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Motorama Vérité




Jim Skonzakes (aka Jim Street) displayed his award winning 1949 Buick at the 1950 Petersen Motorama show, and was captured in a great photo by the crew from Hot Rod magazine. David E. Zivot takes us by the hand to explore this unique moment in time.

By David E. Zivot

This image, more so perhaps than any other, succinctly and pointedly portrays the mind, the mood, the time and place, the very ethos of a now long past and certainly more pure and unattenuated period. Not posed or set up, it has no special lighting, art school angles, or affectations, not a cliché in sight. It is simply an example of an early expression of the Barris mystique captured during a fleeting moment in time. Brother Sam, largely responsible for the materially tangible product, which in this case is the ’49 Buick Roadmaster they built for James Skonzakes, and the not so material but equally tangible style and flair naturally emanating from brother George. Some call it élan, others showmanship, or perhaps less politely, promoter.

CCC-barris-motorama-skonzakes-01The photo taken by the Hot Rod Magazine photographer captures the moment perfect. George attention goes to the “new media” TV-camera just outside of this photo. The others concentrate on the magazine photographer. The KTLA lighting guy on the right of the photo makes sure the camera will be able to capture it all.

This wonderful photograph requires some context.
The setting: Shrine Auditorium Convention Hall, Los Angeles, CA, Nov. 18, 1950. The third day of the Petersen sponsored “Motorama”. The press, and more impressively, the local Channel 5 television station KTLA, is covering the event live for the “City at Night” program. George is well aware of the opportunity. He gathers a couple of his pals who happen to be in close proximity, walks over to the guy with the microphone, and informs him that he and his television viewers would be well advised to cover the top trophy winning and latest advanced restyling by Barris Kustom Automobiles.

The cameras will be there momentarily. The crew is initially lighting the scene. The spectators’ attention is on George, Jack Stewart with his doll, and an unidentified with his doll. George, ignoring the press photographer from Hot Rod Magazine, is clearly focused on the TV cameras hurriedly being readied. At that very moment this photo was snapped.

CCC-barris-motorama-skonzakes-02From left to right; George Barris, unidentified girl, Jack Stewart, unidentified guy and another unidentified girl. All have the Motorama participant ribbon on their jackets, George is holding a stack of Barris Business cards, and one secured just above the ribbon to make sure the Barris name gets the best possible exposure.

The detail and elements are classic. George casually basks in the spotlight, casting a self-assurance and confidence born of an inherent sense of esthetics and presentation that with few exceptions would rarely fail him, especially in the early years. Well turned out, as it was common then, in light grey flannel with matching grey suede bucks, “Motorama” participant/exhibitor ribbon, and of course a hand full of business cards to be shuffled and dealt. The others hardly showing signs of diffidence, appear to have indulged in a few Miller High Life as evidenced by the bottles at George’s feet. Most of the guys including, George, Jesse Lopez, and Nick Matranga didn’t imbibe in the brew or the smoke.

CCC-barris-motorama-skonzakes-04The brand new, unpainted and un polished Kustoms Los Angles plaque was temporarily affixed to Jim’s Buick using some some twine.

The ubiquitous gathering of trophies with no apparent concern for scratched lacquer finish are present. The majority of these are earlier awards from the preceding five years, there will be more. The more publicly acceptable magazine, Motor Trend, is present, which had featured Barris previously. More Barris business cards are arrayed on the hood. The Kustoms Los Angeles plaque is hastily affixed with twine to the front bumper. Velvet curtains frame the curled Barris Kustoms sign pointing out the features of the Buick. Cigarette butts and refuse are strewn about by the young crowd, indicating that some things haven’t changed.

CCC-barris-motorama-skonzakes-03The girls attention goes to the Hot Rod Magazine photographer, while the trophies are set op to show up best by the TV-camera. Barris Business cards with George Barris his personal 1942 Cadillac are placed in front of the trophies.

Those times, like all others, are ephemeral. It is useful to reexamine them when they present themselves like this. Authentic and unpretentious, it tends toward a deeper appreciation of the history and what we endeavor in preserving and building customs in the traditional way in our own era. We have only our own time. The terms original and genuine apply to the kids as well as the cars of the past.

CCC-barris-motorama-skonzakes-05The litter on the floor.


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David E. Zivot as a young lad was encouraged by his father to pursue and work on “old cars”. Thought it would keep him out of trouble. Has been in trouble ever since. Interest was always the early roadsters and customs from the era 1929-1958. Michelley, without whom the boys wouldn’t keep their stories straight, documents the history, wisdom, and enjoyment, portrayed in the cars.

2 thoughts on “Motorama Vérité

  • Great Photo and a great story as well David & Rik. A time and a place that is quickly being lost to the mist of legend……..
    I have met Mr Barris and he has always been unfailingly generous to me with his time when it comes to talking about custom cars.
    And yes he is a promoter as well. But with out his ability to promote what would the custom car scene be like today? He had a lot to do with many of the cars that are now considered to be Iconic. And most likely if not for George, Sam would have become a LA cop.

  • There are so many layers to this history that present themselves, perhaps only once pointed out by people like David and Rik, become apparent. Fascinating to observe almost in slow motion. Well it indeed has taken 65 years for a micro second in time to be pulled apart and analyzed, and subsequently reveal so much.
    Thanks David for such a well written piece.

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