George Barris, the man who designed the original Batmobile and other iconic cars for some of the biggest names in Hollywood, died last week at the age of 89. A family spokesman tells the Los Angeles Times that the cause was cancer.
Throughout his career, Barris designed iconic cars for movies, TV shows, and celebrities, earning a reputation for his flamboyant, colorful style. The Batmobile, his most famous design, was a modified 1955 Ford Lincoln Futura that Barris customized in 15 days at a cost of $15,000. The car was featured in the original Batman TV series starring Adam West, and Barris kept it in his private collection until 2012, when he put it up for auction. It eventually sold for $4.2 million.
"He made customizing accessible."
Barris was born in Chicago to Greek immigrants, and moved to California to live with his uncle after his mother died when he was a toddler. He began restoring and tinkering with cars at an early age, and later moved to Los Angeles at the age of 18, where he set up a custom shop with his brother.
He soon became known for his daring, flashy designs, and landed jobs customizing cars for Hollywood sets and high-profile clients, including Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley, Sylvester Stallone, and Michael Jackson. His customizations include "The Munsters Koach" for The Munsters TV show, "Black Beauty" for The Green Hornet, and "Little Bastard" — a customized Porsche Spyder that James Dean was driving at the time of his fatal crash in 1955.
Today, Barris' name has become synonymous with the California car culture of the 20th century. Experts say he helped to redefine the field of car customization, elevating it to a new, more populist art form. "Most people thought that to customize a car you had to go to a coachbuilder and spend a lot of money to do it," Leslie Kendall, chief curator of the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, tells the Times. "He said, 'No, I can do this with a few simple modifications and not a lot of time and money.' He made customizing accessible."