The 1960’s proved to be a fruitful time for the American custom car scene. Hot Rodding culture was becoming ever more mainstream and regularly depicted in movies, television and print. For hot-rod builders, new materials, techniques and influences were being applied to cars and the boundaries were pushed ever further thanks to the efforts of a new-school of creative forces, led by the likes of Ed Roth, Dean Jeffries, Gene Winfield and George Barris. Together with other designers, artists and car builders, the Kustom Kulture was born. The Kustom movement was a further evolution of the traditional American hot rod, which gradually moved away from dry-lake roadsters and into more sophisticated machines, many based on 1940s and 1950s sedans with heavily modified bodies and complex paint work. As the decade wore on, these builders often constructed ever more dramatic and downright whacky “theme” cars for show competition as well as television and movies.
George Barris, along with his brother Sam started building cars when they were teenagers in California. In high school, they started the “Kustoms Car Club” and spend every waking moment working on and around cars. At just 18 years of age, George moved to Los Angeles and founded the Barris Kustom Shop where he continued building customized and restyled cars for an ever growing list of clients. The Los Angeles location of the shop meant the shop soon attracted the attention of Hollywood execs and they began designing and building cars for a multitude of Hollywood movies and television programs. Barris’ first movie car was a customized 1946 Chevrolet used in the teen crime drama, High School Confidential from 1958. More Hollywood work followed, including arguably Barris’ most famous design, the original Batmobile from the 1966 Batman television series. Further projects included such pop-culture icons as The Munsters “Drag-U-La”, The Jalopy from the Beverly Hillbillies, a ’71 Lincoln from The Car and K.I.T.T. from Knight Rider.
Of course, George Barris built a number of cars for his own personal use but few have survived untouched, as they were often sold off to finance his next project. After many years supplying cars for Hollywood movies and movie stars, George treated himself a 1978 Ferrari 308 GTS. He loved the Ferrari and he immediately joined the Ferrari club to share in his excitement. At a club meet, he realized all of the cars looked the same and he couldn’t tell which was his! So of course, he set to work modifying the Ferrari with the signature Barris Kustoms look, no matter how pretty the original Pininfarina styling was. So Starting with a widebody kit, the front and rear fenders were dramatically flared to accommodate extra-wide BBS wheels and tires. The pop up headlights were binned in favor of driving lights behind amber covers, much like the contemporary 512 Berlinetta Boxer. Headlamps were relocated to the grille below the bumper, and a deep chin spoiler was fitted, while a custom grille was fabricated for the rear. The resulting re-styling is not unlike a Boxer or 288GTO, though the similarities end with the silhouette, this is a Barris Kustom, after all! With body modifications complete, the 308 was then refinished in an unmistakably Barris-esque two-tone color scheme. Metallic gold upper panels and metallic copper lower panels are separated by green, white and red stripes around the lower beltline. Real gold leaf pinstriping adorns the upper bodywork and ties in the gold-finished BBS RS alloy wheels. Never one for subtleties, this 308 is quintessentially George Barris.
George didn’t hold back when it came to the interior, either. His touches are everywhere you look, from the re-upholstered seats that continue the Italian flag motif, to the fully custom digital instrument pod and center console. Period high-tech bits include an integrated NEC telephone, Sony television, Kenwood audio system, and back up camera. Gold plating adorns the spokes on the Nardi steering wheel and much of the switchgear and interior hardware. After completion, Barris’ 308 made a cameo appearance on Knight Rider as the “Dagger D-X”, an aptly named ride for a T.V. villain and adversary for Michael Knight.
Importantly, the quality and value of this car go beyond its history. Mechanically, this is a very sound and usable carbureted 308 GTS with just 8,000 miles from new. It has been very well kept over the years and it presents in great condition, mechanically as well as cosmetically. Barris’ quality workmanship is reflected in the fact that the car has survived so very well over the years. While the television history is certainly an interesting aside, the true significance of this automobile lays in the fact that this was George Barris’ personal car, designed and built by the man himself; a man that was one of the most influential players in the intersection of the Hot Rod and American popular culture.
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