford
Frank Monteleon's 1941 Ford
George Janich's 1941 Ford Business Coupe
Jack Stewart's 1941 Ford
Jesse Lopez' 1941 Ford
Joe Barnett's 1941 Ford Pickup
Joe Graffio's 1941 Ford
Joe Urritta's 1941 Ford
Johnny Zaro's 1941 Ford Convertible
Bill DeCarr's 1941 Mercury
Bob Kierstead's 1941 Mercury Convertible
Bob Tormey's 1941 Mercury
Ann Reynolds' 1942 Ford
Anne De Valle's 1942 Ford Club Coupe
Jack Brumbach's 1942 Ford
Ben Mario's 1947 Buick
Don Vaughn's 1947 Buick
George Sinamark's 1947 Buick
Cliff Rockohn's 1947 Mercury Coupe
John Logg's 1947 Mercury Coupe
Earl Wilson's 1947 Studebaker-The Grecian
Tommy Thornburgh's 1947 Studebaker
Louie Stojanovich's 1947 Plymouth
The High School Confidential 1948 Chevrolets
Bob Petersen's 1948 Cisitalia 202 Coupe
Larry Robins' 1948 Mercury Coupe
Jim Skonzakes' 1949 Buick Roadmaster
Lawrence Kilty's 1949 Cadillac
Bill Taylor's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
Bob Hirohata's 1949 Chevrolet
Carl Abajian's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
Dan Landon's 1949 Chevrolet
Gordon Anderson's 1949 Chevrolet Fleetline
Marcia Campbell's 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
Richard Riuz' 1949 Chevrolet Convertible
Tom Carroll's 1949 Chevrolet
Barris Kustoms' 1949 Ford Woody Wagon
Buster Litton's 1949 Ford
Gene Harkins' 1949 Ford Club Coupe
Michael Violante's 1949 Ford Convertible
Bill Busch's 1949 Mercury
Jerry Quesnel's 1949 Mercury
Johnny Zupan's 1949 Mercury
Louie Bettancourt's 1949 Mercury
Sam Barris' 1949 Mercury
Robert La Briola's 1949 Oldsmobile
Helen Manning's 1950 Chevrolet Fleetline
Al Hentch's 1950 Ford Convertible
Chuck DeWitt's 1950 Ford Convertible
Curt Mendalson's 1950 Ford
Don Fiedlar's 1950 Ford Convertible
Fred Calvin's 1950 Ford
Junior Conway's 1950 Ford
Roy Hansen's 1950 Ford
Bob Muccilli's 1950 Hudson Pacemaker
Bob Lund's 1950 Mercury
Buddy Alcorn's 1950 Mercury
Dale Marshall's 1950 Mercury
Frank Sonzogni's 1950 Mercury
Jerry Reichman's 1950 Mercury 4-door
Ralph Testa's 1950 Mercury
Wally Welch's 1950 Mercury
Larry Ernst's 1951 Chevrolet - The Bel Air Royal
Pete Chiello's 1951 Ford Victoria
Bob Hirohata's 1951 Mercury
Dave Bugarin's 1951 Mercury
Fred Rowe's 1951 Mercury Convertible
Mandy Holder's 1951 Mercury
Don Hurley's 1951 Oldsmobile 88 - The Kopper Dust
Frank Airheart's 1951 Oldsmobile 98 Convertible
Lyle Lake's 1952 Buick Riviera - The Blue Danube
Dick Simoni's 1952 Chevrolet Convertible
Larry Lee's 1952 Chevrolet Bel Air
Ron Fagundes' 1952 Ford Victoria - The Ronbardue Kart
Sam Barris' 1952 Ford
Clark Gable's 1952 Jaguar XK120
Nobby Miyakawa's 1952 Mercury Monterey
Anthony Heinsbergen's Muntz
Jack Nethercutt's 1952 Oldsmobile - The Viennese
Albert Gogola's 1953 Ford
Chuck DeWitt's 1953 Ford Station Wagon
Dick Meyer's 1953 Ford
Harry Karl's 1953 Cadillac Le Mans Concept Car
Barry Goldwater's 1953 Jaguar XK-120
Jim Skonzakes' 1953 Lincoln - The Golden Sahara
Bob Zoll's 1953 Mercury
Buck Gallegos' 1953 Mercury
Archie Moore's 1953 Nash-Healey
Bill Glazier and Bob Glazier's 1953 Oldsmobile
Ed Sloan's 1953 Plymouth
Bruce Bartlett's 1953 Studebaker Starlight Coupe
Tod Clare's 1954 Austin-Healey
Sal Mammano's 1954 Buick Roadmaster Riviera
Milton Melton's 1954 Cadillac - The Parisienne
Liberace's 1954 Cadillac
Martin Srabian and Morris Srabian's 1954 Ford Pickup - The Wild Kat
Bobby Yamazaki's 1954 Mercury
Ronnie Dragoo's 1954 Mercury
Don Chapman's 1954 Studebaker
Bill Carr's 1955 Chevrolet - The Aztec
Chuck Potter's 1955 Chevrolet
Harry Hoskin's 1955 Chevrolet
Jim Seaton's 1955 Chevrolet
John McLaughlin's 1955 Chevrolet
Sam Barris' 1955 Chevrolet
Bill Burnett's 1955 Ford Crown Victoria
Dick Day's 1955 Ford Thunderbird
George Contaoi's 1955 Ford F-100
Richard Axcell's 1955 Ford F-100
Ted Long's 1955 Ford F-100 - The Green Mist
James Dean's 1955 Porsche Spyder 550
George Barris' 1955 Chevrolet Truck - The Kopper Kart
Carol Lewis' 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air
George Barris' 1956 Lincoln Continental
Don Coulter's 1956 Oldsmobile 88
Frank Monteleone's 1956 Ford
Johnny Zupan's 1956 Ford F-100[18]
The El Capitola
George Barris' 1956 Continental Mark II
Andy Kassa's 1957 Ford Thunderbird
Barris Kustom's 1957 Ford Ranchero
Buddy Alcorn's 1957 Ford
Dick Jackson's 1957 Ford Thunderbird
Mitch Nagao's 1957 Ford Thunderbird - The Xtura
Archie Moore's Jaguar
Andy Southard's 1958 Chevrolet Impala
Joe Previte's 1958 Chevrolet Impala
Ray Strappazon's 1958 Chevrolet Impala
Larry Watson's 1958 Ford Thunderbird - Vino Pasiano / The Burgundy Bird
Shirley Barris' 1958 Ford Thunderbird
Spencer Murray's 1958 Chevrolet Pickup
Jim Seaton's 1959 Chevrolet El Camino
Joe Burgasser's 1959 Chevrolet Impala
Norman Wesp's 1959 Chevrolet Impala
Yonny Koyama's 1959 Pontiac Bonneville
Jeannie O'Neal's 1962 Ford Thunderbird
George Barris' 1963 Buick Riviera - The Villa Riviera
Bob Nordskog's 1963 Chevrolet Corvette - The Asteroid
Ken Cohen's 1963 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray
The Cosma Ray
The XPAK 400
The Calico Surfer

Check out King of the Kustomizers: The Art of George Barris



Barris Kustoms of the 1950s
Barris Kustoms of the 1960s
The Rodders Journal Number 39
Take a Ride on The Wild Side with George Barris!

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