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Custom Car Builders

February 24, 2016

George Barris’ 1941 Buick

George Barris Buick

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A CAR WORTH FIGHTING FOR

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When George Barris moved from Sacramento to Los Angeles he drove a 1936 Ford Cabriolet. A nice custom. But George soon understood that when he wanted a profitable Custom Body Shop he needed something more to advertise his workmanship.

(CCC-Article original published in 2013, revised article in Feb 24, 2016.)

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George’s life changing 1941 Buick

Around 1946 or early 1947 George found a 1941 Buick convertible that he wanted to turn into his dream custom. A Custom that would show the Barris Shop’s qualities as Custom Car designers and builders. George and Sam had been working in their own shop for perhaps a year or so and work was slowly increasing. He worked on the Buick after hours, so there was not always a lot of time to spend on the car. At the time it was George’s only car, so the work on it either needed to be wrapped up the same day, or he had to ask one of his friend or brother Sam for a ride home and to work the next day.

It is really amazing that there are so many photos of this very important early custom car icon. And not only from the finished car. There are several photos of the Buick show different stages. A few early photos from the Jim Kierstead Collection show the Buick as George acquired it. And a few from later when it was painted white primer at an early El Mirage dry lake events. There are also two photos known showing the Buick with the windshield frame chopped, but still without the full fade-away fenders

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Most likely somewhere in early 1947 George Barris finds a nice 1941 Buick convertible with some fender bender damage. The perfect new base for a new personal custom George has in mind. Notice that the car has a set of spotlights, but not the famous S-112 Appletons, and George had also installed a set of single bar flipper hubcaps and some unidentified beauty rings. (Jim Kierstead Collection)

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George’s Buick next to Jim Kierstead’s 1939 Mercury at Balch’s Garage Balch’s garage on Vermont street, Inglewood Ca. Jim’s Mercury was chopped by Sam and Jim, and is one of the first, perhaps the first 39-40 Mercury Coupes ever chopped. (Jim Kierstead Collection

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Most likely somewhere in early 1947 George Barris finds a nice 1941 Buick convertible with some fender bender damage. The perfect new base for a new personal custom George has in mind. Notice that the car has a set of spotlights, but not the famous S-112 Appletons, and George had also installed a set of single bar flipper hubcaps and some unidentified beauty rings. (Jim Kierstead Collection)

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George showing off in front of the camera, standing on his hands. Behind him the start of his 1941 Buick. The work on the fade-away fenders had just begun. 

In 1947 George finished the car as a full custom with chopped windshield, full fade-away molded-in fenders and a Carson Top Shop created padded top. The car was restyled just the way George loved it. The fade away fenders were created most likely using sheet metal, bend, cut and shaped to fit the 1941 Body. Some material was added to the top of the front wheel opening to flatten and lower it, making the car look lower and longer. The lower sections of the front fender and fade away section were rolled under with a nice radius, making it look like it had always been on the car like that. 

The headlights have been frenched into the molded front fenders and the heavy original chrome ornaments where removed. The stock grille was removed and replaced with a cut down 1942 Cadillac grille. The front sheet metal was reshaped to blend the grille in. The area below the hood was created from sheet metal and the hood character line was very nicely repeated into that and reshaped to end in a nice point just above the new grille. At the rear the fenders where molded to the body and flared nicely into the body with a gentle curve. George added a set of bulbous teardrop shaped fender skirts. The trunk was shaved and the external hinges were removed and replaced with internal units. That together with the molded in rear fenders created an extremely smooth rear portion of the car.

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White primer

Once the majority of the body work was done, Barris painted it white primer. He drove it around like this for a little while making sure everything worked properly. In the photos showing the Buick in white primer we can see that George still used the stock Buick front bumper. We have not been able to locate a photo of this version of the car showing the rear, so we do not know how that looked at this stage. After George had removed all handles on the car he place electric solenoids. The car had push-button controls for the doors, trunk, hood and antenna.

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In this photo we can see that George flattened the top of the front wheel openings and he rolled the bottom of the fenders inwards. Note the Kustoms Los Angeles plaque.

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The Buick in white primer at El Mirage. Note that the front bumper is still the stock 1941 Buick unit.

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A very happy George Barris behind the wheel of his primer white Buick, driving shotgun looks to be Bob Ruble and in the back a young Bill Ortega (DeCarr)

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Royal Metallic Maroon

Later in 1947 George started to prep the body for the final stages of the build. He replaces the stock rear bumper for a 1946 Oldmobile unit and mounted the taillights in the bumper guards. George painted his Buick in hand-rubbed Royal Metallic Maroon Lacquer. Possibly with the metallic part being Venus Martin gold or bronze powders which Barris used a lot in the early years.The upholstery is listed as red (dark?) and white “leather” in the Road & Track magazine. So far we have not been able to find a photo of the interior, other than one of the wrecked car showing a portion of the white with darker colored piping on the headliner. There is one photo of the Buick with the finished paint-job with the stock Buick bumper still in place. But later George replaced the bumper with a 1946 Oldsmobile units which had very nice wrap around sectioned which flow very nice with the fade away fenders.

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This is the earliest photo we have been able to find of George’s Buick completely paint. When this photo was taken, most likely in the later part of 1947 the car still had the original ’41 Buick front bumper. Typical for the era are the black wall tires which were later replaced with white wall tires.

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A little while later George replaced the ’41 Buick front bumper with a 1946 Oldsmobile unite which wrapped around the front fender very nice, giving the car more depth and speed, and flows nice with the fade away fenders. Note the curb feelers on the front fender.

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George also used his Buick for long distance drives. (most likely it was still his only car then) This photo was taken at the Elmer Howard’s Body -Fender & Top shop in Sacramento NorCal.

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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.

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George was invited to show the car at the very first Hot Rod Exposition in January of 1948 held in Los Angeles . The Buick was the only Custom Car at the show and was a huge crowd pleaser winning the top award. The show gained a lot of attention to the Barris’s Custom Shop and their Kustom creations. At this time the Barris shop was still named Customs Shop with a “C” but the cars they restyled were already called Kustoms with a “K”. In may 1948 the new all-round car magazine Road & Track showed a photo of George’s Buick in the magazine.

The photo of the Buick was absolutely perfect, showing the beauty of the car with its super low profile sitting on large white wall tires, wonderful fade-away fenders, the 1941 Cadillac grille, shaved door handles and low padded top. The Kustoms Los Angeles plaque, which George had created for his own club also showed prominent in the photo. In the same issue of Road & Track George ran a 1/4 page ad using the same photo promoting the Barris’s Custom Shop work. The ad, magazine article and showing the car at this important 1948 show really helped promote the Barris Shop name, and more and more customers were able to find the small shop on Compton Ave.

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The one photo that changed is all.

This photo of the George Barris 1941 Buick might be one of the most important photos in the history of Barris Kustoms. It was this photo that was used for the Road & Track May 1948 issue as well as the first ever ad the Barris Shop placed. However the photo was published for the first time in the Edgar Almquist  Speed + Mileage Manual with Hot Rod & Custom Car supplement copyrighted in 1947. This same photo would later also be used at other shows, to help promote the Barris Shop. The change to white wall tires for the car makes all the difference. The black walls from the earlier version make the car look almost sinister, but the new white walls add that wonderful classic look which elevated the car into its own league. The photo angle is absolutely perfect, and shows the car in all its beauty with a nice background. I have seen this location being used before, Johnny Zaro’s 1941 Ford was photographed with the same building in the back ground. I never did find out where the location was. I also have not been able to find out who the photographer was who took this for Barris Kustoms such an important photo.

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The photo that was published for the first time in the Edgar Almquist  Speed + Mileage Manual with Hot Rod & Custom Car supplement copyrighted in 1947, and was later used in the Road and Track May 1948 magazine.

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George his Buick was featured on a full page in the May 1948 Road and Track magazine. The Barris’s Custom Shop used the same photo for a quarter page ad in the same magazine. This publication changed it all for the Barris Shop.

The Barris shop sure set a new trend in custom restyling going for long, low and smooth lines from now on. George’s Buick had it all, perfect stance, perfect flowing lines with the chopped padded top and full fade away fenders. Twin Appleton spotlights, dark paint and white wall tires, with smooth large disk hubcaps.

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1947 color photo of George’s Buick taking in front of the Hollywood Park Turf Club building.

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The Buick parked on the street next to the the Barris Compton Avenue shop. The License plate is an 1947 tag plate.

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Front 3/4 view of the Buick parked next to the Barris Compton Avenue shop.

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George’s Buick was a huge hit among new customers, and the shop ended up creating several similar styled (but different in details) Buick’s requested by new customers. George’s 1941 Buick was the home run the shop needed. It made everything that would happen from now on possible. And not only the car was important, George now realized how important publicity was, he realized that with the right amount of advertising, showing cars at local shows, and having your cars featured in the new magazines would make all the difference.

Once George had finished his really well styled and proportioned Buick, he used it to promote his Barris Custom Shop. The car was also used on the shops Business Cards for some time.

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George used the same photo as he used on the Barris Business Card of his 1941 Buick for an 1948 magazine ad. Notice how he specifically mentions that the car was in a Hot Rod Show.

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The Buick with an award ribbon mounted on the antenna. Could this have been after the car won the award at the first Hot Rod show in January 1948?

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One of the nicest photos of George his Buick comes from the Johnny Zaro Collection. The car is parked next to the Compton Ave. shop and behind it we can see Sam’s 1940 Mercury. The photo is old and cracked, but man, what a  profile.

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Some time later, around late 1948 or perhaps early 1949, the car was wrecked. George and some friends were at the Lynwood Clock drive-in, and some jealous guys were kicking George’s Buick. Even putting in some dents. George got out of his car and a pretty hefty fight was started. Russ Lenarz, a friend of George was trying to get the car out of the way. He made an u-turn on the the drive-in. But ran into a telephone pole causing severe damage to the Buick. In the meantime the police had arrived and George and some of the other guys where arrested.

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Substantial damage after the crash.

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The Buick was damaged on the front and drivers side. The front fender and part of the fade away fender were badly damaged. George decided he could fix the car. And while he was at it, he decided to restyle it some more with a bit more modern components. For this new version George wanted to use some more modern parts and decided to use a cut down and rearranged 1947 Caddy grille for the car. He also added new tires now mounted with Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps. And to make the fade-away fenders show off even better than before he changed the teardrop shaped fender skirts for a set of more square units that followed the line of the fade-away fenders all the way to the back of the car. George got the car in primer, but never got it painted again. He sold it in 1949, and he never saw or heard about it again.

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The Buick rebuilt after the accident, but still in primer. The new cut down and rearranged 1947 Cadillac grille looks great, and gives the front a less boxy feel. Cadillac Sombrero hubcaps on wide whites are a perfect update as well.

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George’s 1941 Buick in primer. This was after the car had been in the accident and George had repaired the damage. And while at it he did some more restyling as well. This photo is interesting for many reasons, but especially because a similar styled full Fade-Away Custom can be spotted behind the Barris Compton Ave. shop on the far left side of the photo. The photo was taken in either 1948 or ’49. Note that George changed the teardrop shaped fender skirts for more square units that looks to flow really nice with the fade away fender line.

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George Barris did search for his old Buick. There had been rumors that it was still around. But none of these rumors ever resulted in finding anything that came even close. Not being able to find and restore the original, George did have plans at one point to recreate his old personal custom. He realizing how important this one car had been for his career. However this idea never came any further than the thinking about stage. And with George now gone we sure know the car will not be recreated by Barris anymore.

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This early Custom would be one really fine candidate for a recreation.
The George Barris 1941 Buick, one of the most important cars in the Custom Car history.

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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)




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16 Comments


  1. Hey Esther & Rik..super cool place!
    -palle


  2. Another great story here……love the these old photos also!
    thanks Rik.


  3. Hi Rik !
    This is one of the custom icons, ahead of its time , using the best of the best fat GM designs available !
    Dynamite custom !
    Wolf


  4. […] quite a few custom cars with full Fade-Away fenders. It all started with George Barris his own 1941 Buick Convertible which he bought after his 1936 Ford Over a period of time George restyled the Buick in […]


  5. I often wonder what difference Harley Earls height of 6 foot 6 frame and George’s 5 foot 5 played on chopped rooflines. We know Harley liked them low as well but even me at 6.’2″ bang my head on anything too low.


  6. It’s really hard to tell but it looks like this one also is based on the long wheel base Roadmaster model (same as the Ogden Buick), or? Either way, what a car, the side profile and the rear 3/4 view have to be one of the coolest ever.


  7. WG

    Great article on a cool car ,hadn’t seen the updated car with 46 Cad grille before .The rear 3/4view is very nice. Surprising in some ways such a famous game changing car hasn’t survived ,might be stashed somewhere with the Socal plating ’35 delivery !
    Though it probably didn’t help that it was in primer when George sold it & styling of most new cars in ’49 and ’50 was noticeably more modern even in stock form


  8. Magnificent car. Seems like George and Sam did some of their best work on Buicks.
    It would be nice to think that this car is stashed away some where and some day will be found and restored like Sams 1950.
    Torchie


  9. awesome article rik, that kustom buick gives me goose pimples so beautiful,


  10. Supa awesome Rik what a great article…! I just love these ones and its so great that the photos are very clear and just great to study for hours on end looking into the photos them selves. What a sad story that people were so jealous of George Barris’s 41 Buick. The feeling of building such a car ahead of its time to have some people kicking it and damaging it after so much effort and how proud he must of been with its new fancy paint would of been just heart breaking. I wish we knew more on the story of the fight…!

    Who was involved ect…..

    Well I would personally bet that this car is still around and tucked away in a garage and maybe the people who have it don’t really know its history. L.A alone is a huge area with all kids of cars still hidden. The issue is because L.A is so built up its hard to look for cars. With out peeking over a fence and being caught.

    That Buick is still around because if so many other cars survived even Westergard cars survived its still around….!
    KUSTOMLAND


  11. […] typical Barris styled customs for himself as well, including the ’36 Ford convertible,  ’41 Buick and ’42 Cadillac, both with padded tops. But those were all done in the early years. And we […]


  12. […] and he still had many of his car-friends back in Sacramento. When he had finished his personal 1941 Buick Custom with full fade-away fenders he was very eager to show his Nor-Cal friends how far he has gotten as […]



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