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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Dream Garage

The late George Barris designed a lot extravagant and famous cars during his careers, so picking a favorite was never easy.

Joji Barris-Paster, daughter of the famed “King of the Kustomizers” compared it to having children and saying you have a favorite.

“He was so passionate about every project he got into,” Barris-Paster said. 

Some 60 years after opening Barris Kustom Industries on Riverside Drive in North Hollywood, the business that Barris built and promoted until his death in 2015 is but a shell of its former self. 

The showroom may contain the Munster Koach and a replica of the original Batmobile, just two of the cars that Barris designed for television shows, but except for some personal cars, there are no other vehicles within the buildings on the 10,000-square-foot property. 

Barris Kustom isn’t closing – just relocating once the building is sold. Barris-Paster said she is moving the business to Ventura County to be closer to where she and husband Barry Paster live in Channel Islands Harbor. 

“We want it closer to us. We have to be able to operate and have the cars closer,” she said. “It is now starting to be more than an hour drive. And we don’t need as much space either.” 

The block-long building, which includes a small restaurant next door to the car shop, is listed for $3.95 million, Barris-Paster said, adding, “we have offers that have gone above that amount.”

Barris-Paster started working for her father in 2001, after her mother, Shirley, passed away. Today, it is her, husband Barry, son Jared Barris-Paster and brother Brett Barris who own and operate the company.

With no new car projects are happening anymore, the main business of Barris Kustom is keeping the legacy of George Barris alive for future generations. 

The custom shop displays its vehicles at car shows, sponsors trophies and does a lot of charity work. It is involved with the Petersen Automotive Museum, where Barris-Paster is a lifetime member of the Checkered Flag premier membership group. It also supports two police-sponsored auto education groups Accler8 and DRAGG, or Drag Racing Against Gangs and Graffiti, which teach high school students automotive skills. 

For DRAGG, in the Oxnard Union High School District, the company funds the George Barris Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded to a graduating DRAGG Program Senior who demonstrates exceptional leadership.

“It is a team. Nothing happens with just one person,” Barris-Paster said. “It is nice to have these programs that get these kids into trade schools, and they love it.”

 TV fame

George Barris was born in Chicago in the mid-1920s and moved to Northern California with his older brother Sam in 1928 following the death of their parents. In 1944, Barris opened his first shop with Sam in the city of Bell. It would later relocate first to Compton, then Lynwood and finally to North Hollywood in 1961. 

According to his daughter, it was another family member who got Barris in the San Fernando Valley. He and wife Shirley bought the property at 10811 Riverside Drive and stayed. 

Over the years he was there, Barris designed and built the Batmobile for the campy 1960s television series “Batman,” the Munsters Koach for the “Munsters” TV show; the jalopy truck that brought the Hillbillies to Beverly; and the futuristic KITT for “Knight Rider.” 

“It was a big deal when we decided to sell. It was bittersweet,” Barris-Paster said. “It’s not the same without him. We can only do so much. It takes a lot to maintain cars and keep them going and on the road.”

Beau Boeckmann, president of Galpin Motors and former head of its customization shop, Galpin Auto Sports, does not know when the relationship began between Galpin and Barris. 

But he became aware of it about 20 years ago, at a car show where George Barris was set up nearby to the Galpin booth.  

“So, me, my dad (Bert Boeckmann) and my mom walk over, and my dad says, ‘Hi ya, George,” and George says, “Hi ya, Bert.’ And I’m like, ‘How do you know each other?’ They go way back to the good old days,” the younger Boeckmann said. 

Today, Dave Shuten, a Galpin Auto Sports employee, helps out on restoring Barris cars. He is currently working on a Barrister, a series of coach-built roadsters that are based on the chassis of a C3 Corvette and comes with retro styling. He also worked on restoring the Lil Redd Wrecker, built by Barris for the Redd Foxx series “Sanford and Son” for the Discovery series, “Car Kings,” filmed at Galpin Auto Sports. 

Shuten can do it all when it comes to restoring cars – fabrication, paint and motors, Barris-Paster said.

“He has a knack of keeping that originality and making it look exactly like it did in that time period,” she added. 

Boeckmann called his employee one of the true experts in the car industry when it comes to custom vehicles, whether they were originally built by Barris or his competitor the late Ed “Big Daddy” Roth.

“I don’t know anyone in the industry that is more knowledgeable and skilled than Dave Shuten when it comes to custom cars and show rods,” Boeckmann said. “There is no one who can touch him.” 

Pop culture history

The legacy that Barris-Paster wants to preserve is evident inside the Barris Kustom site in NoHo. 

The walls are covered with posters, signs and photos – many photos of George Barris with celebrities, including Eddie Murphy, the cast of “The A Team,” Bob Hope, Elvis Presley, Elton John, Frank Sinatra. John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and even “Batman” himself, Adam West.

In what had been Barris’s office there is a display of toy Batmobiles, along with other toys from the television series “The Monkees,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “MASH,” “The Green Hornet” and “The Simpsons.” 

In a backroom there are hundreds of boxes marked with movie and television titles or a person’s name that contain letters, photos and other documents related to the cars made or modified for them. 

“This is basically a true American icon story. Your dreams and passions can come true,” Barris-Paster said. “I was raised on ‘I don’t want to hear the word can’t.’ This is living proof of my father’s dreams. And he was passionate. You have to work. You have to put in a lot of labor.”

  Of course, anything dealing with cars involves manual labor – sanding, molding, metal work. And there were no guidelines for Barris and his staff to follow. They were creating all the new styles in car customization. 

“They were really ahead of their time,” Barris-Paster explained. “He just kept going and going and going.” 

Barris was a self-promoter at a time before Google or Twitter or Facebook. He was always at car shows and other industry events. To share his cars with the world, Barris tried every month to get into Hot Rod magazine and other publications put out by Petersen Publishing Co., owned by the late Robert Petersen, the namesake of the Petersen Automotive Museum. 

“They wanted to be in that magazine every month,” Barris-Paster said. “Those were great days.”

Galpin’s Boeckmann recalled George Barris as being a very encouraging person who never said anything negative but was always positive. 

 “They say don’t meet your heroes,” Boeckmann said. “Occasionally you can meet a hero who is worthy of being a hero and George Barris was that man.” 

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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