Custom Car Chronicle
Barris Kustom ShopFeatured Custom Cars

Sam Barris 1950 Buick




The Sam Barris 1950 Buick is the perfect showcase of what the Barris Kustom Shop, and especially Sam Barris was capable of. Chopped and Restyled till perfection.


Around 1952 Sam Barris, the creative,¬†genius¬†craftsman of the two Barris brothers,¬†from the famous¬†Barris Kustom Shop, feels the urge to create and own a personal custom car again. Sam had¬†sold¬†his trend setting 1949 Mercury, one of the first to get chopped, soon after completion in 1951 and before that he had owned a very nice conservative 1940 Mercury Convertible. The car he was looking into for his next Custom was one of the streamlined Sedanette model. Sam had fallen in love with the wonderful streamlined shapes of the roofs of this model car. They were perfect for his young family and the streamlined roof line would be something new he would have to tackle. It would show who the Barris Shop was capable of.¬†Sam came across a 1950 Buick Sedanette that was was damaged in a garage fire. The car was declared a total wreck and sold to a wrecking yard to be scraped. The car’s shell was mostly intact only the interior was completely burned up. His brain really started to work overtime, and he could see a wonderful chopped streamlined family car in front of him.¬†He bought the car for $650.- and took it back to the barris Shop were he put it in a corner, and slowly started to work on it in his spare time. It would take Sam nearly two years working in his spare time¬†to finish his next personal dream custom.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-13-WSadly not to many in progress photos have surfaced of Sam’s 1950 Buick. These two show the car with the top already chopped and Sam working on the rear fenders. Extending them with¬†an unknown rear fender (possibly a ’51 Plymouth unit), and adding the 1953 Pontiac Wagon taillights.

Creating the Milestone Buick

Sam started with clearing out¬†all the fire damage and then¬†lowered the suspension three inches to get the car to sit right. Next thing Sam would tackle was the chop. Sam had already chopped the top on hit Buick¬†his head, but in reality he had never done a fastback type of car before. And at the time, the early 1950’s he had never seen any body else¬†done a similar top either. And as far as we know, Sam was the first one who tackled such a chop. The chop would require reshaping of the whole rear section of the car, very much unlike the coupes and sedans he had done over the last couple of years.

Sam cut of the top at the A-Pillars and removed 3.5 inches from the posts. The B-pillars were discarded, for now and the C-pillars were cut just above the belt line. The trunk and inner truck supports were removed at this point. The rear portion of the top was dropped around 5.5 inches at the C-pillar. The rear window was removed at this point to be later reinstalled at the perfect angle. The A-pillars were slightly leaned back in the process of the chop, enhancing the streamlined look of the car. The trunk was pie-cut sectioned from nothing at the back to around 5 inches in the front to match the new lower roof line. A lot of body reshaping was needed to make the C-Pillar shape work with the lower top and trunk. The B-pillars were re-installed in the vertical position, and the door tops extended to make up for the difference after the chop.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-12-WSam Barris mocking up the 1951 Cadillac Rear bumper to see how it fits, and what still needs to be done for it to be perfect 

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-04-WThe finished body work on the rear fender and taillight installation with a fresh coat of primer and installed Cadillac bumper adjusted and installed.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-01-WThis is a enlarged section of a photo taken from a Hot Rod frame¬†at the Barris Shop, in the background was Sam’s Buick in black primer without the front bumper and grille.

My good friend Wolf Christiansson pointed out another modification on the Sam barris Buick that was never mentioned anywhere. He found out about this when he studied the 2015 restoration photo of the hood taken at the Manns Restoration shop. The bare metal underside of the hood shows that there are no portholes at the back of the hood that have been filled, the front section shows that an oval shaped section was filled, and the center shows the hood was stamped as one unit. The 1950 hood did not have this oval shape emblem, it did have three portholes in the back of the hood, and had split metal sections covered by the center hood trim. Sam must have used an 1951-52 Buick Super hood for his Custom. We are not sure if the hood was perhaps swapped due to damage from the fire, or just because it was easier since less holes needed to be filled.

CCC-Sam-Barris-50-Buick-hoodUnderside of the Sam Barris Buick hood shows that there never were any portholes at the back, and that the emblem at the front was an oval emblem from the 1951-52 Buick Super.

Stunningly Beautiful

Sam also removed the drip rails for an even smoother look. He added an new drip rail inside the door opening to make sure most of the rain water would not get into the interior. The rear fenders were molded to the body and extended several inches using some left over rear fender sections (Possibly 1951-52 Plymouth fenders). The rear lower sections of the fenders were extended down  till it was level with the rocker panels. This made the rear flow better and look even lower. Sam recessed a set of 1953 Pontiac Station wagon taillights into the reshaped rear fenders. The Buick rear bumper was replaced with a 1951 Cadillac unit.
Sam’s idea for the car was that all the lines would flow and fall down towards the rear bumper. Sam used¬†a flipped upside down and switched side by side 1951 Lincoln side trim, including the fake louvered section¬†to enhance the low towards the Cadillac rear bumper. The shape of the trim made the chopped top and shape of the rear fenders look even better.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-07-WSnapshot of Sam in work cloth and¬†the set of goggles with which¬†he could be seen most of the time. The photo was taken at Sam’s home, possibly shortly after arriving home from work. The side view shows the wonderful lines Sam had created for his family Custom. Notice how well the turned upside down Lincoln side trim works with the molded rear fenders.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-03-Wbeautiful front 3/4 view shows how nice the top fall’s back in between the rear fenders. This, and several other photos were taken at the Angeles Abbey memorial park.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-09-WThe hood was shaved of all emblems and scripts and the stock grille opening enhanced with a 1951-52 Buick bumper before the 1953 Oldsmobile grille bar was added.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-10-WThe 1951 Cadillac rear bumper with it wonderful bullet shaped with finned top bumper guards for the car perfect. The long bumper ends are a perfect match for the 4 inch extended rear fenders. The 1952 Pontiac Wagon taillights are in perfect harmony with the extended rear fenders as well as the shape of the bumper and guards.

Sam hand made new skirts to fit his car better than any factory or aftermarket unit he could find. At the front he removed the characteristic Buick hood portholes from the hood side and filled in the holes. The stock headlights were replaced with teardrop shaped 1953 Buick units with hand made rings molded into the fender surrounds, giving the headlights a nice frenched look. A 1951-52 Buick front bumper was used in combination with the stock Buick grille surround and a 1953 Oldsmobille floating grille bar.

The door handles and all the exterior emblems and un-needed trim was removed with the¬†holes filled and smoothed. The belt line trim and the side window surrounds was something Sam liked and would help with the flow of the car. So they were modified to fit the new shaped side windows.¬†Electrical solenoids were installed for the doors and trunk with hidden buttons in the Lincoln side trim¬†and push buttons on the dash to operate them.¬†The interior garnish molding were¬†cut and fitted the new window shape and prepped for body color.¬†With all the body work completed it was now time for¬†paint. Sam choose a Bronze¬†–¬†Maroon for the color. The Feb. 1954 issue of Rod & Custom described the color as “Golden Maroon Bronze”. Sam installed a set of wide white wall tires, added 1953 Cadillac sombrero hubcaps with fake knock-off’s added to the center¬†and a¬†set of Appelton Spotlights.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-11-WColor photo from the Rod & Custom Magazine cover photo shoot. From the Barris Collection.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-rod-custom-articleSam’s Buick made the cover of the February 1954 issue Rod & Custom Magazine. On the inside there was an nice article with many photos and good info on the car.

When it was time for the upholstery Sam took the Buick to the Carson top shop. A bit more work was needed than normal, due to all the damge to the interior done by the fire. Sam requested the upholstery to be done in antique white leatherette¬†in a narrow tuck and roll pattern and maroon mohair¬†to be¬†sewn with a square pattern with a contrasting white button inserted at the the center of this pattern.¬†The headliner was done in the same maroon mohair and finished with white beading where the support bows was sewn into the headliner. The end result of the interior fitted the outside of the car perfectly. The new look of the car inside and out had a wonderful classic, classy feel. Sam completed the car in 1953,¬†it¬†had taken him much longer than he had anticipated…. but in the¬†end¬†it was all worth it.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-06-WClose up of the front of the Buick shows how the fenders were extended around the 1953 Buick headlights. It also show that the inside of the Buick headlight surround has been cut down to fit into the molded in opening.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-02-WFantastic rear 3/4 view comes from the Rod & Custom article.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-early-08-WSam’s Buick was shown at a prominent spot at the 1953 Petersen Motorama show held in the Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles. Good to see the car ¬†got a lot of looks.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-04-WSam’s Buick looked really great at the show, although the display made it impossible to see the great conservative stance the car has. This photo was taken before the audience was allowed in the building.

The Rod & Custom article mentioned that if Sam had built the car for a client he would have had to pay $2,400.- for the whole project, with $800 invested in the chop alone. Sam enjoyed the car for some time, entered it in a few shows including the 1953 Petersen Motorama and drove it around to work and with his family. But Sam had to sell the car in 1954 when his son John was diagnosed with severe eye problems for which surgery was needed, and soon bills would need to be paid.

A new Owner

At this point I have not been able to find out¬†to whom Sam sold the Buick. But there is a photo from two guys standing with the Sam Barris Buick in front of the Atlantic Blvd. Barris Shop with the Animal Hospital in the background.¬†Possibly on of these guys¬†might have been the new owner of the Buick. We do not know for sure where the Buick¬†went after Sam sold it. But Kurt McCormick provided the Custom Car Photo Archive with some interesting photos of the Buick with 1957 New Jersey Dealer plates. ¬†So by 1957,¬†the Buick¬†resided on the other side of the country. It looks like a young guy, or young couple are the owner of the car then, but they do not look like any of the two in the photo taken at the Barris shop. At this time of writing we have no info on the names of the owners of the car.¬†The Buick still looks in very good shape. The fender skirts have been removed and lesser wide white on wire wheels with real knock-off’s have been installed.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-20-WTwo unknown guys with the Sam Barris Buick at the Barris Kustoms shop on Atlantic Blvd. in front of the Atlantic Animal Hospital. Could one of these two guys possibly be the one who bought the Buick from Sam?

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-03-WThe car has 1957 New Jersey Dealer plates on it when this set of photos was taken. At this moment we have no information on who the people in the photo are, and if they owned the car then.

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-02-WThe car looks quite different with the smaller white wall tires, deep wire wheels and without the fender skirts. 

CCC-sam-barris-50-buick-01-WSome sort of script, or perhaps car dealer tag was added to the rear of the Buick. Sadly the copied photo is not clear enough to make out what it reads.

These three New Jersey photos is the last we have been able to find out about the car from the 1950’s.¬†The next “sighting” of the car is from 1960. In July of 1960, Robert A. Radcliffe (father of King Kustoms Rob Radcliffe) noticed a chopped Buick Sedanette in a used car lot in upstate New York. He recognized it immediately as the Sam Barris Buick. The car was for sale for $600.-, but Robert did not have that kind of money, already had to many cars, and was shipping out with the Navy in a few weeks. Regrettably he had to leave the car sitting at the lot. From what Rob Radcliffe, Robert’s son told us, the car looked still really fine in 1960. Robert also remembers that the car was brought to the used car lot by Jazz singer, Billy Eckstein. However we have no idea if he actually owned the car, and if he did, for how long he owned it…

After this¬†the history of the Buick gets¬†more sketchy, we know that the Buick changed hands several times and started to deteriorate pretty fast. Use the link below to go to part two of the Sam Barris 1950 Buick story to read more…

Read More about the sam Barris 1950 Buick in Part TWO.



(this article is sponsored by)





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)

One thought on “Sam Barris 1950 Buick

  • The best car builder Sam Barris and he only ever built a handful of cars for him self, This is an amazing man who was the first to take the leap forward and set standards / history and testing his skills with the shapes no one dared too, What amazing feeling it must of been to be able to buy a new Merc and chop it before any one else. That feeling of being the first setting standards must of been a great feeling with friends coming together to talk of what you have achieved or were planning. Those were the days

    Sam Barris / Larry Watson history makers.

Leave a Reply