Friday, April 10, 2009

The Barris Brothers

The Barris brothers worked at a restaurant owned by their family, and one day were given a 1925 Buick for their help. Although it was not in good shape, they swiftly restored it to running condition, and began to experiment with changing its appearance. This became the first "Barris Brothers custom" car. They sold it at a profit to buy another project vehicle, and their career was born. Before George had even graduated from high school, demand for the boys' work was growing, and they had created a club for owners of custom vehicles, called the Kustoms Car Club. This was the first use of the spelling "kustom," which would become associated with Barris.

In 1951, Sam had customized a new Mercury coupe for himself, and a customer who saw it ordered a similar car. This vehicle, known as the Hirohata Merc for its owner, was shown at the 1952 Motorama auto show and was so popular it overshadowed the best work of Detroit's top designers, on display at the major manufacturer's exhibits. It also established the early 1950s Mercury as possibly the classic base for custom car design, a status it retains today.

Sam decided to leave the business in the '50s, but George had married and he credited his wife Shirley with major assistance in promoting the company, which eventually became Barris Kustom Industries. It began to license its designs to model car manufacturers such as Aurora, AMT and MPC which spread the Barris name into every hobby, department, and discount store in the country and also into the minds of millions of eager model builders.

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