Remembering George Barris

November 5th, 2015
George Barris

We're sad to learn that custom car designer George Barris passed away this morning at the age of 89. Barris started out customizing his own cars as a teenager and participating in the street-racing youth culture of the late 1940s in Los Angeles. He began working in low budget Hollywood films that depicted this culture, and soon got into television work. Barris customized the "Batmobile" from Batman, the "Munster Koach" and "Drag-u-la" from The Munsters, the family car from The Beverly Hillbillies, the red and white-striped Ford Torino from Starsky and Hutch, the "General Lee" from The Dukes of Hazzard, and "K.I.T.T." from Knight Rider. He also made contributions to the feature films Ghostbusters, Back to the Future, and The Flintstones

Below are some excerpts from his 2004 Archive interview:

On designing the "Batmobile:"

On the "General Lee" from The Dukes of Hazzard:

Dukes became a super popular car because it made the audience feel like they were John Schneider and Tom [Wopat]. The enthusiasts loved the fact that you were driving a performance car, a Dodge Charger, which was a hot hemi type car. The choice was done by the director and producer for that car. And of course, it was filmed in the southern states, with the 01, General Lee, southern flag… I only put in the design type things. We did that as well as their prop departments, and it was a combination because we had to do so many different cars. The choice of the wheels was Western Mags, and they’re Goodrich tires and all these different things that we used were real. They didn’t like to have the off-brand tire that was not used, and an off-brand wheel that was not used. They wanted the audience to say, "Yeah, those are Western Mags. Oh yeah, those are Goodrich," or, "Yes, that is Goodyear." That was kind of an important product placement. Parts became important, because the audience knew. If you try to phony baloney it, to hide identification, they would get letters at the PR departments that say, "Why did you say that this was this and that when it really wasn’t?" You’ve got your audience out there, and they’re in the thousands, millions of enthusiasts are out there that knows cars, and that’s why a car became an important part.  

On the touring cars for Back to the Future:

My part of Back to the Future got into different stages, because there were three different films. Spielberg had the car do different things, going into space, and then it got burnt up, and different areas got smoked out. We got together with the PR department. They said, "We gotta have a car to tour. There are so many different Back to the Future cars, we want you to pick up the components of one and then get it to tour as well as use it in the film." 

Watch George Barris' full Archive interview and read his obituary in The Hollywood Reporter.

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