George was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1925. Named after his uncle, George is the younger brother of Sam Barris. After their parents died, Sam and George moved to Roseville, California in the heart of the Sacramento Valley in 1928, or 1929 to live with relatives. Seven years old George began to build balsa wood models of cars and planes. By the time he was nine he was entering and winning model contests sponsored by local hobby shops. He took home prizes for both construction and design. The model car hobby has followed George for the rest of his life. In Hop Up May 1953, in a story about the Barris Brothers, you can read that already by that time the shop and his apartment were filled with small cars of all sizes. George used to chop, channel, and section his toys, testing out new custom tricks and paints. Recent pictures of George Barris in his shop also shows small cars in all kinds of sizes stacked everywhere.
- 1 Fine Arts and Music
- 2 First Car
- 3 Brown's Body Shop
- 4 Hary Westergard
- 5 Moving to Los Angeles
- 6 Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop
- 7 First Shop in Bell
- 8 Zaro and Andrill
- 9 The Compton Shop
- 10 Europe
- 11 Hollywood Hills
- 12 Shirley Nahas
- 13 Show Promtions
- 14 National Roadster Hall of Fame
- 15 AMT
- 16 Barris Kustom City
- 17 BORN BAD - George receives a permanent restraining order
- 18 Barris Kustoms in the 2000s
- 19 George Barris Passes Away
- 20 George Barris' Personal Rides
- 21 Cars Restyled by George Barris
- 22 Check out King of the Kustomizers: The Art of George Barris
- 23 References
- 24 Sources
Fine Arts and Music
In school both George and his brother Sam began to show a great interest in fine arts, and they were encouraged by their family along these lines. The lower grades in school did not offer too much in the way of music or drama so they began taking special classes after regular hours and on Saturdays. This interest undoubtedly stemmed from their being of Greek descent, a nationality that is world famous for its sculpting, painting, music, and drama. George in particular took music lessons by the dozens, and became very talented playing the piano and the saxophone.
In 1938, when the boys went on to high school, George and Sam got their first car, a 1925 Buick. George was 13 years old at the time, and the car was a gift from their mother. While George bashed away on the mangled fenders, Sam painted the car orange and blue with with diagonal stripes of various colors. The Buick became the first Barris Kustoms custom car.  About the same time the boys' training in the arts reached even greater proportion. Their singing in particular won them acclaim at many of the local theaters. That the brothers should have so little regard for the restaurant profession grieved their parents. The theater, they said, was no place for respectable children. When the singing voices of the boys came to the parents over the radio one evening they decided that the theater might not be such a bad idea after all.
After going back and forth to school, music lessons, and various theaters, the brothers had soon run the last bit of use out of the old Buick, so they decided to sell the car and invest in a more recent car, a 1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet. As with the Buick, the Model A also received a new paint job, and it had a lot of accessories added to it. After the Model A, George bought a 1932 Ford Roadster. George's interest in cars, as objects of art, began to mount. He believed that even the latest styles could be improved upon so he began spending all of whatever spare time he could find at Brown's Body Shop, a small Roseville, body and fender shop. At first he watched quietly the way the men did metal work, then as his wonderment climbed he began asking questions. At last the owner put up with George and his endless questions, and put him in to work. He let George do a little welding, as he let George "set in" the license plate of a 1936 Ford. The shop owner was quite surprised at the fine job George did on the car, even if George had run into a lot of trouble. George knew after his first custom job, that restyling automobiles was the thing for him.
While hanging out at Brown's Body Shop, George found a mentor and information resource in Harry Westergard. Harry was a skilled tradesman in traditional body building that worked for Brown's. George began helping Harry whenever time would permit. George 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.
Moving to Los Angeles
When George had started on Sacramento College he knew for sure what his true calling was. He had tried to take a course in design but the college curriculum did not offer this. So he settled half-hearted on a commercial course. By the time he had completed his first year at college World War II was well under way, and 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. George had traded the 1936 Ford Coupe for a 1936 Ford Convertible months earlier. At the time he worked at Brown Brothers in Sacramento, the Convertible was an ongoing project, but while working for Brown Brothers, and before he moved to Los Angeles George had molded the lights and seams on the '36 Ford. He had also chopped and lowered it, removed the handles, fitted it with a 1941 Packard Clipper grille, 1934 Pontiac hood sides, ripple discs, and DeSoto bumpers. 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.
As time went on, George was never assigned to a ship, so he got a job in a body and fender shop. This didn't last long however. The foreman demanded George to straighten fenders, but George wanted to chop or channel something, anything would do. So he quit the job and went on to work for Jones's Body, Fender & Paint Shop instead where 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.
First Shop in Bell
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 body man 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 as proficient at body work as his younger brother business began to pick up.
Zaro and Andrill
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. "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."
The Compton Shop
After opening their first shop, the brother 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 at the map, and the consequently moved their shop to larger premises at 7674 Compton Avenue.
George and the guys were heavily into hot rods at the time. After moving into the 7674 Compton Avenue shop, George built a channeled track roadster in 1948. The roadster featured one of his first flame paint jobs. At the time George lived with Oran Breeland and his folks. Oran worked for Barris Kustoms.
In August of 1951, George went to Europe to study European automotive styling. The influx of European styling had began to enter the American scene, so George decided to go abroad to see what was behind it all. On his trip George visited Italy, Germany, and France. His main purpose was to study the styling trends, but also to visit several European auto shows to see what effect American cars had on the European public. George returned to California full of new designs and ideas in October the same year.
Sometime around 1955 George moved up to Hollywood, sharing a house with Bill Carr in the Hollywood Hills. At the time he wouldn't come in at the shop 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 7 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.
In 1958 George married his girlfriend Shirley Nahas. In 2017 Jerry Anolik told Kustomrama that he was the one that introduced George to Shirley. George came to San Francisco to hang out and go water skiing. Jerry knew Shirley, and one night he took George to dinner at a Casino that Shirley's father ran. George saw Shirley, and he told Jerry that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
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, Blacke Gejeian, Harold Bagdasarian, and Bob Larivee.
During the 12th annual National Roadster Show, held February 22 - 28, 1960, nine pioneers in the creative building field were awarded the first members of the newly created National Roadster Hall of Fame. The nine pioneers were Joe Bailon, Ezra Ehrhardt, Romeo Palamides, Gordon Vann, Harold Casaurang, Robert E. Petersen, George Barris, Wally Parks and Walt Moron. 
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 and Barris Kustoms was distinctly to its advantage. Budd Anderson from AMT and George 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.
In 1961 George opened Barris Kustom City, 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. Within two years he had 25 full time employees working for him, including body guys, painters, sanders, metal shapers, mechanics, upholsterers, fiberglass workers, and general handymen. George was constantly on the road with the Custom Car Caravan and AMT. The business was now taking up an enormous slice of George's day, and he had less time working as a journalist and photographer. George was willing to share his knowledge to readers on how they too could build or own their own custom cars or hot rods. He published a series of Spotlite Books.
BORN BAD - George receives a permanent restraining order
In February of 1965 Steve Scott's Uncertain-T was the star of the Winternationals show. It was featured on the cover of the souvenir program and it took home the prestigious Special Sweepstakes Award. At the end of the show, George Barris slapped Steve, and Steve took George to court. When Steve filed the complaint against George, Ed Roth drew the famous "BORN BAD" cartoon of Steve in "The Uncertain-T." In 2017 Steve told Sondre Kvipt of Kustomrama that the reason for the confrontation was that George had rebuilt the well known Ala Kart, promising the owner that they would win the show. George asserted that Steve had "kiss-assed" the judges to win, and decided to give him a slap. At least seven L.A. Policemen and eight-car show officials and workers witnessed the situation. Steve was awarded a permanent restraining order against George, that if he came within 100 feet of Steve, he would go to jail!
Barris Kustoms in the 2000s
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. Saturday, April 10, 2010 George premiered the first "Barris Kustom 2010 Chevrolet Camaro Spirit" in Burbank, California. The car is a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro designed by George Barris. A VIP event marked the delivery of the first Camaro Spirit to a Chevrolet dealership in the USA: Community Chevrolet, one of the Golden State’s oldest Chevrolet dealerships. The Camaro Spirit represents a new orientation for the famous vehicle design house. “Barris Kustom has entered a new chapter by delivering affordable kustom vehicles direct to the dealer showroom,” said George Barris. “Today many kustom vehicles have entirely too much work done on them, I believe we have succeeded in developing a kustom vehicle with just the right amount of features keeping it affordable to the automotive enthusiast while being made in the USA.” Using the 2010 Camaro 2SS RS as a base, Barris Kustom adds these features among others: Kustom painted hood with deep pearl and metallic accents emphasizing wide, aggressive stance of the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. Kustom painted front fenders and doors. The aerodynamic "Spear" blurs the vision with a striking burst of speed. Kustom 3 bar chrome legend grill. "Spirit" name is added to both fenders along with Barris Kustom Crest insignia. Barris Kustom dash plaque hand signed by George Barris. The Barris "Spirit" Camaro comes with a Certificate of authenticity certifying the vehicle was built by Barris Kustom. It can be ordered with additional exclusive features such as: colour matching Kustom wheels, vertical doors, convertible top and an upgraded sound system.
George Barris Passes Away
George Barris' Personal Rides
George Barris and Sam Barris' 1925 Buick
George Barris' Track Roadster
George Barris' 1927 Ford Model T - The Twister T
George Barris and Sam Barris' 1929 Ford Model A Cabriolet
George Barris' 1929 Ford Model A Roadster
Art and Lloyd Chrisman's 1930 Ford Coupe
George Barris' 1932 Ford
George Barris' 1936 Ford Coupe
George Barris' 1936 Ford Convertible
George Barris' 1941 Buick Convertible
George Barris' 1942 Cadillac Convertible
George Barris' 1952 Lincoln
George Barris' 1953 Lincoln Capri
George Barris' 1955 Chevrolet Truck - The Kopper Kart
George Barris' 1956 Continental Mark II
George Barris' 1963 Buick Riviera - The Villa Riviera
Cars Restyled by George Barris
Check out King of the Kustomizers: The Art of George Barris
- Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 1
- Barris Kustom
- Barris Kustoms of the 1950s
- Barris Kustom Techniques of the 50's Volume 4
- Hop Up May 1953
- Trend Book 208 Custom Cars 2012 Annual
- The Rodder's Journal Number Fifty Six
- Jerry Anolik
- Oakland Tribune, Monday, Feb. 22, 1960
- Steve Scott
- Auto123 - Chevy's Camaro Gets the Barris Treatment
Barris Kustoms of the 1950s
Barris Kustoms of the 1960s
Hop Up May 1953
A Fawcett Book 540 - How to Customize Cars and Rods
Hot Rod Road Show
Did you enjoy this article?
Kustomrama is an encyclopedia dedicated to preserve, share and protect traditional hot rod and custom car history from all over the world.
- Help us keep Kustomrama and history alive. For as little as 1 USD a month you can become a monthly supporter. Click here to learn more.
- Subscribe to our free newsletter and receive regular updates and stories from Kustomrama.
- Do you know someone who would enjoy this article? Click here to forward it.
Can you help us make this article better?
Please get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have additional information or photos to share about George Barris.
This article was made possible by:
SunTec Auto Glass - Auto Glass Services on Vintage and Classic Cars
Finding a replacement windshield, back or side glass can be a difficult task when restoring your vintage or custom classic car. It doesn't have to be though now with auto glass specialist companies like www.suntecautoglass.com. They can source OEM or OEM-equivalent glass for older makes/models; which will ensure a proper fit every time. Check them out for more details!
Do you want to see your company here? Click here for more info about how you can advertise your business on Kustomrama.