In the late 1950s, California-based hot rod shop Barris Kustoms was beginning to make waves in the custom car world. George Barris had been tweaking, customizing and restyling cars since early in the decade. After moving to Los Angeles to start his own shop, George and his brother Sam pioneered many of the techniques and styles that set the standard for the hot rodding world in the coming years. Along with other pro builders like Ed Roth, Dean Jeffries, Gene Winfield, the Barris Brothers helped to establish hot-rodding in mainstream American culture.
Barris had been building cars for private clients since his high-school days. By the time Barris Kustoms was in full swing, they were getting commissions from television and film stars, musicians and Hollywood studios. In the mid-1960s, George was approached by Accessories International to build them a promotional vehicle that would be a show stopper used to highlight their parts. Accessories International supplied various bolt-on accessories such as wheel spinners, regulator covers and valve-cover dress up kits. Many Accessories International parts were sold with Barris Kustoms branding. For their promotional vehicle, they chose a 1958 Corvette that was purchased new by the company and handed it over to Barris to work his magic. George set to work heavily modifying the Corvette, using Bill Mitchell’s XP 700 as a source of inspiration.
The GM XP 700 was a 1958 Corvette that was reworked by Mitchell (the Head of GM Styling from 1958-1977) as a GM Dream Car, which he also used as a daily driver for the first year of its life. The XP 700 had a pronounced, extended grille and double-headlight pods in the front, deeply sculpted side coves and lots of sweeps highlighted by crisp feature lines. It was revised in 1959, when Mitchell added a plexiglass bubble top that had been sprayed with vaporized aluminum to reflect the heat of the sun. The XP 700 was pilfered to make the XP 755 “Mako Shark” in 1961 which still survives to this day, though the XP 700 body has long since been destroyed.
For Barris’ work on the Accessories International Corvette, he began with a dramatic restyling of the front end, extending the quad headlights outward on more pronounced “pods”. The grille drew directly from the XP 700, featuring a dramatic oval shaped affair with integrated side scoops. An additional hood scoop fed air to the carburetor, and the signature 1958 ‘Vette hood louvers and trim were smoothed out. In the rear, the heavy chrome trim was removed and smoothed, and sharp pronounced Jet Age fins were grafted to the tops of the quarters. A 1958 Impala roof vent was grafted into the hard top. The car was then painted in a lurid blue with silver coves and a silver painted hard top, again mimicking the aluminum-hued Plexiglas top on the original XP 700. It was then fitted with the whole range of Accessories International parts, from the wheels on up, and was soon touring the country, as the poster-child for AI accessories at custom car shows, trade shows and other special events.
Today, the Barris Kustoms 1958 Corvette presents in very good condition with the original Barris modifications and AI parts still largely intact. It is a super cool and highly authentic period piece, down to the AAA whitewall bias ply tires mounted on genuine Ansen magnesium wheels outfitted with Accessories International spinners. The drivetrain consists of a 1960’s period 327/four-barrel mated to a four-speed manual ‘box with Hurst shifter. The cabin is also highly original, with black upholstered seats and a period wood-rimmed Grant steering wheel. All in, this is an interesting and totally unique piece of Kustom Car history that presents in very original, very well-preserved condition. Genuine Barris Kustoms cars are highly collectible pieces of Americana, and this particular car’s unique history and array of period parts add yet more layers of desirability. This 1958 Corvette is sure to be a hit at vintage hot-rod events, Good Guys cruises or any gathering of Kustom Kulture enthusiasts.