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Custom Car Builders

May 8, 2019

George Barris Buick Sacramento Trip

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At the end of 1947 George Barris makes a trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento in his freshly finished 1941 Buick Kustom.

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George Barris grew up with his older brother Sam at their aunt and uncle Edith and John Barakaris in Roseville, the largest city in Placer County, in the metropolitan area of Sacramento. As a kid George and Sam started to work on car and it soon became a life long lasting, love affair with customizing cars. When George and Sam grew older they started looking for small jobs and a way to learn how to work on car. The found Harry Westergard and at least George started to spend a lot of his spare time helping out, and working for Harry Westergard.

George wanted to learn everything he could about customizing, and Harry was willing to show him the things he knew. George built his first Custom, a 1936 Ford Cabriolet mostly while working part time at Harry Westargard’s. Working with Harry Westergard meant also that he got to meet a lot of local guys into customizing, Custom Car owners and clients of Harry Westergard. He started to make a lot of car friends in Sacramento during this time. Sam Barris had enlisted in the Navy and had left to Los Angeles to sail out. Not long after that George took his Custom ’36 Ford and left for Los Angeles around 1943-44. George was never drafted, and started to work at several LA body shops, and soon started his own shop.

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George’s ’36 Ford Cabriolet photographed in 1943 in Sacramento. George built it while working part time with Harry Westergard, who created the car parked behind George’s Ford for Gene Garrett. Not long after this photo was taken George moved to Los Angeles.

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After the war had ended Sam returned to Roseville, but started to miss his little brother, so he went to LA to visit George. Not long after that George talked Sam into joining him to create his dream Custom Shop. Sam agreed and in 1946 Sam and George would open Barris’s Custom Shop on Compton Ave. In the meantime George drove his ’36 Ford Cabriolet, and later a ’36 Coupe all around Los Angeles. Around late 1946 George finds an used ’41 Buick Roadmaster Convertible with some body damage.

Over the next few months/year George turns this Buick into a Custom creation that would become the turning point of his career. In late 1947 the Buick is all finished. It came out absolutely gorgeous with its full fade-away fenders, 1942 Cadillac grille, super low and long padded top, and glowing, dark golden maroon paint. George is extremely proud of the Custom Buick, and wants to show it to his old buddies in Sacramento… showing what he has up to the last few years.

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George’s Buick almost finished. The car is completely painted but still had the original ’41 Buick front bumper which he soon would replace with a 1946 Oldsmobile bumper.

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In late 1947, November, or perhaps early December, George drives his Custom Buick from Los Angeles to Sacramento nearly 400 miles up north. A pretty iconic trip, perhaps not so much at the time, since all these Custom Cars back then were built as drivers. While in Sacramento George visits an old friend, Gerald Fassett, to show him his Buick. The most significant thing about this visit is that George personally gave Gerald a color photo of his recently completed masterpiece 1941 Buick.

Gerald held on to this color photo for almost seventy-two years, and in 2019 Sondre and Olav Kvipt visit Mr. Fassett and share this unique color photo from 1947. The Gerald Fassett photo collection is now part of the David E. Zivot Collection and is shared together with stories told by Mr. Fassett to David E. Zivot with the Custom Car Chronicle.

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After George had finished his new Custom he wanted to show it to his old Sacramento friends. Left to right Willis Schraeder, Jack Odberg, George Barris, Buddy Ohanesian, Bruce Glenn, Norm Milne and Mel Falconer. The friends were pretty impressed with George’s new Custom ride. The photo was taken in late 1947, but we do not have an exact date.

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Another photo, a bit closer with the same guys, but without Willis Schraeder

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George Barris, just 22 years old leaning on his ’41 Buick.

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Over the years several photos have surfaced of this 1947 trip from Los Angeles to Sacramento. The one thing a bit odd about these photos is that some of them show the car with black wall tires, while others show them with white wall tires. We know that when George visited Gerald Fassett – it was in November or December 1947 – the car had white wall tires. The color photo George gave Mr. Fassett also shows the car with white wall tires. This color photo was taken at the Hollywood Park Horse Race Track, right in front of the Turf Club. Jesse Lopez confirmed the location, his own ’41 Ford was also photographed at this location. The beautiful Art-Deco building in the background was destroyed in a fire in 1949, and rebuild that same year with a different design.

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George’s Buick parked in front of Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Roseville, close to Sacramento.

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Possibly George went to Sacramento on another trip, earlier than November, December 1947 as well. When the car had the new Olds bumper, but still the early black wall tires. None of the photos showing the car with black wall tires have any indication of when these photos were taken, as far we know. This is a bit of a mystery so far. Hopefully one day we might find out more about this.

Some of these Sacramento trip photos showing George’s ’41 Buick parked in front of Elmer Howard’s Body – Fender & Top Shop in Roseville where George and Sam grew up. We have not been able to find out what George’s relation to this body shop was. If he worked there, knew the owner – Elmer Howard – or perhaps one of his friends worked there, so they meet at that shop with the other friends.

Another interesting question is if George visited his old master Harry Westergard on these trips. Did he show Harry his 1941 Buick, and if he did what was Harry’s response to the car? Harry Westergard passed away in the mid 1950’s, and George Barris a few years ago, so I doubt if we ever will find out. But who knows, perhaps somebody will read this article an remember anything more about George’s trip to Sacramento in 1947.

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Gerald Fassett

Gerald Fassett, a car guy that had Harry Westergard and Dick Bertolucci restyle his 1947 Chevy Convertible. Westergard chopped the windshield and mail-ordered a set of Jimmy Summers fade-away fenders. later Dick Bertolucci would paint it deep maroon lacquer paint job. At the time George Barris had visited the guys in Sacramento Geralds Chevy had the windshield chopped, the Jimmy Summers fade-away fenders installed, but it was far from done. Before having the Chevy Gerald owned ’34 Ford 5/W coupe, removed running boards, with an inset license plate, filled cowl, and solid hood sides, powered by a hot flathead. We will get back to Gerald’s Chevy in another article.

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Scan of the original color photo that George Barris gave to Gerald Fassett in late 1947. The original photo has lost a bit of its color, and faded a little over the years, but is in remarkable condition for an 72 year old color photo. What an amazing find.

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The color photograph of George’s Buick was given to him personally by George when they all met up at a local Stan’s drive-in, when George visited the Sacramento area. During this visit Gerald took several photos of George’s Buick, which he fortunately for us also kept. Stan’s Drive-In Restaurant was located on the corner of 16th & K street. It was the most popular local hang out and the place to be seen if you had a hot car in the late 1940’s, early 1950’s. (Its all gone now)

George Barris sitting in his Buick at Stan’s Drive In Restaurant on 16th and K Street in Sacramento in late November, early December 1947. (The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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David asked Gerald about some of the fellows in the photograph of George’s Buick in front of Elmer Howard’s body shop in Roseville. Gerald answered “I don’t recall that body shop… I knew most of those guys… Odberg, Ohanesian, Norm Milne, Mel Falconer…, but I don’t remember Bruce Glenn… and I also don’t know why the tires on George’s Buick are blackwalls there… and whitewalls at Stan’s and in the color photo.

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Fantastic photo showing the super smooth rear of George’s Buick. On the far left we can see the ’37 Ford that was in the works by Harry Westergard at the time. (The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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Gerald, being an ex school teacher has always been very interested in history and that is one of the reasons he still has all the photos from back when he was very active in the Sacramento Custom Car Scene. When David Zivot asked Gerald what sort of reaction do you remember from people on the street around Stan’s…and some of the other motorist’s when George’s big Buick was on display and driving around the area: Gerald Fassett responded. “Well I can tell you (Laughs as he remembers) It really made an impression on me… I can tell you that for sure… The other custom guys were just knocked out by the car.” (People would stop and look…Some gathered around… There were approving “honks” from cars passing by…”

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The long shadows in the photo indicate these were taken late in the afternoon. The ’37 Harry Westergard Ford in the background.(The heavily scratched scanned original photo has been digitally restored)

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Zoomed in we can see the reflections on George’s Buick a little better. Overall extremely nice, but they also confirm the stories we have heard about some of the fade- away panels from these early Customs looked fantastic but were perhaps not completely straight.

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Zoomed in on the Harry Westergard 1937 Ford. Gerald could not remember the guys name, but we are working on it, hopefully we can add it to the article at a later time. This photo especially shows how thin the top is over the windshield header, and makes me wonder if perhaps the top was a metal lift of top instead of a Padded top?

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Gerald could not remember much about the ’37 Ford convertible in the background of two of the photos taken at Stan’s. “I can’t remember the owner’s name… Westergard did the work. Harry Westergard worked on that car at his little shop at his home on Watt Ave. The car was in a local Sacramento car show sponsored by the club I was in (Capitol City Thunderbolts) held at Capitol Chevrolet dealer… It was called “Autorama”.

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Collage of the original photos from the original Gerald Fassett Collection, the color photo is 5 x 7 inches and the three black and white photos measure 3.5 x 5 inches. Now part of the David E. Zivot Collection.

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Stan’s around 1953.

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Barris Maroon

The slightly faded color photo of George Barris’s 1941 Buick from 1947 is an amazing find. We have seen very few color photos showing the famous George Barris mixed colors. In the past we have done an article about these early color photos, and always hoped more will show up. Well this one is the absolute top of the bill. This George Barris Custom mixed maroon painted ’41 Buick is the car that really started the career of the Barris Shop. George has always mentioned how he mixed Venus Martin gold and bronze powders into his paint on his early paint jobs, and now we can get an actual look at how that looked on one of the first cars he used it on.

David E. Zivot has always been fascinated by the George Barris Maroon paint, and was ecstatic when he got in contact with Gerald Fassett and learned more about this unique color photo of the Barris Buick. David had heard a lot about this color talking to people such as Nick Matranga, Jack Stewart, Jesse Lopez and others who where all there to see these colors being done by George Barris in the later part of the 1940’s.

David asked me to see if the original photo could be digitally cleaned up and restored so that the real colors could be seen. With that result he had some prints made and sent those over to Jesse Lopez for him to take a look and see what he thought of the color, and how close it came to the original George Barris Maroon. The printed photos are one thing, creating those same digital photos for this article is another thing. Different profiles in different browsers, different computer and smartphone screens will all generate slightly different shades. But with the printed version and the info from Jesse Lopez, David will be able to match the original George Barris golden maroon as close as possible.

Jesse Lopez verified in detail that the maroon, as it appears in the adjusted Fassett color photo David sent him, is exactly how he remembers it, in every nuance

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Trying to capture the original colors as best as possible I enhanced the photo in Photoshop. I also added a small section of background to the right side of the photo and restored the cut off rear bumper.

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The Hollywood Park main stand building and Turf Club as it looked around 1947, before the whole structure burned down in 1949.
(Postcard image)

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The Hollywood Park building in the late 1930’s, very early 1940’s.

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David has been on the phone with Jesse about the Buick Color photo and this is what Jesse shared with him.

David. “Got a hold of Jesse Lopez…Had a very nice conversation about various custom/restyling subjects…I asked him to look at the color photo of George’s Buick from late ’47-early ’48 and to give me his recollections. We talked about George’s and Sam’s “maroons” and what was the general approach concerning the base colors, toners, metallic powders, etc. I made a comment that George probably did not pay to much attention to formulas or measurements, and really just mixed it how they wanted for that particular project, and that the color and hue, as well as the amount and exact color of gold could vary. Staying within certain parameters of course.

Jesse said that’s exactly right… They would “throw in” an amount of powder, spray it out on a test piece (usually something with nice curves like an old motorcycle fuel tank), see what it looked like on a sunny day, and sometimes making the maroon lighter or darker, depending on what the mood was.

Jesse verified that most all the paint jobs coming out of the Barris shop at that time were not formulaic, and not much importance was put to writing anything down or keeping track of how the last one was done. This conforms to what I had always assumed.

Jesse also mentioned that the paint was purchased and mixed at the R&M paint dealer located at Florence and Huntington Park. This paint store was pretty much the only one used by the Barris shop in the beginning.

Jesse mentioned that he went with George, Sam, and others, on a few trips up to Sacramento and Roseville… He rode with Sam in his ’40. He did not attend the trip that Gerald Fassett took photos of at Stan’s and can’t remember anything about it.”

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The Details

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(Specified by DEZ)
The color photo also gives a really great look at some of the details on the Buick. The beauty rings on George’s Buick appear to be those manufactured by Controla, they were called “Cromdisc“. Controla was known for the high quality of their accessories during the period. Their beauty rings for GM automobiles were first class, well-made with excellent chrome finish. Available in both 15″ and 16″ Buick rims. George’s Buick appears to have the 16” wheel

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Zoomed in on the front end of George’s Buick.

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Cromdisc’s from Controla is what George used on his 1941 Buick. David E. Zivot has been able to find an NOS set of these unique smooth beauty rings.

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Another very nice detail we can see in this photo is the grille. George Barris made clever use of two 1942 Cadillac grilles on his Buick. Sourced from Los Angeles area wrecking yards, or a local Cadillac dealer’s parts dept, or a combination of both. The grille in the early white primer version of George’s still unfinished Buick clearly shows unfilled ends, and a not so nice fit to the surrounding sheet metal.

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The white primer version shows the unfinished ends of the grille bars.

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The modifications consisted of taking two full length horizontal bars (first and second from bottom), adding them, as well as four full-length vertical bars (third and fourth from each end), and then trimming off the vertical bars where they protruded from the top and bottom horizontal bars. He left all vertical bars in matte argent silver. All horizontal bar ends appear to be filled nicely in the final version. All in all a gorgeous grille. For a complete story on George Barris’s 1941 Buick, check out our feature article on the Custom Car Chronicle.

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Close up of the finished grille shows that all 5 horizontal bars on the flat side pieces are even, and have nice slight rounded ends. Compare that with the photo of the stock 1942 Cadillac grille below. It shows how much work George Barris had to do to create the grille on his Buick.

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Stock 1942 Cadillac grille. Only 3 of the horizontal bars could be used for what George had in mind for his Buick.

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On the stock ’42 Cadillac grille only the second from the top horizontal bar has its ends rounded and nicely finished.

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Special Thanks to Gerald Fassett, David E. Zivot and Michelle M. Yiatras

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About the Author

Rik Hoving
Rik is the CCC editor in chief. As a custom car historian he is researching custom car history for many years. In 2004 he started the Custom Car Photo Archive that has become a place of joy for many custom car enthousiasts. Here at CCC Rik will bring you inspiring articles on the history of custom cars and builders. Like a true photo detective he will show us what's going on in all those amazing photos. He will write stories about everything you want to know in the realm of customizing. In daily life Rik is a Graphic Designer. He is married to the CCC webmaster and the father of a 10 year old son (they are both very happy with his excellent cooking skills)




6 Comments


  1. Another great article Rik!


  2. Beautiful Car.
    Amazing that after all these years a color photo still exists.
    Torchie


  3. Wow, this is really great stuff, thanks a lot!


  4. Jawdrop , more pictures I never seen of George Barris -41 Buick , I just got the color picture permanently stored in my memory and now these three pictures with great quality pictures in three angles, thank you for showing these beautiful pictures and thanks for the in depth article about a happening from a long time ago !
    Wolf


  5. rich ostrander

    Rik, Funny but I was being birthed just about the same time as that photo of the Buick at Stan’s was taken. December 6, 1947. Great article especially since I’ve lived here in downtown Sacramento since 1975, I went to high school on the corner of Artesia and Atlantic starting in 1963 and the Barris and Cerny shops were just north of it in SoCal. great stuff!


  6. This kustom Buick is so iconic. Beautiful flow and stance



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