January 20, 2013

George Barris GTO


The original George Barris Batmobile sold for 4.2 million dollars at Barrett-Jackson on Saturday.  4.2 million.  Wow.

I’ve driven a George Barris designed car.  It was a “Look at me” orange GTO and, boy, did everyone look at me.  This car caused other drivers on the highway to slow down and move around me to get a good look at the whole car.   


Price: $90,000 at auction
Engine: 5.7L V8, 350hp
Transmission: 6 speed manual
Wheelbase: 109.8in
MPG rating: 15 city/20 hwy

Barris’ website declares him the “King of Kustomizers.”  Sorry, kids, you weren’t the first to misspell words on purpose to be cool or alternative.


Barris and his brother, Sam, began kustomizing cars in the 30’s.  They have a long history of taking cars, kustomizing them, and selling them.  Eventually Hollywood had them build some cars.  Their shop is still located in the LA area today.  Sam has passed away, though…

Barris’ name is attached to a number of famous movie cars.  The Batmobile is his creation and there are some others, but his website claims a lot of cars that he didn’t design, but made modifications to.  He did not design the “General Lee”, but his website lists it as one of his many TV & Movie cars.  This practice has not endeared George to many in the car customizing world.  Needless to say, the original Batmobile is still iconic.

In 2004 Pontiac (Remember Pontiac?) redesigned the GTO.  GM based it off another GM product; a Holden Monaro.  Holden’s are what GM sells down under.  G’day, mate (How many Aussies did I just offend?).  The Monaro is general thought of as a simple, powerful, and fun to drive sideways muscle car.  The new GTO was generally regarded as an underwhelming flop.  It did have a great powertrain and that’s about it…


The Barris GTO was built in 31 days.  The contract to build it was written on a napkin.  At least that’s the story that comes up the most when you Google “George Barris GTO.”  The design is supposed to be “if the GTO kept evolving.”  To me; it’s birdlike with a close cropped hair cut…

My first impression seeing the car is that, “This is not a car for me.  It doesn’t have a roof.”  There is no roof and there isn’t a frame to the top of the wind shield.  Without the frame, the wind shield buffets in the wind.  It moves.  A lot.


The doors are the next major feature.  Vertical Doors, Inc. installed them.  They open slightly to the side, but then go vertical.  The doors look great, like a Lambo, but functionally they’re a pain in the ass.    The unlock button on the key fob opens the driver’s door and the lock button opens the passenger door. There are no door handles.   I was in and out of the doors quite a bit while reviewing the car and eventually I was “Dukes of Hazarding” in and out.  


I was very careful not to step on the Ostrich leather covered seats.  You could see the elastic straps that hold the seat covers in place.  It was a very warm day and the A/C still worked perfectly, but the Ostrich radiated heat like an oven.  With no roof, the sun came streaming into the interior and you could smell the ostrich burgers simmering.  


The orange wheels are also not my cup of tea and make the GTO ride like you’re getting punched in the kidneys by every pot hole.  It is not a comfortable ride.  The whole car rattles.  The tweeters for the stereo were popping out of the doors when you closed them too hard.  The interior is sketch (not good).


The best part of this car is that they didn’t touch the powertrain.  It’s GM LS power and sounds fantastic.  That’s the best part of no roof; the exhaust sound comes straight into the cockpit.  Tunnels turn the exhaust into a symphony that sounds like it’s literally in your ear canals.  Literally.

I have driven a piece of George Barris’ history.  It’s not the piece I would have picked, but it is still a part of car history.  He’s modified some other contemporary cars (some Dodge Challengers and a Smart Car), but they don’t amaze like the hot rods from the 30’s-60’s.  Personally I wish they would stick to the hot rods and leave the new stuff to the younger customizing shops.  


The whole project started when people complained about the GTO’s redesign in 2004.  Barris thought he could do a better job.  He ruined it.  I really hope whoever bought the Batmobile for 4.2 million does not find out that he spent that much money on a piece of s#!&.

Tune in next week.  Will the Joker finally finish off the Caped Crusader?  Will Robin ever admit to being gay for Batman?  Will I ever make a joke that isn’t inappropriate? 

Probably not.

*Update: The Batmobile sold for 4.6 million, not 4.2...

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