This Buick became the first "Barris Brothers" custom car. The
old Buick needed much attention and their creative urges to make
it different took hold. They straightened the body and added
bolt-on accessories before George hand painted the car in orange
with blue stripes. It was promptly sold to purchase a 1929 Model
The brothers interest in cars intensified during their teenage
years as they discovered "the black art" of body work by hanging
out after school at local bodyshops, including Brown's and
Bertolucci's in Sacramento. George created his first full custom
from a used 1936 Ford convertible before he graduated from High
School. This automobile lead to their first commercial customer.
Shortly after George formed a club called Kustoms Car Club where
the first use of "K" for kustoms appeared.
After Sam entered WW ll, George moved to Los Angeles where his
talents began to flourish. He soon opened his first shop in
Bell, a Los Angeles suburb in late 1944. Sam joined him after
his discharge in 1945. They opened a new shop on Compton Ave. in
Los Angeles. The shop was known as the "Barris Brother's Custom
Shop". Sam's natural metal craftmanship served as a perfect foil
to George's desire to design, paint, manage, and promote.
George began to race at Saugus Speedway around 1947. But this
hobby was short lived as the business expanded and took up all
his spare time. Other forces began to take place, the first Hot
Rod Show produced by Robert 'Pete' Petersen founder of Hot Rod
magazine. The Barris brothers were asked to exhibit the only
custom car in the show. The reaction was very positive.
Modern automotive magazines were being published which provided
coverage of the custom car business. George began photographing
autos professionally and writing for the magazines. He was able
to promote his business by demonstrating their techniques
through how-to articles.
The Barris brothers outgrew their shop on Compton and moved to a
larger shop in Lynwood where the famous Hirohata Merc was born.
Sam bought a new two-door Mercury and knew it would make a great
custom. He figured it out all in his head and began cutting it
up and reformed the car. Bob Hirohata admired Sam's style and
brought in his '51 Merc for a full custom job. Sam finished his
car so it could be shown at the 1952 Motorama. It turned out to
be the sensation of the show.
George formed "Kustoms of Los Angeles," which was initially
restricted to Barris customers and later became "Kustoms of
America." The group grew out of weekend custom runs which George
help put together. Kustoms of America is still a major club
today that has a major cruise in Paso Robles.
The movie studios had taken note of Barris kustoms on the
streets and at races and came to George for cars for their
films. One of the first films Barris made cars for was called
"High School Confidential". The success of the initial movie car
venture motivated George to seek business in Hollywood. This
included customizing the personal cars of the stars as well. As
the past forty plus years have shown, this association with the
studios and stars has been long and fascinating.
Shirley Ann Nahas, George's future wife came into the scene and
was an integral part of George's success. She became a strong
nurturing partner in George's life as Sam had already left the
business. George concentrated on promotion as well as
kustomizing. The two went hand in hand. He would travel all over
the country in his creations, with the name "Barris" plastered
everywhere he could, covering car shows and appearing on TV talk
shows. In the late 50's Revell began making model kits of
George's cars. AMT soon joined with the "Ala Kart." Plastic
model kits became the biggest selling toys at the time.
Original kustoms and hot rods continued to roll off George's
drawing board. They were built and decorated by the best
fabricators and craftsmen in the business. This pool of talent
included Bill Hines, Lloyd Bakan, Dick Dean, Dean Jeffries, Von
Dutch, Larry Watson, Hershel "Junior" Conway, John and Ralph
Manok, Bill De Carr, Richard Korkes, Frank Sonzogni, "Jocko"
Johnson, Lyle Lake, Curley Hurlbert, "Gordo", and for a brief
time Tom McMullen. Many of them went on to do their own notable
work. As the sixties began, George shifted gears and bought a
new shop in North Hollywood where he designed and built award
winning cars. He also became a father to daughter Joji and son
Brett. George continues to work out of this shop today.