George was born in Chicago in the mid twenties. In 1928, he and his older brother Sam moved to Roseville, California with relatives after their parents died. They both were excellent students especially in drama, music and drawing. George pursued a passion for building scratch-built aircraft models which led to model cars. He won competitions for construction and design.
The family gave the brothers a 1925 Buick in need of repair for the work they did at their restaurant.
This Buick became the first "Barris Brothers" custom car. The old Buick needed much attention and their creative urges to make it different took hold. They straightened the body and added bolt-on accessories before George hand painted the car in orange with blue stripes. It was promptly sold to purchase a 1929 Model A.
The brothers interest in cars intensified during their teenage years as they discovered "the black art" of body work by hanging out after school at local bodyshops, including Brown's and Bertolucci's in Sacramento. George created his first full custom from a used 1936 Ford convertible before he graduated from High School. This automobile lead to their first commercial customer. Shortly after George formed a club called Kustoms Car Club where the first use of "K" for kustoms appeared.
After Sam entered WW II, George moved to Los Angeles where his talents began to flourish. He soon opened his first shop in Bell, a Los Angeles suburb in late 1944. Sam joined him after his discharge in 1945. They opened a new shop on Compton Ave. in Los Angeles. The shop was known as the "Barris Brother's Custom Shop". Sam's natural metal craftmanship served as a perfect foil to George's desire to design, paint, manage, and promote.
George began to race at Saugus Speedway around 1947. But this hobby was short lived as the business expanded and took up all his spare time. Other forces began to take place, the first Hot Rod Show produced by Robert 'Pete' Petersen founder of Hot Rod magazine. The Barris brothers were asked to exhibit the only custom car in the show. The reaction was very positive.
Modern automotive magazines were being published which provided coverage of the custom car business. George began photographing autos professionally and writing for the magazines. He was able to promote his business by demonstrating their techniques through how-to articles.
The Barris brothers outgrew their shop on Compton and moved to a larger shop in Lynwood where the famous Hirohata Merc was born. Sam bought a new two-door Mercury and knew it would make a great custom. He figured it out all in his head and began cutting it up and reformed the car. Bob Hirohata admired Sam's style and brought in his '51 Merc for a full custom job. Sam finished his car so it could be shown at the 1952 Motorama. It turned out to be the sensation of the show.
George formed "Kustoms of Los Angeles," which was initially restricted to Barris customers and later became "Kustoms of America." The group grew out of weekend custom runs which George help put together. Kustoms of America is still a major club today that has a major cruise in Paso Robles.
The movie studios had taken note of Barris kustoms on the streets and at races and came to George for cars for their films. One of the first films Barris made cars for was called "High School Confidential". The success of the initial movie car venture motivated George to seek business in Hollywood. This included customizing the personal cars of the stars as well. As the past forty plus years have shown, this association with the studios and stars has been long and fascinating.
Shirley Ann Nahas, George's future wife came into the scene and was an integral part of George's success. She became a strong nurturing partner in George's life as Sam had already left the business. George concentrated on promotion as well as kustomizing. The two went hand in hand. He would travel all over the country in his creations, with the name "Barris" plastered everywhere he could, covering car shows and appearing on TV talk shows. In the late 50's Revell began making model kits of George's cars. AMT soon joined with the "Ala Kart." Plastic model kits became the biggest selling toys at the time.
Original kustoms and hot rods continued to roll off George's drawing board. They were built and decorated by the best fabricators and craftsmen in the business. This pool of talent included Bill Hines, Lloyd Bakan, Dick Dean, Dean Jeffries, Von Dutch, Larry Watson, Hershel "Junior" Conway, John and Ralph Manok, Bill De Carr, Richard Korkes, Frank Sonzogni, "Jocko" Johnson, Lyle Lake, Curley Hurlbert, "Gordo", and for a brief time Tom McMullen. Many of them went on to do their own notable work. As the sixties began, George shifted gears and bought a new shop in North Hollywood where he designed and built award winning cars. He also became a father to daughter Joji and son Brett. George continues to work out of this shop today
Sam Barris was born on October 6, 1924 in Chicago, Illinois, to Greek immigrant parents. Unfortunately, his mother died when Sam and younger brother George were 4 and 3 years of age, respectively. An aunt and uncle brought the boys to California, to raise them as their own.
Sam grew up in Roseville, a suburb of Sacramento. He joined his brother in Los Angeles immediately after his service in World War II and they began what we now know as the birth of the custom car industry.
In later years, Sam grew tired of thehectic pace in Los Angeles and returned to the Sacramento area and settled in Carmichael to raise his family. He had married Joyce Lampson, his childhood sweetheart with whom he had two children, Johnny and Pam. Sam wanted his children to have the advantages of country life. He was an avid horseman as are both of his children. He worked as a fire fighter and later was elected Fire Commissioner for Carmichael, occasionally doing a custom job or restoring a vintage automobile in his home shop until his untimely passing from cancer in 1967.
His devotion to the art of custom cars put the Barris Brothers on a level never seen before and helped turn a hobby into a profession. Sam won dozens of awards for his work and through the combined efforts of the brothers, Barris Kustoms became the best-known custom car shop in the world.
Sam chopped the top on his own '49 Mercury, creating the classic look that is still revered today, a half century later. He was first to chop a hardtop, Larry Ernst's '51 Bel Air fastback, his own '50 Buick, and the famous Hirohata '51 Merc. The style Sam hammered onto the custom scene is held in great respect and is noted with the Sam Barris Award initiated by his friends Harold and Willie Bagasarian at the Sacramento Autorama every year.
To commemorate the customizing of that very first Merc, Sam's son, John has been joined by family, friends, talented craftsmen and members of the automotive industry to build a '51 Merc as a tribute to his father. Customizers such as Galloway, Himsl, Novelli, Martinez, Winfield, Hollenbeck, Reasoner, Aiello and Barclay are creating a once-in- a-life- time work of automotive art. This special memorial tribute will be used to raise funds for children's cancer research and treatment. The car will possess the classic and traditional style and design of the old Sam Barris custom using the advanced materials, concepts and technology of today. Sam would not have wanted this tribute to be dedicated solely to his legacy, so we are using this special car to raise funds to help children and their families who are struggling against cancer, the same terrible disease that took his life while still a young man.
The Beloved Wife, Love and Best Friend of George Barris; the mother of Joji and Brett Barris and Grandmother to Jared Barris, sent her wonderful spirit to God's care and love on July 30, 2001 at the City of Hope, Duarte, California.
Shirley herself, was a celebration of life, of love and caring! She demonstrated these everyday in her tenderhearted acts of sharing. The smile that could light up a stage! Those big blue eyes that could entrance! But perhaps Shirley's celebration could best be described as a dance. She waltzed through life with a definite rhythm, be it bouncy and dazzling like jazz...
Shirley Barris was a vibrant woman. She was a treasure to those who knew her. All were welcome. She was always busy. Almost nothing could slow her down, she'd just keep going like the energizer bunny.
With Shirley, there was never a dull moment! Her energy and sense of fun seemed to follow her like a parade!
Shirley Nahas was born November 26, 1929 in Joliet, Illinois to her parents, the late Ann and Fred Nahas. Her brother Bill was the first born, August 15, 1928 and Shirley was born 1 year later November 26, 1929. Shirley's beginnings may have been modest, nonetheless, she set goals she aspired to achieve. She spent her early years at the family casino in Lake Tahoe. There, she met George Barris, who swept her off her feet. Of course, she was much too smart to tell him that! After much courting, the two were married on April 25, 1958.
A match like no other, Shirley was always there to cheer and support George in all his business endeavors. After all, she was his biggest fan. Although George became a legend, Shirley Barris was an extraordinary person, who managed to thrive, fascinate and create an identity separate from just being "George Barris' wife." Soon after they were married, Joji came along. According to the birth announcement, she apparently arrived on a flying saucer? Then came Brett. The Encino house was a lively place, filled with the laughter of children and friends.
With Shirley's artistic flair, there was always something new and intriguing -- From one of her many paintings, to a cage of monkeys. And what a glamour queen!! Shirley was way ahead of her time in the beauty department as well!! Although her social schedule was always full, she never failed to help with children's charities. She spent daunting hours fulfilling her duties for Child Help-USA, The Boys & Girls Clubs of Pasadena, St. Jude's Hospital and the Jerry Lewis Telethon.
She touched so many lives and leaves fond memories for all that knew her.
We'll always remember those penetrating eyes, pools of blue, the windows to such a beautiful soul.