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Friday, November 6, 2015

George Barris: Iconic TV Carbuilder’s Career Not Without Blemishes


Copyright © 2015 Bold Ride LLC.

The creator of the 1956 Batmobile for the original series Batman has passed away. George Barris has died at the age of 89, according to a Facebook post from his son. Barris created some of the most iconic cars on TV, but as you’ll see, also had a history of taking credit for others’ work.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, Barris began toying with cars at an early age. In 1925 he moved to Northern CA, and then moved to Los Angeles following World War II. His first shop was on Compton Ave, before moving to North Hollywood.


Barris built cars for Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the 1958 movie High School Confidential, and the 1960 film The Time Machine. But his most famous project came when ABC approached the fabricator to build a car for their show Batman.

 For the car, Barris used a Lincoln Future concept that he previously build, and modified it for the show’s use. It took 15 days to make the car, and it cost $15,000. Barris owned the car until 2013, when it was sold along with the rest of the collection. The Batmobile went for $4.6 million.

Through the notoriety of the Batmobile, Barris would be called upon to build cars for other shows and movies, such as the signature vehicles for The Beverly Hillbillies and The Munsters, as well as others. But his career was not without its blemishes, and when mentioning Barris’ career, cannot be omitted.


Last year, BoldRide alum and current BestRide editor-in-chief, Craig Fitzgerald did a terrific piece disputing multiple claims by Barris made through the years regarding notable TV vehicles. One such car was the The Black Beauty (pictured above) from the series The Green Hornet.

 Barris sent ABC a concept design for this car, but show-runners eventually went with a design pitched and created by Dean Jeffries. Below is a document from William Dozer, producer of Batman and The Green Hornet, and it identifies Jeffries as the builder.


This was not the last time Barris would attempt to take credit for Jeffries’ work. In fact, perhaps the most egregious example came with the Monkeemobile from the hit TV show, The Monkees. Jeffries is listed in the closing credits (pictured below) as a the man who styled the car, but when Monkees co-star Davy Jones passed away in 2013, TMZ stated, “Famed car customizer George Barris — who built the car for the show — tells TMZ, he’s been getting calls non-stop ever since Davy passed away.” Barris was the owner of the car, but only because he bought it. In his interview with TMZ, he referred to Jeffries as an assistant.


Then there’s ECTO-1 from Ghostbusters. In an interview, Barris said of the iconic car from the hit movie: “We got a ’59 Cadillac ambulance. We had to get four or five cars to do the filming, and we had to scour the whole United States.” He goes on to identify the car later: “This is what we call the ‘hero car,’ the one that was used by the stars from the show whenever we did some filming in New York.” The problem is, the car that he is referring to was not the car used in the movie, but a replica, that he purchased from another car builder.

Ghostbusters Ecto-1 3

Finally, we come to the DeLorean from Back to the Future. According to Craig’s 2014 article, Universal Studios sent Barris a cease and desist order “demanding that Barris never again make misrepresentations regarding any involvement with the Back to the Future films. They called upon Barris to remove images of the flying DeLorean from his company’s website.”

It is uncouth to speak ill of the dead, and we are not. We are simply stating facts of a man’s life as they are. A man that took credit for others’ work after during their lives and after their passing. But it is also fact that he is responsible for some of the most iconic cars in TV history, and though the blemishes in his life cannot be overlooked, neither can his contributions to automotive culture.