George Barris: Imagineer of America’s Future
George Barris was one of the original individuals who created the Kustom car and hot rod revolution in postwar America. Born in Chicago in 1928, it was in California that the Barris flair for futuristic tweaks and the unbounded imagination that saw him go on to create some of the most famous hot rods, kooky customs and TV star-cars known to man.
As well as creating the Batmobile, Grease Lightning, General Lee and the Hof’s Kitt car, he was an early harbinger of American Futurism as manifest in these three spectacular silly vehicles. So by way of tribute, here are our three favourite Barris-built kooky kustoms that encapsulated a boyhood dream of the Future – with beautifully distinctive annotations by the great man himself.
“After many hours of research and development, George designed and built this first concept of an all terrain moon mobile unit. The Moonscope is a moon crawler that will enable astronauts to maneuver around the moon surface. Since the moon surface is dusty and soft, craters deep and some hollow, the moon crawler is equipped with special shocks from Carrera to enable it to adapt itself to maneuvering like a spider. Since the moon has no air, gas combustion engines can¹t be used so Cushman engineered and provided a basic electric platform and chassis with General Electric motors. Drive gears are in forward and reverse movement with foot pedals controls and speeds up to 45 mph. NASA requested detailed background information on the design of the vehicle. Barris gave NASA permission to utilize any of the advanced designs for the Mars missions.”
Cosma Ray (1968)
“Underneath the immaculate exterior of Cosma Ray lies a fully chromed undercarriage and a 327 cubic inch Corvette engine which gleams with chrome and polished alloys. The body, although extensively reworked, retains more than a hint of its original Stingray styling. To provide clearance for larger tires, the wheels are radiused and a flange added to their outer edges. The nose was drawn to a sharp peak and the retractable headlights relocated behind translucent panels in the grille opening. Engine cooling air is inducted through aluminum mesh covered openings just under the hood peak, while carburetor air enters the engine compartment through a wide hood scoop extending rear-ward into the cowl area and conforms with the center crease, then follow through into a double streamline plastic bubble push-button operated top.”
Xpac 400 (1963)
“This car is a ground effects machine and rides on a five inch cushion of air and can run on land or water, has no wheels, transmission or rear end. Plus, no frictional moving parts. All electronics are on circuit breakers, racheted relays and solanoids engineered by Earl Wilson. Body paint consists of nitro cellulose lacquer and 35 coats of imported swedish pearl of essence which is made of crushed fish scales and added to crushed diamond dust, then colored in Kandy translucent red, white and blue. This car was designed and built to be demonstrated for the public showing how an air operates and is mounted on a guide rail for safety. All exterior trim has been gold plated for added attraction. “
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