Millions of fans of classic TV shows and movies may not know George Barris by name but they certainly know his work. Dubbed "King of the Kustomizers," (the spelling for which he is most associated), Barris is most famous for designing the Batmobile for both the Adam West-era TV series and the Tim Burton movies.
His credits can also be seen with K.I.T.T., the talking Trans Am from "Knight Rider," to the "Dukes of Hazard"'s General Lee, the "Drag-U-la" hot rod from "The Munsters," and the DeLorean from the Back to the Future trilogy.
Signing autographs and chatting with legions of fans at the Cradle of Aviation complex Saturday morning among the actual vehicles used in filming and a few replicas, Barris recalled his initial attempt at customizing his first car in 1938 at the age of 13.
"My parents had a restaurant, they had me washing dishes," he said. "I said 'if they're going to be round, they got to be wheels,' because I liked cars. So they supported me and they gave me their 1925 Buick." Barris then threw together paint from the local hardware store for scalloping, fox tails bought from the five-and-dime store, and pots and pans from his family kitchen to make hubcaps.
"Then I went to my mom's cabinets and took the gold knobs off of that cabinet and put them on the grill," Barris said. "Looked great, but when I got home, poor mom couldn't get in the cabinet because I had all the knobs."
Barris can recall a number of stories for each of the cars he has built, as well as work he has done for celebrities over his career, including another "King."
"We did a lot of work for Elvis," Barris said, recalling that he bought Presley a Greyhound bus, customized it and he and the Memphis Mafia drove it to Vegas.
"It was about four o'clock in the morning and he says 'George, I'm just finishing recording, I'd sure like to drive my bus,' I said 'alright, come on down.' He comes down at four in the morning – Joe Esposito, Chief (Ray Sitton), all the gang - jump in the bus… and off we went to Vegas."
Barris will be present to sign autographs and chat with fans Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The event is to help raise money for the new "autoseum" for Nassau County which will combine exhibits of well-known Hollywood cars with a training center to repair and customize cars for use in locally produced films.