Interview with Kustom Kar Kreator – George Barris

Interview with Kustom Kar Kreator – George Barris

 

This interview was conducted by Batman Marc.

Hello to all you fellow die-cast fans, “BATMAN” MARC here to let you know the article below is an amazing interview I had done back December of 2006 with the one, the only, the Late GEORGE BARRIS!

For those of you that do NOT recognize who this is, let me share for you a list of his major accomplishments in the customizing of automobile fabrication.

George Barris, owner of Barris Kustom Industries, created back in the 1960 designed the most famous TV car in History!  The 1966 TV Show Batmobile, The Green Hornet’s Black Beauty, The Munsters Mobile, The Monkees-mobile, The A-Team Van, The Dukes of Hazzard Dodge Charger The General LEE,  Ghostbuster’s Ecto-1, and Knightrider K.I.T.T. as well as a plethora of TV & Movie as well as personal Star Cars!

Many of these cars have been fashioned into Die-cast collectibles from many different toy companies, and continue to be desired by collectors such as myself!

Most recently, MATTEL has the license to manufacture, in 1:64 scale for the TV Batmobile, the Ecto-1,  A-Team Van and K.I.T.T.!

Jada Toys has the licensing rights for the 1:43 and 1:24 scale of the TV show Batmobile!

Holy Die-cast dilemma Batman!

Once I found out that Mattel was making a die-cast version of the 1966 TV show Batmobile, I was filled with a sense of urgency to complete a mission that would make my 40+ years of collecting Batman/Batmobile memorabilia complete.

I needed to interview the Man himself, the Godfather & Pioneer of custom car design & fabrication.  The man who was able to create a vehicle that is probably the most recognized automobile in the entire world… I had to interview Mr. George Barris!

With trepidation of being put off or not being able to reach him due to the hectic schedule of his, I went through my Bat-phone Rolodex, located his offices in Las Angeles, California and was able to schedule a phone interview with Mr. Barris personally.

Nervous that I might make a fool of myself being such a huge fan I compiled a list of questions that I wanted to ask Mr. Barris.   I felt that if I was able to get at least a few of them answered before he would be called away or had to get to a meeting that I would be able to put together a short piece just before I ventured off to Toy Fair to visit Mattel’s show room & see for myself what all the raving is about.

Mr. Barris put me at ease immediately as he apologized for making me hold a few minutes while he was wrapping up a meeting in his own office.  He made me feel right at home speaking with me as a fellow fan.  He is probably his own biggest fan.  Truly a gentleman and really a down to earth guy!  I did not so much as ask him questions as we had a wonderful conversation and we spoke for a little more than half an hour.

The following transcript is here for your pleasure.  Read on and enjoy!

George Barris: Hi Marc, Sorry to hang you up like that, had a production meeting.

We are doing a TV show for Nick at Night w/ the Munster Koach.

Marc: I want to thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to speak with me today.  I am a huge fan of your work, most specifically the Batmobile as well as the Monkeemobile & Munster Koach.

GB: Yeah we have some great ones, Huh?

M: Absolutely, I own several model replicas of your cars, the Starsky & Hutch Grand Torino, General Lee, the Monkeemobile, but of all your cars, the most important, favorite car that I own multiples of, the consummate 1966 Batmobile!  In my opinion, the ONE AND ONLY TRUE BATMOBILE!

GB: WELL, I finally got Mattel after 40 years to pick up the license on it from DC Comics and Warner Brothers and it is really (with a short hearty laugh of satisfaction) UNBELIEVABLE!

They just sent out some samples to show people what this is going to be.

They’re on Ebay right now, the ones that were released for a radio promotion we did out here.  $350, $400.00 each! It’s really unbelievable!

M: As you mentioned the Mattel license, this is truly a special year for you now that they picked it up…

GB: …After 40 years, they [WB/DC Comics] finally realized that the public WANTS IT!

It will probably be, I will say, the # 1 toy in the history that’s ever been released in a die cast form in this size.

M: I could not agree with you more.  As I mentioned earlier, I have several versions of your ’66 Batmobile.  Legitimate ones from Corgi/ Husky as well as many different sizes of the bootleg, garage kit models.  I have a resin reproduction version, which came out of Europe that is so small it sits on a dime!

GB: Yeah, some of the ones that came out of Japan, the blue ones, the red ones [referring to the tin stamped & plastic Batmobiles that had flooded the market back in the early to mid-70’s]    (With a light hearted chuckle) those things are worth $2-3 thousand dollars NOW.

M: Well, hopefully, now that a large commercial company like Mattel is producing them, they will do the right thing by you.  I am really very pleased to see this from a collector’s point of view.

M: I don’t know if you are aware that this is not the 1st time Mattel did a reproduction of your Batmobile (referring to the 1968 Switch & Go Batmobile Play set)?

GB: Well, they have never done a REAL reproduction of THE CAR.  Corgi was the only one and they (Mattel) made some supposedly from the 1968 comic book that tried to copy some of my characteristics of the car.  But it was NEVER THE REAL ONE!

GB: Recently, there have been several versions of Batmobiles by DC Comics, the 1950’s, the 1980’s, the 1960’s… and then they [referring to CORGI] put out a bunch of other ones that they called their own.  They flooded the marketplace with all kinds of various improvisators of a Batmobile.   But NEVER was one exactly the duplicate of the REAL BATMOBILE.  In fact, Mattel was so strict about doing the car; we had to pull the car out of Petersen’s Museum.  The # 1 car.  We brought it over here and they had their computer team from Mattel & a computer sizing team that completely scanned that car, every inch of it because it is a metal car, the # 1 car.  It took them about 7 days to get every crease and crevasse of that car.  They went to that extreme to get it where it was the exact duplicate of the # 1 car.  Not the #2, 3, 4, 5… We have 7 cars.  The rest of them were fiberglass cars.  They wanted the #1 car out of 7 that we took out of Petersen’s.

They had covered it with a white powder; they put the dots, markers on it.  That was quite a thrill that they wanted the #1 car the original and not any of the replicas that we made.

M: Now when you say it’s the #1 car, do you mean the car that was used only in the TV show?

GB: Yeah, that was the metal one that was the experimental Lincoln Futura.

That was the car Mattel used.

GB: They retained a computer team as well as Larry Woods who is the Head Designer for Mattel.  They spent a whole week over here totally scanning and re-scanning EVERY INCH of that car.  It’s going to be absolutely terrific.

M: I have seen photographs on a couple of prototypes on some of the Hot Wheels fan websites as to what Mattel did and broke it down…

GB: That’s a funny thing.  Evidentially, somebody bootlegged one of the 1/64th bodies.  Just the shell, it was, I guess in a mold form & it got on Ebay over here and on the 1st day it went up to $400.00.  No tires, no nothing, just the mock up as it would come out of Singapore…  I don’t know how they got it out but somebody must have bootlegged it out onto Ebay and it went up to $400.00 in 1 day.

Now the ones that we are making here [referring to the Hot Wheels production samples of the soon to be released TV Batmobile that Mattel had sent to Barris Kustom Kars], we are making a collector pack… one of my own collector specialties.  That is we are able to put a Barris Kandy apple Seal on it [the Hot Wheels blister card], we use one of our pin crests, which is a cloisonné crest, I autograph it, we got an authenticity certificate also attached to it that I autograph and we put it in a protect-o pack.

So we did promotions for Mattel already with K-Earth Radio at the Grand National Roadster Show last weekend.  And some of the promotional ones we gave out are already on Ebay for $350 Dollars.  It’s interesting to see a 99cent Hot Wheels 1:64th scale going for $350-400 dollars [with a hearty belly laugh]. It shows that the interest is there. TREMENDOUSLY!

We are going to the Comic Con in June over in San Diego and we are going to be over there with the car and myself.  And we are going to be at the Collector Convention in Irvine for Mattel also.  So it will be interesting and we have already been talking with Wal-Mart who wants to do a Morning introduction of the toy here in Southern California.  That means they do something for the collectors.  At 7:am they open for the collectors to shop at Wal-Mart.

Also, there is a big marketing store, one of the biggest collector stores in Southern California.  A 100, 000 square foot building, a hundred vendors selling everything from action figures to toy cars to everything.  They even have schooling there, how to put things together, how to do design.  We are going to do a weekend signing there as well.

So you can see what we are doing in promotions with Mattel.  The joint promotions, We’ve already covered Grand National, we’ve been to the CES show in Vegas, the SEMA Show in Vegas, we will be covered by the World of Wheels show throughout the United States and Autorama throughout the United States for the whole next year and a half.  So about every weekend that’s available, other than SUPER BOWL, we’ll be there.

We didn’t go anywhere on the Super Bowl weekend except to watch the game.  I had to call my buddies down in Miami Florida and laugh at ‘em because, what did they have? pouring rain! [Laughing out loud]!

Anyhow, it’s kind of exciting! As well we are also coming up right now with a young kid in Japan made an action figure of me in my yellow jacket and jeans and my Gazelle glasses and we are having action figures made up as well as bobble heads.

M: That’s amazing.  I am surprised that you haven’t thought about doing that already with all the other action figures that are out there?

GB: We started to do it with Revell years ago before they changed hands.  Now Revell has expanded into another company.  And we will be doing that again with Revell.

RC2 is making changes. They didn’t move too fast in the die-cast car line to understand that guys like Jada & Maisto moves fast & they captured a big chunk of the die-cast car market.  Even in this market place you have stay with the times or someone will move you right out!

 

M:  So True!  Now I understand that Mattel is doing 3 size variations of your Batmobile, a 1:64th, 1:43rd like the original Corgi & a 1:18th scale version.

GB: Now the 1:18th scale as you might be aware, they are only going to build 1966 because that the year we filmed it.  Now that’s is to be a major collector piece.

It’s going to be detailed to the ultimate.  It’s to be an expensive toy!

NOW WE ARE EXPAND ON and make a Barris endorsement version of that, I don’t know what that will go for yet because we are still working on it with our staff.  It will probably include the two-inch cloisonné Barris Crest as well as the authenticity certificate signed, and the packaging; we will probably put that one into the BATCAVE.

M: So what you are saying is that on top of the 1:18 Mattel collector’s edition, you are getting your own version to put out?

GB: Yep, we are getting a certain amount assigned, so that I can make a Barris edition of that which will be coming out of the Batcave. Barris cloisonné crest, an authenticity certificate… I don’t know what price yet, probably be a SUPER EXPENSIVE KOLLETOR PIECE!!!

GB: Something else that a lot of people don’t understand about the movie industry when you build a car, you build more than one because you can use them in different segments and use them for different categories.  Like the hero’s car has to be nice, that’s the # 1 car. That’s the one they drive all the time.  But when they get into a racecar, that’s a different car. That’s because we have to have different safety belts and roll bars.  Then the Drag car’s got a big 429-blown engine by ford motor company.  That again is a different car, it’s the SAME car type but they are equipped with certain conditions to handle that and that is car # 3(Batmobile).

#4 was a Bat-Fuzz car.  That means when we filmed at night, we didn’t want to have reflections on the shiny paint so we put “bat-fuzz” over the whole car so it would not glare.  Then there was #5 the exhibition car. This car had to be pristine. They couldn’t be damaged they couldn’t be hurt.  They go out & Display to the public, all the same cars but we have different segments and categories.  So we have several different versions of the car that were released.  Also, what was of great interest was the touring caravan that toured the Batmobiles around with a ford Galaxie 1966 ford station wagon.  A special trailer that we made which was the official touring trailer for the ford Kustom Kar Karavan.  We are going to make that Caravan available with the Ford wagon and the trailer.  The funny part about it is a guy who came up to me at the car show, I don’t know what ever happen to the trailer after years they disappeared, this guy comes up to me with a piece of metal.  He said; “ I am one of the lucky guys that got your trailer and I’m restoring it.  Would you please autograph this one piece of metal that I can put onto the trailer?”

So we got that Caravan is also going to be available.  And then going on beyond that, we are going to look at trying to make a diorama of the Batcave.  And then even going beyond that we’re going to make a diorama of the home where the Batmobile was made.That’s my plant here in North Hollywood.  So you can see there’s a lot of expansions going on into this marketing of the Batmobile that has never been done before, because we’re talking about 40 years of something that we have made the most # 1 car in the world TV guide, TV Land had applications for people to vote on as to which was the #1 car in the TV world.

M: Yeah, that’s right, I remember watching that show.

GB: Batmobile was 1 Munster Koach was 2.  Out of the top ten cars, we had nine of them.  Starsky & Hutch, The Flintstones…

M: General Lee was in there as well.

GB: Yeah, yeah, (General) Lee was # 3… So you can see the film world/ movie world of automobiles is absolutely fantastic.  We not only capture the top of the Car people, we capture the movie people, the fans & the people that just like the entertainment world.

That makes a lot of difference!

M: well you have a serious hardcore fan base & I am one of them. I thank you again.  It’s just amazing.

GB: I hope this helps your article.  That I gave you a little history about what we did.

M: As you were mentioning the 7 different Batmobiles, I remember there was a movie Rock Star where Mark Wahlberg plays…

GB: That’s True.  That was two versions of the Batmobile that we made for that movie.

M: You made those special just for that movie???

GB: The same cars, but they were made off the tooling of the Batmobile.

M: So on top of the original 7, you made two more just for Rock Star.

GB: The reason why that car was picked was because of Mark Wahlberg!  He said; “ I want a Batmobile in that movie for me.”  He’s really up there, he got a nominee for golden globe this year & also he’s got that TV show called Entourage.

M: Yeah, that’s right, he’s the producer of the show isn’t he?

GB: Yeah, and we have a segment of the Batmobile going in that because he is one of our #1 fans of the Batmobile.

M: So did Mark buy one of those 2 cars?

GB: No, no, they were both commissioned by individuals that wanted the cars so we just took the commissions & borrowed them for the movies & then they went back to their owners.

M: Since your original 7, and your commissioned 2 for the Wahlberg movie, how many others have you made on commission?

GB: Well we haven’t made any more.  Of course there has been what we call “replicas” made.  There’s quite a few of them. We do not endorse them because they are not a Barris Car.  They’ve copied it; they’ve done all that… The problem is they are making them without any authorization from me or Warner Brothers which every time we find somebody we of course serve them with a notice.

It’s very popular that people want to make it and they do it without authorization.

It just goes to show you that it’s the most popular car there is.

M: Have you ever thought about making a miniature version of it?                                                   Personally, myself, I would love to take a mini cooper and customize it for myself.

GB: Well we are in pre-production of doing a TV show with Adam West.  We are going to make what we call a “STREET VERSION” of the Batmobile.  That means it will be a car you can drive that has a resemblance to the Batmobile.  But its street legal, it won’t have all the modifications of the original Batmobile because it HAS TO BE Street legal.

We’re going to make it so if you want to drive your own Batmobile; we are talking to Ford because the original car was Ford [1955 Ford/Lincoln Futura Concept Car].  We are going to take one of the Ford sports cars and make it into our version of a street legal Batmobile.  That means it will have little bat-fins, the little front end, it will have the red stripes and it will have a little arch down the center. So it’s going to be kind of cute. We’re in the stages of working on that.  So we are probably going to release that with the TV show.

M: Now after the TV show, will those cars be available for consumer purchase?

GB: Yes.  We are talking to Ford to then release that car!  This car will also be on MTV’s Pimp your Ride!

As we chatted on a little bit more before Mr. Barris had to take another meeting, he mentioned in closing that his company is working with Mattel even more in-depth on other vehicles from the 1966 TV show.  We all have a lot to look forward to but right now, I can’t waiting to get my hands on the Hot Wheels 1966 TV show Batmobile at my local toy store!  Now it is off to New York City for Toy Fair 2007.

Visit George Barris at his website WWW.BARRIS.COM and catch up with him on his open road tour!

“BATMAN” Marc Rosenzweig is a free-lance journalist who has been a Toy Fair Correspondent reviewing toys for the collectors market going on 20 years.  He was the associate editor of Model & Toy Collector Magazine back in the mid 90’s with Paul Mathias, wrote article for Wizard Entertainment’s Toy Fare Magazine and was a regular columnist for Batman the Animated Newsletter: Go Figure, which can be found in the archives of www.toonzone.net whom Marc has written numerous articles for as well.  Among some of his other accomplishments, Marc has spoken with and interviewed such luminaries as Gumby Creator Art Clokey, Kevin Conroy whom has been the voice of Batman from the animated series since 1992 through 2005 Justice League Animated, Actor Keith David who has voiced Goliath from Disney’s Gargoyles and the voice of Spawn from the HBO original animated series.

Look for Batman Marc’s future articles from New York ComicCon in OCTOBER 2017 here at WWW.TOYHYPEUSA.COM !

Categories: Interviews, Toy News
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