THE BARRIS CREST
The Barris Kustom Shop started to use the Barris Kustoms Crest in the early 1950’s. And continued using this crest and the two later versions based on the originals up to the most recent built cars.
The Barris Kustom Shop has been responsible for a lot of trends in Customizing ever since the shop started in the 1940’s. Some of these trend might not have been actually started by the shop. But because of the name the Barris shop gained among car enthusiast all over the US, and even further, some of these used items, styles or techniques became trends because the Barris Shop used them. Adding a builders name plaque was not something new when the Barris shop first started doing this in the early 1950’s. But because the Barris Shop started using them, it became a trend. Even today there are a lot of custom shop using a name tag, or crest styled or inspired by this Barris Crest. Original Barris Crest are now highly valuable collectors item.
I think we can say that the Barris Crest has become a sort of an icon, or at least a symbol. It was already that in the early 1950’s. If your car had a Barris crest you were cool, then you knew what beauty was. From the mid 1950’s and up the Barris crest was used more an more and it was often joked that if you would leave your car parked long enough close to the Barris Kustoms Atlantic Blvd. Shop you would end up with one of those Custom Car Icon items on your drivers front quarter panel. Makes me wonder how many young kids actually tried that.
The use of a crest on a completely smoothed Custom does appear to be odd. Spending a lot of time and money to shave all the trim, handles and emblems, and then just before handing over the car to the happy owner the 20 or more hand rubbed paint coat was brutally violated with a drill creating two holes to fit this colorful Barris Kustoms Crest. But it worked, the Crest became an icon, and a Barris Kustoms creation feels a bit naked without them. And other shops from the time were often questioned why they did not have such a crest. Some other shops in the 1950’s created their own Crest or name tag, but none of them got the same iconic feel as the Barris Crest. The Barris Crests were usually mounted on the front quarters, but there are many samples of Barris Kustoms created cars that had them mounted elsewhere on the car, to make them work better with the flow of the car.
What is the story behind the Barris Crest and when did it started?
When the first Barris Crest was used is something nobody we spoke to knew for sure anymore. When George Barris was asked about this he mentioned he could not remember when they did the first crest. Over the years I have gathered as much information I could find about this Custom Car Icon, trying to trace back the history.
A lot of people often wondered why famous Custom Cars like the Matranga Merc, the Jesse Lopez Ford, and even the Sam Barris 1949 Mercury never had the Barris crest. Was it not put on the cars by the owners request, which would have been odd in case of the Sam Barris Mercury? The answer is really simple, these cars, and any other early Barris creations where all build, shown and sold before the Barris Crest was created.
When was the first Barris Crest used?
I have not been able to pin-point an exact date when the Barris Crest was first created, but using a few published facts I have it down to a couple of month in 1952. The Barris Kustoms Shop created a Give Away 1949 Cadillac for the 5th Hot Rod show held at the LA National Guard Armory. The show was held in April 1952, and the Barris created Cadillac did not have a Barris Crests. Since the car was a give-away car Barris used it as much as possible to promote the Barris shop. Knowing this car would get so much publicity, the shop surely would have put a crest on the car if they had one.
The earliest photos I have been able to find that showed the use of the Barris crest with a proven date, are photos taken at the Peterson Autorama Show which was held on November 10-16 in 1952. At least three Barris cars where show at this show with the Barris Crest on them. The Tommy Thornburgh 1947 Studebaker, Dan Landon’s 1949 Chevy, and Bob Hirohata 1951 Mercury. Perhaps there were even more, but these three I know for sure.
From these facts we can say that the Barris Crests were create or at least first used between
May and November 1952.
The story behind the crest.
I personally have always believed that George might have been inspired to create a Barris Crest after he visited many couch building shops on his Europe trip in 1951. Some of the body shops in Europe used these name Crest on the cars he saw on the street and in the body shops. I have no proof for this, from what I can tell George does not remember, but it does sound like a very plausible reason to create the Barris Crest. However there was quite some time between George his Europe trip and the first Barris Crest.
One thing we have found out is that it was not George who designed the crest. It was actually one of his clients, who came up with the design. Let me tell you what I have found out about this.
Several years ago I wrote something about the LaBriola 1949 Oldsmobile Convertible built by Barris. I shared some more photo of this car and not long after that I received an email from the son of Robert R. LaBriola. He shared a bit of information about his father and the Barris Custom Shop that I had never heard about. And one of the things he he mentioned was that it was actually his father, Dr. Robert R. LaBriola who had designed the Barris Crest for the Barris shop. I have never been able to verify this story from another source, other than it being mentioned that George had the crest designed by somebody else. Below is the email content I received about the Oldsmobile and the Barris Crest.
Dr. Robert R. LaBriola’s 1949 Oldsmobile on the left with the Fred Rowe 1951 Mercury on the right. Both cars have the Barris crest. This photo was taken at a photo-shoot for the August 1953 issue of Rod & Custom magazine.
The above subject car belonged to my father, Dr. Robert R. LaBriola, DDS. Both Sam and George Barris were dental patients of my father. In return for his services, Barris Kustoms built his car. As can be seen in your collection, there were actually 2 builds of the car. The first being painted Lime-Gold and rear fender skirts. The second build had radiused rear wheel openings, a hood scoop, a one piece windshield and an Arctic white paint job. The car was sold in the late 1950’s.
As a sidelight, my father was responsible for the design of the “Barris Kustom” shield that has appeared on Barris builds since the early 1950’s.
Robert R. LaBriola, Jr.
Sadly there are no numbers available how many of these crest have been produced back in the Custom Car Golden years, but most of the cars that went thru the Barris shop would end up with one of those crests. And we know a lot of cars went thru the shop. Not all of them where full custom cars. Some cars only came in for a paint job, or installation of some special custom part, yet most of these cars where badged.
The design Robert R. LaBriola made for the crest was not used only for the crest. The Barris Kustoms shop also used it as their logo. And it was used on the shops business cards, letter heads, invoices and a few other things.
What I have noticed is that it looks like the logo/crest used in print might have been used before the actual crest was created. Again I have not been able to find any dates to confirm this, but the printed crests are a bit different than the actual body crests. This difference is in the top part with the crown on the printed version is narrower and shaped differently than the actual crest. Compare the photo above of the crest and the logo used on an early business card below to see the difference.
The Jack Stewart Ford was finished at least a year before the Barris crest were made, but when second owner Jim Street repainted the car in 1953 he added two crests on the quarter panels. The holes for them are still in the panels, and when found in 2013 when the car was taken to bare metal by the current owner Palle Johansen.
Barry Mazza send us this photo of a crest he bought for the 1955 Chevy the Aztec restoration. He bought these crest in the 1970’s, before any copies or new versions of the crests were produced.
Variations with the logo/crest
The first version of the crest has been used in several different ways. The shape of the crest remained the same for these variations, but the Barris Kustoms text in the top part was changed. We have seen versions where this text was changed into KUSTOMS AMERICA, KOA and BARRIS SANCTIONED. The photos below show a few of these variations on the first crest. These were all done in the 1950’s.
The Second Version
The original version of the Barris Crest was used up to around 1962. Then the design was changed a bit. A streamlined car that the barris Shop had been using now became part of the crest. The original crest remained the same. My guess is the shop still had plenty of those in stock. But the streamlined car was split in two separate part and would be fitted on the sides of the original Barris Crest. So this new design was made up from three separate parts. The great disadvantage of this Crest was that you needed to drill four holes instead of two, and had to mount the unit with four bolts from the back of the fender.
The Third Version
Four Barris Business cards showing all three of the different designs for the Crest/logo. The one on the top left is from after the Barris Shop move to North Hollywood in 1959, still shows the original design. Later, top and bottom right show the second version of the Crest/logo, and the bottom left cars shows the last Crest/logo.
In 1966, perhaps even before that, but the 1966 year is a for sure, the third version of the Crest was created. The original shield was still the heart of the crest, and the modern streemlined car was also part of it done in white. The new crest combined all the elements in one crest with a gold ornamented circle behind it joining all the parts together. (photo from 1966batmobile.com)
The Reproduction Crest
When the Custom Car revival took place in the early 1980’s, collectors starting to search for the original Barris crests. Several of them had been saved from old Barris Customs before the cars them selves disappeared. In the 1980’s a small quantity of reproductions was produced by Kurt McCormick who had used an original crest to have these copies made. These copy’s were of high quality and looked very much like the original crests. They could be bought at Custom Car shows for around $25,-.
Some of these reproductions Barris Crest where used to make it look like certain Custom Cars had an Barris connection. This was done even more when the Barris Shop themselves started to officially reproduce the Barris Crest again in the 1990’s. These crests are still available today, and the Barris Shop recently also introduced replicas of the later 1960’s version of the crest.
Some of the information in this article could not be verified, but we chose to share it here anyway. It is the best information would could find on the subject. We hope that the article will inspire some people who where there in the 1950’s to share their info they have on the Barris Crest. If you have any information about the Barris Crest, or perhaps some great stories to tell about them, please let us know. We would love to hear it and share in this article in the future for everybody to read. Email Rik
Want to know more about the Barris Crest? David E. Zivot has compiled an How to Identify the Barris Crest article, find it HERE
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