BARRIS MYSTERY PARKED CAR
In 1994 I saw a Mystery Car in the background of one photo taken at the Barris Shop. The shape of the top intrigued me, and I wanted to know more about it. 23 years later I have found several more photos of the car, but I still do not know much about it.
For as long as I can remember liking Custom Cars and the history of Custom Cars I have been fascinated by old photos showing Custom Cars. Not just the real subject matter of these photos, like the subject cars, people or shops, bet perhaps even more in the objects that just happened to be in the background of these photos. The quest to find out about the Mystery car in this article comes from this fascination for all the stuff that goes on in the bacround of these photos, and especially those taken at the famous Custom Car Shop in the 1950’s to mid 1950’s.
The first time I spotted this photo was in the Barris Kustoms of the 1950’s book, where the car appeared in the background, being parked in front of the Barris Atlantic Blvd shop when the photographer snapped some photos of the two 1948 Chevy Coupes being created for the Highschool Convidential movie. I scanned the photo, cropped it and saved the scans in my Mystery Barris Customs folder on my computer.
The first time I spotted the Mystery Car was in this photo that was used in the Barris Kustoms of the 1950’s book published in 1994. I loved the Highschool Confidential twin Chevy’s in the forground, but what was that other car in the background, sitting in front of the shop wall, just behind the Chevy on the right? (photo taken ca 1956)
Enlarged section of the photo gives us a little more details. With the wrap around rear window, the pointy chopped quarter window and teardrop shaped rear fender it looked like a 49-50 Chevy Coupe perhaps? I was intrigued!
From what I could see in that one photo, the car looked very interesting. Possibly based on a ’49-50 Chevy Coupe with an unusual wrap around rear window. Some time later I came across a few more photos that showed more small portions of this mystery Custom Coupe. I was now able to tell that the car was not a Chevy, as I had thought previously, but rather a ’41-48 FoMoCo based Coupe. And I noticed that the car must have been parked there, in front of the shop for quite some time. It made me wonder if it perhaps was a shop employees personal project-car. Perhaps the employee had thought he could work on the car after work, but found it hard to find the actual time to do make actual progress. Or perhaps it was one of those projects that was started for a client, and the client lost interest, or perhaps had been drafted to Korea?
Later, in several of the Kustom Technique books a few more photos showed up with the same car in the background. This photo is nice, since it also shows the abandoned sectioned Ford Victoria parked all the way to the left in this photo. The Sectioned Victoria would be discussed in on of the Technique books (no 1), but the Mystery Car was never mentioned. (photo taken ca 1956)
Another car featured in the Barris Kustoms Technique No. 1 , a chopped ’54 Ford showed one photo with the mystery car in the background. And this time I was able to see the front fenders and windshield. Undoubtedly this car was a based on a ’41-48 FoMoCo body, and the front fenders look to be late 40’s early 50’s Oldsmobile units mounted very high, almost level with the belt-line onto the body. (photo taken around 1954-55)
Another piece of the puzzle came from a photo in the Barris Kustoms Technique No.3 published in 1997. In one of the photos showing and almost finished Earl Wilson’s 1947 Studebaker four door “Grecian”, parked in front of the furniture shop next door to Barris, I could see that the car had ’48-’49 Cadillac rear fenders and taillights added. Interesting! (photo taken around 1953-54)
Lyle Lake’s ’52 Buick finished in its first (and best looking) version parked next to the Barris Shop. Thru the open garage door and office door at the front we can spot a small portion of our Mystery Custom. This photo was taken around 1956.
In late 2006 Barry Mazza came to the rescue… well sort of. He send me this great color photo of our Mystery Barris Custom, sitting with the sectioned Ford Victoria on the side of the Barris parking lot, just across the large shop doors. This was the first time I had a good view at the complete car.
Enlarged section of the photo shows that the main Ford body was sectioned, the Cadillac rear fenders mounted high on the rear quarters with the top of the fenders level with the belt-line. The front Oldsmobile fenders are installed, but the door panel work was started, with a tubular structure welded to the Ford door, but without the outer sheet metal. The top on the car looks very interesting with the pointy rear quarter window and panoramic rear window. The rounded corners on the door and the whole feel of the top could indicate this might have been an older custom at the shop for a make over… perhaps.
Barry Mazza had been sharing his wonderful Custom Car Photo Collection with me, and one day Barry had emailed me a few more. Exited, as I always was when I got some new material from Barry, I opened the email attachments and found among some other great pictures an absolutely fantastic color photo, showing the Mystery Custom parked at a different spot at the Barris Shop. In this photo the mystery car was parked next to the neighboring building, right across the large doors from the shop. It was parked next to the sectioned Ford Shoebox Victoria that the Barris shop had started for a client, and who never came back to the shop to pay the bill or for more work done to the car. In the end Barris repossessed it, trying to find somebody interested in the project but nobody apparently was, and according George Barris that Vickey was scrapped. This color photo for the first time showed the complete car in one picture.
I now had a really nice look at this car, and I have to say it looks really interesting and well proportioned. From this photo I was able to tell the ’41 – 48 Ford body, most likely a long door coupe, had been sectioned, before the Oldsfront fenders and Cadillac rear fenders had been crafted to it. They never got arround to do the door panels with the oldsmobile door sheet metal, but they had created a tubular frame for it. The photo showed that the chopped top had a really nice profile, the rear quarter windows had an unusual (for that model) pointy shaped rear quarter window, but that the pointy rear corner worked really fantastic with the wrap around rear window. In none of the photos I have seen the car has a hood, so I guess they also never got around to create that. But if they had, it must have been a scratch built hood, possibly modeled after the 49-51 Ford hoods, in a similar way as was done on Jack Stewart’s ’41 Ford.
The photo taken for Life Magazine hows the Ford and how the body was sectioned with a rough well in the center of the door panel. It also shows the tube welded to the top of the door, just below the belt-line, most likely to use as a guide for mounting the Oldsmobile door panels, fender extensions. The sectioned Ford Victoria can bee seen sitting next to the neighbor house in the background.
The last photo’s I came across – not the last time-frame wise, but actually from late 1952 – are from a Life Magazine photo session. The car can be seen in this photo (it actually can be seen in few photos from this series) still parked in front of the shop, close to the front wall of the main building. This photo shows clearly how the body had been sectioned right across the door panel on the Ford body. An indication that the sectioning was done with the new Olds Fenders already in mind, the Olds fender panels would hide the rough sectioning job.
December 7, 1957 “the worst day in Custom Car History”, fire at the Barris shop destroyed many custom cars including another mystery Ford Coupe. In the background we can see that our Mystery Car is still parked against the next-door building.
The Barris Aztec a sectioned and chopped ’55 Chevy pick-up and along side the Junior Conway ’50 Ford at the Barris Shop, and in the background on the left side our Mystery Car. This photo was most likely taken after the shop fire, but I’m not 100% sure, it could also have been taken earlier in 1957.
This photo was taken in the summer of 1958 by Lloyd Willey (according the Rodder’s Journal Scrapbook) We can see Junior Conway’s ’50 Ford, and the car in the front is a wild Custom Merc Barris was creating for “the Twins” On the left side we can see that the sectioned Ford Victoria is still parked in the same spot, and just in front of it we can see the Olds fender of our mystery car. So in the summer of 1958 the car was still at the Barris Shop, untouched.
This photo of the Barris shop was taken around 1960, shorty before the Big Barris Kustom City was put up in the front. It shows that both the sectioned Ford Victoria as well as our Mystery Custom are now gone.
At one point when I started to think about this mystery Custom my mind wandered off to another famous custom car, one that has a lot of similarities in its restyling. the Frank Monteleon 1941 Ford. I knew it could not be the same car, but Frank’s car was also based on an older model, from 1941, to which newer fenders and complete sides had beed crafted. The Monteleon Custom was started a bit later than our mystery Custom, so perhaps seeing this mystery Custom parked in front of the Barris Shop might have inspired Frank to do his ’41 Ford… who knows.
We know that the Sectioned Ford Victoria, which was parked next to our mystery car for at least a year, perhaps longer, was eventually scrapped (According to George Barris). Is the same sad thing happened to our mystery Custom? In photos from around 1960 and newer the car is gone… and we all know that at this time, the late 50’s early 60’s, the interest in older cars was not very big. Everybody wanted to have more modern cars to start with. Mild Customs were the rage, and nobody really was interested in these full customs based on old cars, especially in a far from finished state.
The Frank Monteleon 1941 Ford does show some similarities with our Mystery Car. It is based on an older model, 1941 Ford, and had newer Oldsmobile fenders and a wrap around rear window added. Perhaps Frank’s car was inspired by our Mystery Custom…
Dating the photos of the Mystery Car
Over the years I have come across quite a view photos that showed this mystery Custom. Many things about this car intrigued me, and one of the things was that it was sitting left alone at the Barris Shop for many years… why? With the help of all the photos I have tried to figure out how long the car has been at the Barris Shop, untouched.
Parked in front of the shop
- The oldest photo I have noticed the car on comes from the Life Magazine photo shoot. This must have been in late 1952, and more likely early 1953.
- Earl Wilson 1947 Studebaker Grecian was first published unfinished in August ’53 R&C A similar unfinished Grecian can be seen in one of the Life Magazine photos. The finished Grecian was published in July 1954 Motor Life magazine.
- 1954 Mercury Chimbo (Bobby Yamazaki) taken in most likely late 1954, early 1955
- Highschool confidential cars were created in 1956
- Lyle Lake 52 Buick uses ’56 Lincoln hubcaps, photo taken in late ’55, early ’56.
Parked along side the shop
- Barris Fire in December 7, 1957, car is sitting next to the neighboring building.
- Summer 1958 Lloyd Willey trip to Barris photo. (Last known photo)
Over the years (23) I have been looking for more info on this car, I have asked numerous people if they remember anything about this mystery Custom at the Barris Shop. So far nobody knows anything. Some remember the car from sitting at the shop, but none of them had ever asked about the car, it just sat there. I hope that with this Custom Car Chronicle article I will be able to find out any more about this car. Who was the owner, what was the plan for the car, and why was the work stopped, and perhaps most of all, why was it parked at the Barris Shop from 1953 till at least the summer of 1958. If any of you knows anything more about this mystery FoMoCo based Custom with very interesting chop, panoramic rear window, and many other interesting feature, then please let me know. I would love to find some more pieces to this Custom Car History puzzle. Please email Rik if you have any more information about this car, who was the owner, what were the plans for it, and what happened to it.
I think the car had a lot of potential, what was done was already very pleasing to the eye, and I can imaging the car with the door panels in place sitting nice and low with a slight speed-boat stance and dark organic paint, wide white wall tires and Sombrero hubcaps. It would have been a stunning car.. perhaps something that could be recreated today…
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