The custom car designer who created the iconic Batmobile for the 1960s Batman tv series has died from natural causes at 89. Barris’ son announced the new of his father’s passing on Facebook. “Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky,” Brett Barris wrote. “He passed on peacefully in his sleep at 2:45 am. He was surrounded by his family in the comfort of his home. He lived his life they way he wanted til the end. He would want everyone celebrate the passion he had for life and for what he created for all to enjoy. Thank you all for the posts and calls, your love is deeply appreciated. Peace”
Born in Chicago in 1925, George grew up in California and began repairing and modifying automobiles at a young age along with his brother Sam, beginning with a 1925 Buick while the pair were still in high school. Moving to Los Angeles after graduating, Barris began earning a living designing custom cars for private buyers. By the early 1950s, with the encouragement and assistance of his wife, Barris had established Barris Kustom Industries, which not only created custom cars but also licensed the designs for model car companies.
By the late 50s his designs had caught the attention of film and television studios, and he was often commissioned to create cars for both the personal use of executives or talent, or for use as props in productions. Among the films his work appears in are Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, High School Confidential, and George Pal’s The Time Machine.
By the 1960s he was also working heavily on television, and so it was that ABC hired him to design the Batmobile for its then-upcoming Batman tv series starring Adam West. Faced with a three week deadline, Barris modified his own Lincoln Futura, a concept car built by Ghia, rather than build one from scratch. The move proved wise and when the show was a hit, Barris’ reputation was secured. He would go on to design iconic custom vehicles for The Munsters, Mannix, The Beverly Hillbillies, My Mother The Car, and later, replacement KITTs on the NBC series Knight Rider.
But it was, of course, for the Batmobile that Barris was best remembered, and fittingly the car was still turning heads and prompting fights even into the current decade. The design was recently at the center of a lawsuit between DC Entertainment and car replica maker Mark Towle, with Towle losing after the presiding court held that the iconic car was itself a character whose copyright belonged to DC. However, Barris retained ownership of the actual vehicle, and kept it in his private collection for decades. He finally sold it in 2012 to a car collector in Arizona for $4.6 million, following an intense bidding war.